...and out of last place!
It was perhaps the unlikeliest of circumstances, with the Mariners winning a series against the reigning World Champions, led by strong efforts from Miguel Olivo and Willie Bloomquist (who entered the game with a .661 OPS - combined). Gil Meche wasn't great, but he was good enough to get the win, and the bullpen slammed the door on a potent attack less than 24 hours after blowing it in the previous game. The only "normal" thing about today's game is that both Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz hit home runs, which seems to be the running theme of Boston/Seattle matchups. I, for one, am particularly glad that we won't have to face those guys again this year.
Before I get to anything else, let's look at the chart:
That right there, that's a thing of beauty. At no point during the entire game did the Mariners have less than a 50% chance of winning, from the first pitch to Damon to the last to Ramirez. There were bumps along the way, but nothing as significant as what we've become accustomed to seeing. What a fantastic bottom of the second.
Gil Meche came into the game charged up, hitting 94 on the gun and working quickly. Which sounds good to those who are unfamiliar with Gil Meche, but which ordinarily has negative side effects. Meche gets into trouble when he's too amped on the mound, and often doesn't settle into a groove until he calms down and starts working in the 90-92 range. He worked his way down into a more reasonable velocity range before too long, and generally looked pretty good for most of the afternoon. Where he ran into problems was when he started relying a little too much on an inconsistent, oft-hung breaking ball in the fifth and sixth innings, and when he tried to overthrow against Ramirez and Ortiz. Meche acknowledged the fact that he was trying too hard against those guys in a post-game interview; on the one hand, it's good that he knows what he did wrong, but on the other, he should really know better by now. The home runs spoiled his afternoon, and give him seven blasts allowed in his last six starts (40 IP). That's bad. Fortunately, he was able to pitch around the homers for another day.
Hasegawa made things more interesting than he had to in the seventh - after retiring the first two batters he faced, he allowed a Ramirez single and a Nixon double, bringing Kevin Millar to the plate with a chance to put the Sox in the lead. He blasted a Hasegawa pitch way deep into left-center, but Reed ran it down on the track to preserve the 5-4 score. For the few seconds that ball was in flight, not a single Mariners fan took a breath.
JJ Putz is a reliable secondary pitch away from becoming an incredible reliever. As is, he's just "pretty good", gathering important outs for a fraction of the price of some other more high-profile setup men around the league. He makes for a good reminder that you can always build a solid bullpen without having to spend a lot of money, leaving you with extra cash to fill other holes. He's not flawless, but neither is Tom Gordon, and Putz isn't making $3.75m this year to demonstrate said imperfection.
Miguel Olivo and Willie Bloomquist combined to go 5-7 today with two doubles, a homer, and a walk. Olivo also had the highest Win Probability Added figure on the entire team (+0.142). Talk about your unexpected productivity. Each of these guys were absolutely critical in the second inning rally (even if Olivo didn't exactly hit the snot out of the ball), which is something we've been waiting for all year long. Incidentally, Adrian Beltre was the only starter to go hitless, snapping his little eight-game hitting streak.
There's been a lot of talk already about how Kevin Millar chatted with Miguel Olivo before the game concerning batting stances. You might remember that it was Olivo's stance which Millar emulated last summer, launching him into a hot streak. Apparently, Olivo had gone to a different stance earlier this year, and Millar mentioned that Miguel should go back to what worked for him last season. Given the results, perhaps it would've been better for Boston had Millar kept his mouth shut.
How can we compare between Olivo's different batting stances? Through the wonder of MLB.tv and digital cameras, it's not as hard as you might think:
The picture on the left shows Olivo facing John Lackey on May 3rd, an at bat in which he struck out. The picture on the right is from his fourth inning at bat against Wakefield today, when he homered. Fuzziness aside (sorry about that), you can see that the difference is pretty pronounced - Olivo has moved his front foot from a closed to an open position (allowing him to get a better view of the ball), he's bent his knees a little more, and he keeps his arms in a "cocked" position, rather than in the more relaxed state which you can see in the picture on the left. The results, at least for a day, were remarkably positive, as he took advantage of a 3-1 count to hit a home run, and later smacked an 0-2 pitch into left field for a double. You have to wonder if he originally switched to a closed stance in an effort to spray the ball the other way more often, which clearly wasn't working out. I have to say, he looks a lot better on the right than he does on the left. Between the feet, the knees, and the arms, he seems a lot more prepared for the pitch.
The Mariners are ever-so-slowly climbing out of the offensive abyss, moving up to 25th in team OPS and 24th in OBP. Unfortunately, they remain third-to-last in isolated power, largely by dint of the fact that only two hitters are on a 25-homer pace so far. Richie Sexson's raw power has been a welcome sight this year, but it'd be pretty cool if someone else would join in on the fun.
Adrian Beltre went 0-4, but not all hope is lost - he hit a ball on the screws directly at Edgar Renteria's glove in the first, and later pulled a well-hit fly ball that was run down near the track. I don't like to put everything he does under the microscope, but when a guy you're paying $64m over five years is sporting a .634 OPS, you have to look for the positives where you can find them. He may have gone hitless today, but he still had a better approach at the plate than he had in April (and hit the ball harder, too), so that's something.
Manny Ramirez has to be the worst defensive left fielder in baseball. I don't even feel obligated to fact-check. For the series, he must have let five or six balls drop right in front of him for hits, balls which any competent outfielder would've gobbled up for outs. I realize that, between him and Ortiz, the Red Sox have to find a defensive position for one of their two DH's, but...man, that's awful to watch, and it really makes you appreciate what Randy Winn brings with his glove.
Fortunately for Boston, Ramirez is, y'know, one of the best right-handed hitters of all time. Today's ninth inning featured an interesting situation, as Manny faced Guardado with two down and a man on second. Jay Payton, a significantly less dangerous hitter, was standing on deck, and you felt like issuing an intentional walk might not have been such a bad idea, even if it would've put the tying run on base. Manny's not going to impress anyone with his blinding speed, and the odds of Payton hitting a triple or a home run are pretty slim, so I would've fully supported Hargrove had he made that call. He didn't, though, and we still won, so I'm happy.
Whatever the vultures have left of Aaron Sele's rotting carcass goes up against Chien-Ming Wang tomorrow night at 7:05pm PDT. You'd like to see Sele do well against a tough lineup, but the sooner he crumbles, the sooner we see Campillo, so I guess it's something of a win-win situation, if you look at it in the right light.
Added note: Ichiro was safe at home. That play was unbelievable.