After the top of the first, this recap was going to be about Aaron Sele and how worthless he is.
After the bottom half, it was going to be about how Jeremy Reed's #2 spot in the lineup might be in jeopardy.
After the fourth, it was going to be about Chan Ho Park's vexing dominance of the Mariners.
After the fifth, Reed's redemption.
After the sixth, the weak bullpen.
After the seventh, Showalter's perplexing bullpen maneuver.
After the top of the eighth, incessant screaming.
After the bottom of the eighth, sweet sweet delirium.
And now here we are, with a Mariners victory in the books and a review with no planned direction. I guess you could call it the San Francisco Giants of game recaps.
By last count, I said something along the lines of "I hate baseball" seven times during the game last night. Which is more often than I said it during the Thornton game, but I countered with eight different "WOOOHOOOOOOO!!!"s that made the night worthwhile. Truly, it was a game that had everything, mixing some of the old (The Ho mowing through the lineup) with some of the new (Beltre's two-run single), and apparently having achieved its goal of giving everyone their first coronaries. I think the flow of the game is accurately captured by the following graph:
Surprising to...well, no one, really, Aaron Sele started out looking awful, missing his spots and putting the team in a quick 2-0 hole after a run-scoring double by Richard Hidalgo. He would settle down and keep the Rangers off the board for a while afterwards, but Sele's final line - three walks and zero strikeouts in 5.2 innings - pretty much tells the story. He pitched like how I imagine Matt Thornton's bullpen sessions must go, with the coach yelling "forget about hitting your spots and just throw a friggin' strike!!" in his ear. Which isn't all bad, I guess, but he was relying on Texas hitters going after curves out of the zone all night long, and a more patient team might have raked him through the coals. But then, he left the game with 17 outs and just two runs under his belt; although two more runners he put on base would go on to score, I'll take it. It doesn't bode well for future success, but on an individual game basis, it could've been worse.
You have to wonder how good Aaron Sele would look if all he faced for his entire career were lineups full of Alfonso Sorianos. Is there a worse breaking ball hitter in all of baseball? Well, yeah, there probably is, but that doesn't make Soriano any better. Why anyone ever throws him a fastball is beyond me.
But then, one thing that did impress me was Soriano laying off a pair of low-and-away breaking balls. It wouldn't have caught my eye if not for Adrian Beltre, who's struck out on that same pitch four times in three games.
I don't know if anyone's told him that he can't hit that pitch, but somebody should, because it couldn't hurt. That pitch is the difference between a Really Good Adrian Beltre and a Perennial MVP Candidate Adrian Beltre.
Speaking of Beltre, it was his birthday yesterday, and Kevin Mench's present was a line drive to the face. Happy 26th. Afterwards, Adrian was probably feeling a lot like he did after his 21st birthday celebration.
First inning, after an Ichiro bloop single and a Jeremy Reed double play:
Texas announcer: "Chan Ho Park's off to a great start, inducing grounders."
Beltre hits a towering fly ball for the third out of the inning.
There's just something about Park and Seattle. In 48 career innings against the Mariners, he has a 2.44 ERA despite walking 32 hitters (against 36 strikeouts). He always seems to be the very definition of "effectively wild" whenever he's facing Seattle, and watching him get out after out might be the most frustrating thing to watch in the history of the world. According to DIPS theory, certain pitchers are able to exercise some influence on balls in play and thus have more success. Chan Ho Park turns into one of those guys whenever he faces Seattle. Pop ups, weakly hit double plays, foul outs...it wears on you. When he tweaked his ankle covering first base in the fifth inning and looked like he might have to come out of the game, this was probably the reaction:
Texas fans: "Yay, no more Park!"
Seattle fans: "Yay, no more Park!"
When he beaned Randy Winn in the bottom of the fifth, the first thought that came to my head was "okay, just four more of those to tie." Thank goodness for Ichiro and, later, Jeremy Reed for pushing some runs across the plate. That stroke by Reed was a thing of beauty, exactly what you'd expect from a gap hitter. It was the kind of stroke that people always claimed Jeff Cirillo had, although I never recall seeing it myself.
It was good timing, too, because leading up to that double you had to wonder if Hargrove was thinking about dropping Reed lower in the lineup and moving Winn up to the two hole. It's one thing to see more fastballs; it's quite another to actually do something with them.
It was like all the struggling hitters managed to get off the schneid in the same game, as Reed, Olivo, Ibanez and - I'm serious - Wilson Valdez recorded hits. Valdez's was actually a well-struck double into right, the kind of hit that makes you say "for someone like Valdez, that should really count as a homer." You wonder if that hit will give him a little confidence now, considering he attempted another bunt in his first at bat. But then, a confident Wilson Valdez is like an insecure Joe McEwing, so maybe it doesn't make a difference.
Aaron Sele walked Rod Barajas. On four pitches. I'm dead serious.
With two outs in the bottom of the second, The Ho issued back-to-back walks to Raul Ibanez and Randy Winn. Miguel Olivo came up and swung at the first pitch, hitting a tapper back to Park. How do you spend the better part of your life playing baseball and still make that kind of stupid decision? I'd expect it from some dumbass like Wiki Gonzalez or Bret Boone, but Olivo can ill afford to make those kinds of mistakes when he's already in the organizational dog house.
Speaking of Olivo, Park through a ball in the dirt during one of his at bats that Barajas blocked perfectly. Hope Miguel was paying attention. Maybe next time he goes to the plate, he can just turn around and watch the catcher. God knows it wouldn't affect his hitting.
In the top of the fifth, Alfonso Soriano hit a sharp grounder to Wilson Valdez, who took it to second and threw to first for the double play. Never even thought about giving it to Boone for a weak relay. That's heads-up defense.
Did you know that Ron Villone is a situational reliever? I didn't. I wonder if Ron does. Yes, the guy with 93 career starts under his belt and no significant career platoon split has become the 2005 Mike Myers. I thought the whole point of having long relievers in the bullpen was so that they could relieve for a long time. With Leone coming up and the pitching staff reduced to 11 arms for the time being, Hargrove will have to be careful with his bullpen management. There's a good chance that, at some point during the season, we'll run out of pitchers by the sixth inning.
Move I Didn't Like: Pinch-hitting Spiezio for Reed in the bottom of the eighth.
Move That Made Up For It: Showalter removing Mahay to bring in Doug Brocail.
Ron Mahay is tough against righties, holding them to a .219.311/.363 line since 2002. He doesn't show much of a platoon split. So the idea of him facing Scott Spiezio, batting from the right side of the plate, from which he's a worse hitter, should've been fine for Buck. Instead, he summoned righty Doug Brocail from the bullpen, evidently forgetting that Spiezio is a switch-hitter who's better against righties than lefties. Brocail, meanwhile, sucks against everyone. It was a bad decision by Showalter that kept the Mariners in the game.
...of course, Brocail should have gotten out of the inning with a terrific 2-2 slider, but Marvin Hudson must have blinked. It was a perfect pitch that was somehow called a ball, extending the at bat and leading to a Spiezio walk. Umpires are just another variable in the game that you have to deal with, but I'd be pretty pissed if I were a Rangers fan, because that two-run single by Beltre never should've happened. After the inning, Brocail looked even angrier than Ron Gardenhire does when he's happy.
Dumb Move That Somehow Paid Off In Spades: inserting Willie Bloomquist directly for Spiezio, who pinch-hit for Reed, and playing him in center field to start the eighth inning. Leading into the game, Bloomquist had one day of Major League experience in center field. He had 25 days' worth in left. Randy Winn was the everyday center fielder last season. Why not put Willie in left and shift Winn to center? Or, for that matter, why not put Spiezio in left, since he's apparently been doing well shagging fly balls in practice? It was a move that baffled me, given that Bloomquist is the worst of all the possible CF candidates on the roster, but I shut up when he ran down a Soriano fly ball to start the ninth.
For one night, Willie was king. He made a big catch in the ninth and, before that, drove in two critical insurance runs in the eighth with a high chopper up the middle that somehow reached the outfield. It was like a game full of It Could've Been Worse scenarios, with Willie in the field, Sele on the mound, and Beltre getting drilled in the face.
What couldn't have been worse was the infield defense in the eighth inning. Sexson's too tall for his own good, and Valdez screwed up doing the one thing he's good at, allowing the Rangers to pull ahead. It felt worse than the Thornton inning, because at least with him, we knew it was coming. Kudos to Putz for striking out Matthews and Barajas to get out of the jam. No kudos to Putz for causing the jam in the first place by issuing back-to-back walks.
Lastly, I wasn't paying close attention all night long, but I don't recall the Texas broadcasters saying more than five words about the game. They talked about Microsoft Outlook, Tony Graffanino, sunrises, hotel curtains, poker, and Trading Spaces, but I don't remember them saying anything about the game itself. I even got to listen to another argument about how Ichiro shouldn't have won the Rookie of the Year in 2001. I miss Ron Fairly.
Pedro Astacio goes up against Jamie Moyer today at 4:05pm EST.