The Mariners opened the season with a week of up-and-down, thoroughly exciting ballgames. After that was done, they went into a fairly dull stretch in which they won more games than they lost. Today, I was reminded of why I shouldn't miss that opening week.
This was a game that the Mariners should have won. Nevermind that they came back from 4-0 and 5-2; they had several opportunities to take the lead and crush Oakland's spirit, but failed each time. Just incredibly frustrating. Let's go to the chart.
Moyer put his team behind early, allowing three runs in the first and almost having a fourth cross the plate. He continued to pitch ineffectively into the fourth, when Hargrove called on the bullpen to make one of its longer appearances of the season. Julio Mateo held down the fort while the M's rallied to cut the deficit to one, and Shigetoshi Hasegawa added 2.1 innings of his own solid relief. Finally, in the ninth, the Mariners were able to tie the game, but it was the sequence of events directly afterwards that turned what could have been an emotional win into a crushing defeat.
With two on and none out in the ninth inning of a 5-5 game, Octavio Dotel unleashed a wild pitch that allowed the runners to advance to second and third. In order to get a force at every base, he'd go on to intentionally walk Randy Winn. By this point, it was easy to see that Dotel didn't have his best stuff; he was missing around the zone, and when he threw a strike, it caught too much of the plate.
The next hitter, Miguel Olivo, carved himself out a pretty good nine-pitch at bat. He forced Dotel into a full count before hitting the ball on the screws - right back to Dotel, who got the out at home. So now the bases were loaded with one out for Wilson Valdez, who hadn't hit the ball to the outfield in four chances. Unfortunately, there was nothing Hargrove could have done about this; the only backup middle infielder on the roster had already been used to run for Richie Sexson, and pinch-hitting Choo would've forced the Mariners to forfeit the DH. So Valdez approached the plate and hit a shallow fly to center on the first pitch, not deep enough to score Ibanez from third.
Bases loaded, two down. Ichiro comes up and hits the ball a little harder than Valdez, but Kotsay runs it down. Three outs. After loading the bases with none out in a tie game, the Mariners couldn't take the lead.
Fittingly, Willie Bloomquist hit into a double play with a man on first and one down in the next inning. You wonder if Hargrove would've been better off hitting Choo in that situation and hoping that his inexperience at first base wouldn't come back to hurt the team later. Alas, it was not to be.
The whole problem is that, by carrying a 12-man pitching staff, the Mariners are limited to a four-man bench. By starting arguably the worst hitter in baseball at shortstop every day, the team should be aware of the fact that they'll probably need to pinch-hit for him pretty often in important situations. So it isn't too hard to understand why having your only reserve middle infielder double as the team's pinch-runner is a bad idea. Having such an unnecessarily large bullpen doesn't just hurt the pitchers - it hurts the offense as well.
Of course, that whole bases-loaded-no-runs thing wasn't the first miserable failed opportunity. One inning earlier, the Mariners had the bases loaded and one out, trailing by a run. Jeremy Reed came to the plate and STRUCK OUT LOOKING on a 2-2 fastball at the knees, and Adrian Beltre followed with a strikeout on a high heater. Dotel started each of them off with 2-0 counts, and neither could do so much as put the ball in play.
Just an awful, awful game.
Take a look at the Win Probability Added numbers in the chart above. Bret Boone had himself an absolutely incredible day, improving the team's odds of winning by 58% by reaching base all five times he came to the plate. Richie Sexson came in second, due mostly to a two-run homer that cut the deficit to one. Greg Dobbs finished third (tied with Hasegawa) with a pinch-hit single in the eighth. The real fun stuff is at the other end of the scale, though. By going 0-5 and stranding eight runners, Wilson Valdez hurt the Mariners the most. Adrian Beltre was the second-worst, going 2-6 and stranding six. One of these guys should never hit in an important situation, and the other needs to start doing more. Beltre hit the ball well in three at bats and looked lost in the other three. When your #3 hitter hurts your chances of winning by 35%, something is wrong.
Even last year, this one would have qualified as one of Moyer's worst starts. He didn't have any semblance of command, missing in the dirt down and away with what felt like every other pitch and letting others get too much of the plate. The ball that Chavez hit for a double in the fourth may be the worst individual pitch that Moyer throws all year. The last thing Moyer needs to do is get himself into deep counts and have to come back with his fastball, but that's precisely what happened today, and you can see what happened. He can't go to three balls on so many hitters and expect so succeed.
Incidentally, Ron Fairly was discussing Moyer's competitive spirit in the first inning when he offered up the following quotation:
This apparently separates Moyer from every other pitcher in the league, who must think "okay, that's three runs, I might as well just give up now." Fairly also picked up where Ricoh left off, suggesting that Moyer needs to keep the ball down to succeed.
During a pitch in the first inning, my MLB.tv feed sped up for an instant. Almost made it look like Jamie has a Major League fastball.
With Sexson on first in the top of the fourth, Bret Boone crapped all over a Joe Blanton pitch. He flipped his bat, but the ball hit the top of the wall, and Boone was left standing at second with a double. To make things worse, Sexson stopped at third. He's probably wondering what he has to do to get that 1000th RBI. How do you reach base five times in a game and not drive anybody in? I'm sure he's silently cursing Sexson for holding up.
You know, Hargrove may not have been able to hit for Valdez in the ninth, but he certainly could have in the eighth, when he came up with two on and none out. Instead, he was left in there to bunt the runners over, a task which he failed to accomplish. It was the second botched bunt on the day for Valdez, who is currently hitting .200.221/.227. For those of you who thought that Pokey Reese represented the absolute minimum amount of offensive production you could expect from a big league hitter, think again.
The Mariners are 0-2 on days when Dave Niehaus wears his awful red suit.
Dave would make up for his crime against fashion by "calling" Richie Sexson's fifth-inning home run. Just before and during the at bat, Niehaus was talking about how Beltre and Sexson would provide all kinds of home run power from the middle of the lineup during the summer. He wasn't quite finished when Sexson drilled an opposite-field line drive over the wall. Kudos to both of those guys. Richie can hit it to right field. Who knew?
Before the game started, Greg Dobbs was standing by the dugout, signing bats and balls for a group of fans. How many of those fans do you suppose know who Greg Dobbs is? How disappointing must it be to have to wait and push through a crowd of people so that a guy you've never heard of can reduce the market value of your store-bought baseball? Nevermind the awkwardness inherent in such a situation. "Hey...guy...can you sign this for me?" doesn't make either party look good.
Dave Henderson spent a good two or three minutes talking about Jason Kendall's powerful handshake. I'm dead serious. Later on, he used "adrenalated" in a sentence and, evidently having taken a liking to the word, used it two more times before a commercial break forced him to shut up. Hendu's Sunday to-do list: Use real words.
Dan Wilson went 0-3 today with three strikeouts. Mariner catchers are currently hitting .159/.198/.195. Don't even get me started on the shortstops. The league-average NL pitcher is hitting .144/.161/.178. What does that tell you?
It isn't often that I applaud the Mariners making outs, but today presentend a special situation. With men on the corners and two down, Randy Winn lifted a ball into foul territory down the third-base line, and Eric Byrnes ran about six miles to make an incredible, all-out catch near the bullpen mound. The English language is incapable of describing either the play itself or my immediate reaction.
Clue #1 that Ichiro is getting comfortable with English: He uses it in a speech during a pregame ceremony. Clue #2 that Ichiro is getting comfortable with English: He argues balls and strikes with the home plate umpire. Of course, even when he argues he looks honorable and classy. If you're Angel Hernandez, and Ichiro says that he didn't go around, you should probably take his word for it.
The Mariners will try again to take the series and finish the road trip with a winning record tomorrow at 4:05pm EDT. It's a rematch between Joel Pineiro and Barry Zito, each of whom will undoubtedly be looking to avoid the early-inning struggles that plagued them the last time.