To better teams, ripping off three narrow wins against Tampa Bay and Toronto might be considered something of a hiccup. To the Mariners, though, party time! It's their second three-game winning streak of the year, a streak during which the hitting and pitching have shown up when needed, and Eddie Guardado has been terrific (3 IP, 3 saves, 0 baserunners). For at least one night, the unfamiliar feeling of adequacy sweeps over the Pacific Northwest, as the Mariners have proven that they're not entirely hopeless.
This one had the feeling of an easy victory - y'know, those things that we never seem to have - until Julio Mateo took a swig of Everclear and spit it onto a smoldering flame. The Blue Jays erupted and the bullpen had to hold them down, bending but not breaking under the pressure of the tying run reaching second base in both the seventh and eighth innings. Eddie Guardado, amped up by AC/DC's "Hell's Bells" in a blatant theft of a better pitcher's entrance music, slammed the door shut in the ninth, and the Mariners had themselves another one-run win.
Let's see the chart:
Bonus points to the first person who can solve the image riddle!
The game was steady until the bottom of the fourth, when Richie Sexson launched an absolute blast into the left field upper deck. Jeremy Reed would add an RBI single down the third base line, and the Mariners had themselves a 3-0 lead. They never again had worse than a two-thirds chance of winning the game. Understandably, Sexson was the big offensive contributor, with the rest of the lineup hanging around the break-even point, but it was Jamie Moyer who helped more than anyone else by going six strong. Matt Thornton and Eddie Guardado chipped in some valuable high-leverage relief to finish third and fourth in WPA. Julio Mateo, for lack of a better term, was the stinker.
Biggest Contribution: Richie Sexson, +20.3%
Biggest Suckfest: Julio Mateo, -16.6%
Most Important Hit: Sexson HR, +19.8%
Most Important Pitch: Zaun double, -12.2%
Total Contribution by Pitchers: +36.6%
Total Contribution by Hitters: +10.2%
As you can see, it was the pitching that won this game, despite a few big hits. Those one-run leads are dangerous, and Putz/Thornton/Guardado did a great job of keeping Toronto at bay. Note that Thornton's appearance, in which he faced three batters in the eighth inning, retiring two, was as important as Guardado's appearance, where he pitched a 1-2-3 ninth. Although it didn't hurt Hargrove today, do you really want the worst pitcher in the bullpen making those critical pitches in the eighth so that you can save your "closer" for the next inning?
There's really nothing to say about Moyer's performance - he did what he always does when he has a good game, screwing with hitters' timing and getting a handful of whiffs scattered amidst several weakly-hit balls in play. That he passed Randy Johnson to become the all-time franchise leader in wins goes to tell you how long he's been doing this. He may not do it as often as he did in his peak years, but when he has his stuff working, he's still a joy to watch. You can see power pitchers hucking fastballs in the general direction of the plate anywhere you look, but watching Jamie tease great hitters with his slow-as-molasses slop is a unique experience.
Top of the seventh inning comes to a close. A Rick Rizzs transcript:
Rizzs: "We go to the bottom of the seventh inning, the Mariners lead the Blue Jays, 4-3. The Mariners' seventh inning stretch is brought to you by Today's Manufactured Homes. Don't compromise, customize. Consider Today's Manufactured Home: built for living, built for you."
The noise - or gurgle, or whatever it was - caught me off guard, because as often as it happens, you never expect a guy to forget that his mic is still on. Occasionally, the noises they make or the words they say during such an episode can lend insight into what they're really thinking, or what's going on inside the studio. For example, this Rizzs deal could mean one of three things was taking place:
(A) Rizzs was fighting back tears of boredom from having to watch this team 162 times a year
(B) Rizzs was sending a message to his home planet in its native tongue
(C) Rizzs was hocking a loogy at a fan beneath the broadcast booth window
Of course, we all know that Rizzs is quite happy to follow the Mariners all season, and that there were no fans in attendance tonight to actually spit at, so that only leaves option B. Which might make sense, as Rizzs could have been born in some parallel universe where bad routes to fly balls and groundouts with men in scoring position are considered the most exciting plays in sports. What's more remarkable is that he manages to communicate with Dave Valle.
Mateo is yet to give up a home run this season. Using the 10 percent guideline, he "should" have given up 4 by now. This isn't to say he hasn't pitched well, but in projecting him going forward, we're better off projecting a regression to a normal home run/flyball rate rather than assuming he's developed a mysterious ability to induce 350 foot outs.
Since then, Mateo has allowed 18 fly balls and four homers. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: when invoked, the Law of Averages is incredibly quick and efficient. We don't know any more about Mateo now than we did when he was sporting a 0.41 ERA - he's just become the victim of some bad luck where once he was getting all the breaks. It's possible that he may be working through some lingering effects of the start two weeks ago, but it's more likely that he's just going through one of the rough periods you expect from a contact pitcher. He's flyball-oriented, meaning he'll give up his share of longballs over the season, but he'll still be a decent 1+ inning arm in the bullpen for the remainder of the year.
Matt Thornton has faced 97 hitters this year. 14 have walked (14.4%), six have homered (6.2%), and 25 have struck out (25.8%). Right now, you're looking at possibly the biggest Three True Outcomes pitcher in the league, as he's getting said results nearly half the time. He's not quite Russ Branyan, but he's close.
Mound conference, Pat Borders talks strategy with Eddie Guardado before the ninth:
Borders: "All right, so let's go over these three hitters real quick."
Guardado: "You got it."
Borders: "Okay, McDonald here, he's kind of a slap hitter who can be exposed by offspeed stuff. So start him off with a change low and in, and we'll see where that takes us."
Guardado: "Hmm. I'm thinking a fastball high and away, actually."
Borders: "Well you're not exactly overpowering, and the last thing you want to do is give him a pitch that he can drive by just sticking the bat out there..."
Guardado: "So, fastball up and out, then."
Borders: "...Johnson, he's got some speed and might try to bunt his way on, so you should buzz him in close to start off. Try to find the corner, though, especially if McDonald reaches."
Guardado: "I think fastballs off the plate and high should get the job done, here."
Borders: "Um, well that's not really what I said at all. See, I think-"
Guardado: "Yeah, I'm feeling it. I'm going to blow it by this guy, up and off."
Borders: "Are you listening to a word I'm saying? Alex Rios, he's the third guy you'll face, and he loves to drive pitches the other way. So you'll need to pitch him in, to keep him from extending his arms."
Guardado: "The other way? So what you're saying is, I need to get a little more oomph into my high outside fastball."
Borders: "No, actually I-"
Guardado: "I can only really dial it up to about 89-90, but I'll do what I can. Yeah, I like it, these guys can't hit those fastballs up and off the plate outside. Thanks for the advice, Pat."
Guardado: "All right, good, I like it. Set up away, glove about belt level."
Willie Bloomquist: .191/.250/.255
Wilson Valdez: .198/.235/.254
Remind me why the team is looking for a veteran catcher instead of a half-decent shortstop. By the looks of things, we're just about guaranteed to have two virtually automatic outs at the bottom of the lineup at least until the All Star Break. What happens when you give away six outs a game? You score fewer runs and win fewer ballgames. It's pretty simple.
Back tomorrow night at 7:05pm, as Ryan Franklin will try to push it real good (Ooh, baby baby!) against newly-recalled righty Chad Gaudin.