The official box score will tell you that this game was delayed by rain. What it will neglect to mention is that it was really Bruce Chen and Joel Pineiro taking their sweet ass time on the mound which caused this game to drag on so long. Three hours and 15 minutes, despite just a single mid-inning pitching change? That's an awful game to watch, ironically made worse by the fact that the most painful moment happened so fast. If you have to lose a mind-gnawingly long, drawn out game, then you want your team's downfall to be similarly long and drawn out, so that you can prepare for the inevitable. Instead, today was like a paper cut, where you're going about your own business when suddenly, BAM!, pain time.
The important story of the day was Joel Pineiro, but we'll get to that later. For now, chart it:
Would you believe that it was Ron Villone who helped us the most today? Giving up an unearned run courtesy of a HBP while recording two outs doesn't sound like much, but he weasled out of a considerable jam in the sixth, and was victimized by Adrian Beltre's error an inning later. Behind Villone were Sexson and Pineiro, with Beltre, Boone, and Putz on the opposite side of the spectrum (again). The most important play of the game was, rather obviously, Jay Gibbons' eighth inning homer, which swayed the odds of winning by more than 30%, while the most important play by a Mariner hitter was Bret Boone's double play (-14.7%) in the top half of the same inning. The single biggest contribution to our winning effort was Richie Sexson's RBI single in the first, at +11.9%.
There were a few things during the game worth mentioning - Ichiro shaking his slump, Jeremy Reed getting on base a few more times, Richie Sexson hitting singles - but the two most important features were (A) Joel Pineiro, and (B) the ninth inning. So let's approach those backwards.
In the ninth inning, this is what we got to see happen:
R Ibanez struck out swinging.
M Olivo flied out to right.
W Bloomquist hit for J Reed.
W Bloomquist singled to center.
W Valdez struck out looking.
If I were manager of the Mariners, and I were only allowed to have a single general rule of thumb (work with me here), it would be that I'd never let a close game end with Wilson Valdez at the plate. There's just no excuse. If you didn't think this bench was bad before, then I bet today's game changed your mind.
Understand one thing - I don't have a problem with Wee Willie making an appearance in the ninth inning against a southpaw. He's actually been relatively serviceable against lefties for his career, and was the best bat off the bench in that situation. My problem is that Bloomquist was used to pinch-hit for Reed with Valdez standing on deck. Valdez is quite clearly one of the worst hitters in baseball when he's playing every day, and by using the only spare infielder lying around to hit for Reed, Hargrove pretty much admitted that he has more faith in Valdez to hit a lefty than he does Reed. This is taking the matchups to an extreme, where numbers don't matter at all, and the only thing with any meaning is from which side of the plate a given batter swings. I don't need to explain to you guys that this doesn't make any sense.
Again, it goes back to the 12-man pitching staff - our utility infielder is the same guy as our fourth outfielder, so when you want to pinch hit for a center fielder and a shortstop back-to-back, you have to choose one or the other. Not that it has to be this way, of course, but whoever's in charge decided that it would be wise to stock our shorthanded bench with two redundant left-handed bats. It's a messy situation which can lead to nights like this, where you're stuck hitting three weak bats in the ninth inning, none of whom currently feature an OBP above .250 or a SLG above .300 (or, to be more specific, .269). Nobody can say for sure whether or not it cost us the game, since even Albert Pujols might've struck out against BJ Ryan, but it certainly didn't help anything. If managing a baseball team is all about finding the best possible odds of success under any circumstances, then Hargrove made the worst of an already miserable situation.
So, let's talk Pineiro. The good news is that he limited the Orioles to one run while topping out at 93mph. The bad news is that he was missing his spots, walked more than he struck out, and only got through 5.1 innings on 107 pitches. In short, he did not look like a New & Improved! Joel, which many of us were hoping to see after his paid vacation.
Obviously, I'm not going to do this every day, but because this is a pretty important topic, I did a video screenshot breakdown of pre- and post-"demotion" Joel. Observe how the two versions compare to each other in the following series of images, and keep in mind that they are taken from slightly different angles (images from tonight's game, on the right, are closer to being taken from directly behind second base):
Let's try to spot some differences between the May 13th Joel and the May 24th Joel.
There are none. For all intents and purposes, these are virtually identical pitchers, unless you want to get ultra-detailed and look at the third pair of images, where tonight's Joel attempted to come a little more over the top with his pitches, forcing his body to lean a little further towards first base and knocking his head offline. It also looks like he's reaching back for a little extra on the right in the second pair of pictures, but that may be a function of the camera angle. Bottom line, if Joel was working on different mechanics today, either he used them very infrequently, or he lost them altogether. You really have to wonder just what he and Price have been working on for the past week and a half.
For the sake of having a little educational fun, let's compare Joel to Mark Prior, who has some of the finest, most pure mechanics you'll ever see. Obviously, different pitchers will have different deliveries, but periphery aside, the main components should still be pretty similar.
If we use Prior as a gold standard, then Joel has some work to do. Let's quickly go image-by-image. In the first, you see Joel picking his leg up with some force - notice the angled foot, not parallel with the rubber, and his upper back leaning a little towards first base. It's nothing terrible (think about Dontrelle Willis, after all), but it creates a balance issue, and serves to prevent him from keeping the rest of his delivery nice and fluid.
Move on to the second image. Compared to Prior, Joel looks a lot more animated. He's reaching way back with his throwing hand, down near his thigh, forcing his front shoulder way up. He's also over-rotating, as his shoulders have gone beyond the imaginary line directly from home plate to second base. It's just an upper-body rotation, to boot, as his hips are out in front of his shoulders and appear to be turning forward to be square with the plate after pitch release. When the hips are in front, then the arm and shoulder are playing catch-up, which often results in a high release point and a bad pitch.
Third image. There's a legit difference here, as Joel goes more over-the-top than Prior does. Still, you can see some of the problem areas. Joel's head is way off center, almost pointing at a 45-degree angle from home plate. His back leg is collapsed, thus not providing much drive or force for his pitch. There's way too much lean in this picture (you can see that even his planted leg is at an angle), which is nothing but wasted energy that could otherwise be going into his pitch. This segues nicely into the fourth image...
Prior has both feet planted parallel to the plate, putting him in good defensive position. Joel, meanwhile, kicks his back leg way up and around so that it plants in front of his other foot, putting him just about perpendicular with home plate instead. It's wasted energy (and this is likely all a result of his arms trying to catch up with his hips), and it also leaves him helpless against good bunts rolled down the third base line. That's a double-whammy.
Maybe Price noticed this stuff and worked hard with Joel to repair the problems. Maybe Joel just forgot it all when he started pitching tonight. I'm not sure. What I can tell you is that Joel is a long, long way away from being where he needs to be in order to become a successful pitcher. All he's doing now is hurting his command while putting extra pressure on his throwing arm, and you don't want to see either of these in a talented young arm.
Hope for better luck tomorrow, as Jamie Moyer takes the hill against Rodrigo Lopez. Game time's 4:05pm PDT.