I'm going to keep this one relatively short, so let's get right to the graph:
Aaron Sele put his team in a hole in the first inning, and Dan Haren looked sharp in the early going. A Scott Hatteberg error in the third opened the door for the Seattle offense, though, and an Ichiro triple and Reed single later, the Mariners had a 60% chance of winning the game. Things were looking pretty rosy, and - sure enough - Oakland remained immersed in its collective run-scoring funk and the M's hung on for a win. If you took the "over" on my 2.5-win bar for the road trip a few days ago, give yourself a pat on the back.
Ichiro, once again, was the key to victory - not that you really need complicated Win Probability Added figures to know that. He drove in the tying run in the third and the eventual winning run in the next inning, reaching base a final time in the ninth. As of this writing, he's sitting at nine extra-base hits, which puts him on pace to exceed last year's figure by 26. Complete package.
One of the more misleading things about tonight's WPA numbers is Aaron Sele coming in at #2 on the team. It really doesn't tell the story of how he pitched - it seemed like he was always on the verge of falling apart. He allowed ten baserunners in six innings of work, recording a 1-2-3 just once, and several A's hit balls pretty well, only directly at Mariner defenders. Where Sele got some help was with the outside strike, when he'd try to catch batters off guard with a backdoor curve, but he couldn't hit his spots consistently, and as a result the hitters began to lay off the pitch and force Sele back over the plate.
Even Sele knows that he's a bit of an adventure on the mound. Consider this postgame quotation:
The guy's got 11 walks and 13 strikeouts in 28.2 innings. Games like tonight's are going to be the rare exception to a season full of what Hargrove himself termed "absoute terror".
In his first 59 at bats, spanning 15 games, Richie Sexson drew five walks and fanned on 20 occasions. In his last five games, however, Sexson's drawn eight walks and gone down on strikes just five times. He doesn't look nearly as lost at the plate as he used to, and it's possible that we're seeing the end of his "adjustment period" and the beginning of a comfort zone. It's also possible that it's just a random five-game sample that doesn't mean anything. The point is that, until this week, we didn't have any random five-game samples to choose from in Sexson's brief Mariner career, so things are improving.
There's just something about those Oakland outfielders and their lousy fundamentals. Just as Eric Byrnes dove after a Greg Dobbs sinking line drive in the last series, Nick Swisher laid out trying to catch an Ichiro liner. He didn't come particularly close, and the result was Valdez scoring all the way from first and Ichiro going to third. Back in my day, players were told never to dive for line drives unless they were absolutely sure they could catch them, meaning that Swisher either forgot his instructions or midjudged the direction of the ball. It was a horrible play that directly led to both of our runs in the inning.
Matt Thornton needs to send a thank-you letter to the people who designed the Oakland Coliseum. After walking the first two batters he faced (Get out. Walks? No way.), Thornton got both Chavez and Hatteberg to foul out on balls that might've reached the seats in any other stadium. Perhaps more importantly, though, was the fact that Thornton pitched the seventh inning in the first place, a display of Hargrove's growing confidence. Either that, or Hargrove just wanted to save Villone for a LOOGY role in the next inning. Whatever the case may be, Thornton made it more than a little interesting, but instead of buckling he came back to toss a scoreless inning, which can only be a good thing.
Charles Thomas' back leg didn't so much as send a neural signal to the motor cortex requesting permission to move out of the way of an Aaron Sele beanball in the fourth. Incidentally, in the minutes leading up to the pitch, the Oakland announcers were talking about how Joe Crede was denied first base after thrusting his elbow into an inside pitch a few days ago. Thomas didn't make any sort of effort to avoid the ball, but Charlie Reliford wasn't feeling particularly ballsy, so he let Thomas proceed to first. The Oakland announcers didn't protest the decision. Go figure.
Know why Miguel Olivo can't hit? I'll tell you. In the bottom of the fourth, Olivo blocked a dirt curve and immediately pounced on the ball before it could roll too far away, thus keeping the baserunners from advancing. It's a well-known rule of the universe that catchers who play well behind the plate can't do a thing standing beside it, so until we see Olivo surrendering passed balls left and right again like he did in 2004, he's going to keep hitting .175. Sorry, but I don't make the rules.
That said, Olivo's not lacking for effort to improve with the bat. He seemed to be sporting a modified stance tonight, moving his front foot closer to the plate to allow for better coverage of the outer strike zone. Could be an adjustment intended to make him less of a pull hitter. We'll have to see how he does in the future, though, because he didn't do much of anything tonight. This includes dropping down one of the more ridiculous attempted sacrifice bunts I've ever seen. With men on first and second with none out in the fourth, Hargrove called for Olivo to try and advance the runners. It didn't really go as planned, and Ibanez was nailed at third. However, even if it did work, then you've got two men in scoring position for Wilson Valdez, who isn't a real good candidate to hit the ball hard enough to drive a guy in from 90 feet away. He's hitting .214.236/.243 right now. Why would you ever try to create a situation where that kind of bat is at the plate?
If I never hear Zorba the Greek blasting over a stadium PA system again, I'll die a happy man.
Current Athletics have a total of 159 at bats against Jamie Moyer. No current Mariner has ever seen Joe Blanton (save for Jeremy Reed, who probably faced him in the minors). Tune in tomorrow at 4:05pm EDT to see those two guys face off. With Bret Boone sitting at 999 career RBI, I can't wait to see his first swing of the game.
Jeff's note: maybe this isn't really that short after all.