First, there was Upset beating Man O' War. Several years later came Super Bowl III and the Amazin' Mets. Next, we had the Miracle on Ice. Then, on June 18th, 2005, the world bore witness to perhaps the greatest sports stunner in history: the Seattle Mariners beat Pedro friggin' Martinez. With ease. This wasn't one of those "get a few walks, a lucky bounce, and hang on for dear life" kinds of wins - no, the Mariners slapped Pedro around for nine hits and four runs in six innings, giving the cruising Ryan Franklin a healthy cushion of run support for the first time since the Golden Horde posed a threat to Polish Galicia. If you don't think the bottom of the fourth was the most fun half-inning of the season, you probably aren't a real Mariners fan. Or maybe you're one of those fans who thinks that every win is the same, regardless of the opponent, but that doesn't make you better than me, and I'm the one writing, so shut up.
The sellout crowd certainly got its collective money's worth - it felt the anxiousness of going up against a famously (and formerly) invulnerable pitcher, the raw animosity over a double ejection, the excitement of a rally, and the elation of unexpected victory. In the brief chronicle of the 2005 Mariners' hugely important wins, this one belongs above both the late-inning rally against the Yankees and the Sexson slam game in Boston. Pedro has been so very good against this team for so very long that to beat him with Ryan Franklin and a lineup of kids and unspectacular veterans just feels like ten Christmas mornings all crammed into one. No longer will we as fans have to face the harsh reality of 13 losses in 13 games - no, now it's 13 losses in 14 games, a marked improvement declaring the ultimate triumph of good over evil. Only later, when we look back on this ten or twenty years from now, will we realize just how much 1-13 still really blows. For now, party.
Let's look at the chart:
Biggest Contribution: Randy Winn, +21.2%
Biggest Suckfest: Pat Borders, -10.2%
Most Important Hit: Hansen single, +15.1%
Most Important Pitch: Wright triple, -6.9%
Total Contribution by Pitchers: +16.1%
Total Contribution by Hitters: +23.9%
This game was won by steady pitching and one big offensive outburst. Outside of that fourth inning, the lineup managed just five hits and three walks, but the five hits in the span of seven batters there against Pedro were really what carried the team to victory. A few things to explain about the chart and the Win Probability Added numbers: first of all, I charged Ryan Franklin with a run-scoring single in the top of the second, because that's what would have happened had Wright stayed at second base like he should've. Likewise, Winn was given full credit for the inning-ending throw to third, which was worth +9.3% in terms of win expectancy. Jeremy Reed gets a (very) slightly negative rating, despite reaching base three of the four times he came to the plate, because he made an out in his first at bat and singled in his next to lead off an inning, with his last two PA's coming with the game well in hand. I'm going to remind you every day that this stuff is all context-dependent. Richie Sexson's negative rating shouldn't be too hard to figure out, and neither should Pat Borders', since he went 0-4 and stranded five runners. Win Expectancy doesn't give a guy credit for "calling a good game."
Ryan Franklin chose a good time to have his best start of the season, allowing just one run and eight baserunners in eight innings of work. Something that almost invariably comes up after every Franklin start is talk about BABIP - usually along the lines of "Franklin didn't strike out many batters today, and his BABIP was (some low amount), so this was all luck." That really, really gets on my nerves. I'm a big fan of numbers, and I use stats like BABIP more often than 99.9% of the rest of the baseball fans in the world, but that's just blatant misuse. For one thing, a single game is always going to be way too small of a sample size, so no conclusions can be drawn.
The bigger problem, though, is that the statement is making an assumption without any proven foundation in truth. Here's what we know: very, very few pitchers are able to sustain a low BABIP over an extended period of time. So, when a guy posts an inordinately high or low BABIP in any given season, we say that he was just lucky or unlucky, because over that kind of time span, he doesn't have much control over the outcome of balls put in play against him. A conclusion that many people like to draw from this is that pitchers don't ever have control over balls in play. This is a dangerous assumption. Even if you're willing to accept that the element of control balances out over a long period of time, that says nothing about what happens in individual starts. It's entirely possible that a pitcher can just be "feeling it" on some given day, hitting all his spots and keeping opposing batters from making solid contact. This may not be a sustainable attribute over 30 starts, but when you're talking about seven or eight innings of a single game? I'm not ready to write it off as luck.
The point is, there are probably a few dozen people who have looked at Franklin's line score and said "Oh, he had a .217 BABIP in the game, that's just lucky pitching." You can't make that kind of assumption. If Franklin's game plan is pitching to contact, and he executes it well on a particular day, why is it so hard to believe that he may have done exactly what he set out to do? You can't do that over a full season because you just can't keep hitting your spots that consistently for so long, but for one day? I'm giving Franklin a lot of the credit for this one.
Of course, beating Pedro has put me in something of a charitable mood, but I'd like to think that the point is valid.
The announcers tonight kept making a big deal about how Eddie Guardado does more mental preparation than physical warming-up before coming in to close a game in the ninth. In the absence of overpowering stuff, a lot of Eddie's success depends on visualization. To him, the ball is a grenade, and the catcher's mitt is a diet. The results have been spectacular.
When Dave Hansen was (re-)acquired a little while ago, there was some talk about how the move only contributed to redundancy on the bench, since he and Greg Dobbs had the same role. By now, though, we've seen the reasoning behind the move play out on the field: Dave Hansen is moderately useful, and Greg Dobbs really sucks. Those automatic outs are a dangerous breed, and it's nice to be rid of another one of them.
Randy Winn's 2003 OPS: .771
Randy Winn's 2004 OPS: .772
Randy Winn's 2005 OPS: .772
In the middle of the seventh inning, the "Long Ball" Mariner team ad aired over the video feed. Players present in that commercial: Richie Sexson, Adrian Beltre, Pokey Reese. Number of those players present during most of this game: Zero.
Richie Sexson's rate stats have gotten worse each month, April to May to June. Adjusting to a new league? Guess not. Especially given the way he's struggled against National League opponents. When you wonder why the Mariners aren't scoring too many runs right now, look to the cleanup slot, where Sexson's just a real rut. It's too bad we didn't, y'know, sign two big bats so that one can shoulder the load when the other hits a slump...
Speaking of Sexson, is anyone else the least bit curious about his argument and subsequent ejection in the first? He was clearly jobbed, as that was a joke of a called strike three, but there's no excuse for an important player to get tossed that early in a big game (the manager, too). Dale Scott had a gigantic zone all night long, and Sexson was the only hitter who really raised his voice. Makes you wonder if (A) Sexson just didn't feel like playing the rest of the game, or (B) he and Hargrove were looking for a way to light a fire under the rest of the team. Who knew that replacing Richie with Willie Ballgame in the cleanup slot would do the job?
A sign that your bat speed isn't quite what it used to be:
You, Mike Piazza, can't catch up with Ryan Franklin or Eddie Guardado's famed heaters.
A sign that your velocity isn't quite what it used to be:
You, Pedro Martinez, let Dave Hansen pull the ball into the gap.
A sign that you're a fat oaf who doesn't belong in the outfield:
You look in the mirror and see Victor Diaz.
If you're ever at Safeco with a friend, trying to argue that white people really are good dancers, and they start playing Zombie Nation over the PA system, and your friend looks around the stadium, you will lose the argument.
Right back at it tomorrow afternoon, as Gil Meche and the Mariners look for a sweep of the Mets at 1:05pm.