First winning homestand since last July, and boy, wasn't that a doozy?
Aaron Sele turned in the best start you'll see a Mariner throw all year, as Raul Ibanez's second-inning RBI double provided all the run support he'd need (you listening, Franklin?). It was the first time Sele lasted longer than 6.2 innings this season in nine starts, and the first time he lasted longer than 7 innings since July 5, 2002. And hey, just to top it all off, Sele's 112 pitches were fewer than he needed a week ago to toss six frames against New York.
Let's get right to the chart, because there are more important things to cover afterwards:
If a genie granted me three wishes, they would be - in order - (1) a bottomless wallet of money, (2) 50 attractive young women at my every beck and call, and (3) a guarantee that every Mariner Win Expectancy chart will look like this one for the rest of the season. It's a thing of beauty, complete with a whole lotta empty space in the lower right-hand corner usually reserved for such losers as Oakland or Colorado. You don't need to be a rocket surgeon to figure out that Sele had the biggest hand in the win, with Jeremy Reed and Wilson Valdez (!) taking Place and Show, respectively. Bret Boone's RBI double in the second was the most important play of the game, as determined by the net change in our odds of winning (+9.5%), and the two most important pitches of Aaron Sele's day were the ones he used to induce Ryan Klesko and Brian Giles into double plays (+5.5%, each).
Let's get right down to business and look at how today's Aaron Sele was different from the one we're used to. For one thing, he was pounding the strike zone and getting ahead in the count, allowing him to go to his curveball and collect a bunch of groundballs. While 26 of the 30 batters he faced put the ball in play, few of them were hit with any authority, likely a function of Sele keeping hitters off balance all game long.
How did he accomplish this? Some screen grabs of mine might suggest an answer. This first pair of images is taken from a third inning at bat between Sele and Gary Sheffield on May 10th:
The red lines show Sele's body and arm angle during his delivery. The first thing to notice is how much Sele is leaning towards first base when throwing his fastball on the left; his arm slot is down, and he's way off balance (after throwing the pitch, he fell off towards his glove side, resulting in a very awkward fielding position). Contrast this with his curveball delivery - his arm slot is higher, around the usual 3/4, and he's more vertical, instead of leaning to the left. The key to mixing pitches effectively is to make sure that the batter doesn't know what's coming until the ball is in flight. If these two pictures are any indication, Sele wasn't doing that before. Look at Sheffield in each of the images - on the left, his front toe is at an angle with home plate and he's about to plant his foot, preparing for a faster pitch, whereas on the right, he's still bringing his front leg up, helping him stay back on a breaking ball.
Fast-forward to the eighth inning of today's game, as Sele pitches to Miguel Ojeda:
Sele's pretty vertical, and his arm angle is the same (use a protractor if you don't believe me). If you look at where the red line for his arm slot meets the red line for his back posture, you'll see that they intersect in the same place for each pitch - right in the middle of the "30" on his back. You're looking at the exact same delivery for two different pitches, and it should come as no surprise that Ojeda was way out in front of the curveball, striking out to end the inning. To top it all off, Sele wasn't falling towards first off the mound today, putting all his energy into getting the ball from his hand to home plate and winding up in good defensive position.
Sele mentioned after the game that he and Price had been working on mechanics for a while, and if only for one game, he had them working perfectly. His release point was consistent and the Padres were way off balance as a result. Regardless of what you think his long-term potential may be (read: approaches zero), Aaron Sele deserves nothing but applause for his fantastic effort this afternoon.
I can just about guarantee you that Pat Borders will catch every Sele start until FLC comes back, as Sele was quick to dole out praise to the veteran catcher for calling a good game. Whether or not this was a subtle jab at Olivo's inconsistency, I couldn't tell you, but Borders did a good job of whatever it was exactly that he was responsible for doing. Everyone knows that baseball players and coaches are incredibly superstitious, and firmly adhere to the "don't fix what ain't broken" philosophy, so expect the Sele/Borders battery to last for a while.
Jeremy Reed had his second three-hit game of the season, pulling two singles to right and driving his ninth double of the season into the gap. He wasn't getting fooled by anything today, as he got the bat head out in front of the ball in each of his four at bats in making solid contact. Like with pretty much every Mariner hitter, the pitchers Reed has faced so far this season have been markedly above-average, so look for him to start improving on his numbers now that we're entering a softer stretch of the schedule. The Orioles are hot, but it's not because of their pitching staff.
Ichiro went 0-5 today, and is hitting .172 over his last seven games with a double and four strikeouts. These hot and cold stretches will come and go, as Ichiro's hitting style renders him a streakier hitter than most, but what's frustrating is his inability so far this year to make pitchers pay for letting the bottom of the order reach base. He's hitting just .222/.338/.333 with men on base, in stark contrast to the situational numbers he's put up in the past. It won't continue this way, but I feel like any opportunity to drive in Wilson Valdez after he reaches base needs to be seized, because they won't come around very often.
Richie Sexson is batting .227/.307/.545 for May, your typical all-or-nothing hitter. While the outs are bad, he's hit as many home runs as singles this month, with three doubles thrown in for good measure. There are two things a guy can do at the plate to help contribute while slumping: draw walks or hit for power. Sexson's doing one of them in spades.
According to a waiter interviewed during the eighth inning of today's press box suite infomercial, the "cheese spread alone is worth the money." Either nobody's told this guy that the suites cost $5,800-$9,000 a game, or he really likes his cheese.
Off day tomorrow, as the Mariners travel to Baltimore for a Tuesday evening face-off between Joel Pineiro and the ol' nomad, Bruce Chen.