If only for a day (well, really two days, since we're off tomorrow), we all get to savor the taste of Sweet Lady Blowout, thanks to terrific pitching and timely hitting. A lot of recaps will tell you that the story of the day is Jamie Moyer tying Randy Johnson for first in franchise wins, but they're all wrong - the real story is that the lineup actually managed to push some runs across the plate this afternoon.
Which isn't to say that this was a comfortable, easy game, because the team only had two hits and three baserunners through five innings. It had the feeling of another miserable day for the offense until the sixth, when good things happened in eight consecutive plate appearances. Until that point, Scott Elarton was inducing weakly-hit balls in play, and the Mariners were going down with a whimper.
When the big guns aren't hitting, the only way for a lineup to survive is for one or two of the other bats to hold it over until the sluggers start to warm up. That's what the Mariners had been missing - some production from outside of the middle of the order. Today, they got it in the form of Miguel Olivo, who (may have) busted out of a nasty slump with a big game. Not only did he hit a double sharply down the line in the fifth, but when he came to the plate again the next inning with one out and the bases loaded, he made contact - really solid contact, sending the ball to the deepest part of the park for a three-run double that blew it open. His OPS climbed by .128, to the point at which it's slightly higher than Clint Barmes' batting average. You'd certainly like to think that this is the beginning of a nice little hot streak for Olivo, especially considering he reached base three times against right-handed pitchers, but we won't know for sure until we see how he does on the road. For now, though...wow, seriously, who saw that coming?
Would you believe that, despite the nine runs, the Mariners managed just five hits all day? Two from Olivo, two from Ichiro, and one from the other seven bats. Fortunately, Beltre's single went to good use (drove in the first run of that sixth inning), but this really needs to fix itself. Two straight games against pitchers with extra-base hit problems, and all we get are five doubles? I'm getting tired of waiting for Beltre and Sexson to finish "adjusting". Not that I necessarily buy that excuse to begin with, but I'm not really much for the alternative.
One of the problems seems to be that nobody's throwing Sexson any fastballs early in the count. He's getting force-fed changeups and breaking balls, and when he swings right through them, he puts himself in a hole where the next few pitches are just more changeups and breaking balls. It seems like he's falling behind 0-2 or 1-2 in every at bat, and that's just not a good situation for any hitter to be in. I'll feel a lot better when Sexson blasts a low slider 440 feet somewhere.
At least the guys are playing good defense in the meantime - particularly Beltre. One of the hardest things to gauge with the naked eye is a player's range in the field, but you can really see how much ground this guy covers. He's made a lot of plays on groundballs hit around the shortstop so far, to go with a handful of terrific backhanded grabs near the line. You really have a smoke a ball to get it by this infield (unless you hit it in the vicinity of second base).
Coco Crisp singled on the first pitch to lead off all three games of the series. That is incredibly irritating.
Jamie Moyer reverted back to the Moyer of old once more, becoming the AL's first four-game winner of the season. Home plate umpire Jerry Layne allowed him to establish the outside strike early on, and Moyer kept pounding the area, much to Cleveland's chagrin. By getting the outside strike, Jamie was able to keep his pitches away from the sweet spot, forcing a lot of guys to hit little grounders or harmless pop-ups off the end of the bat. He didn't make many mistakes, and he actually showed off a real good curveball that he ordinarily doesn't throw as often as he did today.
Moyer made two mistakes: one was a changeup low and in that caught too much of the plate, which Aaron Boone launched into the left field seats, and the other was a changeup high and away that Casey Blake drilled into center for a doub-NOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!! JEREMY REED!!!!!!!!
...that's pretty much what came out of my mouth when I saw him make a spectacular all-out, Edmondsian diving catch on a liner into the gap. Dave Niehaus might have shouted himself hoarse. It was the kind of defensive gem that makes Sportscenter's Top 10 and leaves Chris Snelling paralyzed below the eyelids. Absolutely phenomenal play, easily the best of the year so far for any Mariner. I've talked about Reed's lack of real good range in center before, but things like this make a strong case for proving me wrong.
That play aside, I think what impresses me most about Reed is how he's seemingly always ahead in the count. He doesn't get himself into holes, like Richie Sexson; he's got good knowledge of the strike zone, so he swings at good pitches and lays off those tricky breaking balls that've been striking out everyone else in the lineup. Have I been fawning over Reed way too much this year? I can't tell. He's just so good.
We were treated to a Ron Fairly-less afternoon today, as Dave Niehaus and Rick Rizzs were joined by Bill Krueger. He immediately got my attention when talking about how managers usually sit their left-handed batters against Moyer (Hafner, Broussard, and Sizemore today) even though Jamie has been worse against lefties than righties for his career. "So this is what a decent color guy sounds like," I thought to myself. It's not often that you get a broadcaster talking about platoon splits, beyond the basic righty/lefty stuff that you hear about when a LOOGY gets called in from the bullpen.
My favorite broadcast-related moment of the game came in the bottom of the fifth, when Miguel Olivo doubled down the third base line. The following is a word-for-word transcript of what was said during the replay, which showed Ryan Ludwick misplaying the ball on a carom:
Krueger: "And that's great to see, y'know, Miguel's been struggling to get his hits. Got a fastball down and in and ripped it down the line. This is one of the better running catchers in baseball, even though Ludwick misplays this ball, Miguel Olivo can really run. There you see the funky angle that-"
Rizzs: "Oops." :chuckles:
Krueger: "...you can get that once in a while if you're not used to playing the ball down the line here. But Miguel Olivo makes it easy anyway."
Runner-up for favorite broadcast moment of the game came when Randy Winn hit an infield single with the bases loaded, scoring a run when Bard took his toe off home plate while catching a throw:
Krueger: "Infield in, the ball hops...boy it's hard to tell, it looked like he had the ball in his hand, didn't it?"
Rizzs: "Never gets the tag on Beltre. The low throw bounces in the dirt, now Beltre just side-steps Bard, who never gets the tag on Adrian."
Krueger: "Well actually, they had a force on, and uh..."
Krueger: "What he's saying is his foot was- his toe was off of home plate, he never touched home plate."
Rizzs: "Never touched home plate."
Between these two flashes of cognitive brilliance and all the Coco Crisp jokes, I'm hoping that Rick Rizzs comes down with a nasty case of laryngitis that knocks him out of action for, I dunno, however long it takes for him to get scooped up by some other team whose broadcast I never have to hear on MLB.tv.
With all we've heard about him in the past several years, it's hard to believe that Ryan Christianson just turned 24 three days ago. He was the Banner Bank "Building for the Future" Player of the Day today, by dint of his 3-3 performance last night for Tacoma. Evidently Banner Bank is particularly high on injury-prone minor league designated hitters who take ineffective steroids.
Eddie Guardado made his first appearance since last Wednesday and retired three batters on four pitches. I hope you enjoyed it, because it'll never be that easy again.
Finally, one last note that should make you a little more optimistic about this offense breaking out of its funk:
The average American League pitcher is holding opponents to a .265/.327/.410 line so far this season. However, pitchers that the Mariners have faced are holding opponents to a much better .230/.293/.337 performance. So, if you adjust the team's current hitting stats to a league-average pitcher, you wind up with an OPS of .788 - more than 100 points higher than where it actually stands.
It's not a perfect adjustment, since some of that opposing pitcher performance came against the Mariners themselves, but what it tells you is that the lineup has been running into some pretty good arms so far, and it's not going to continue at this rate for the entire season.
On the other hand, Mariner pitchers have faced a weaker group of hitters than the league average so far, so that'll have to even out at some point as well.
Off day tomorrow, followed by Pineiro vs. Drese on Tuesday at 7:05pm EDT.