A Mariners announcer - I believe it was Dave Henderson - went on record earlier this year as saying that the real thrill of baseball isn't so much watching your team win as it is seeing something new that you've never seen before.
Under those conditions, today might have been the most thrilling baseball game in franchise history.
Damian Jackson - Damian Jackson! - bookended a spectacular day with a pair of home runs that sent the Mariners deeper into the depths of the AL West. It was Jackson's first ever multihomer game, a fact that isn't the least bit surprising when you consider that he entered the day with a career .111 isolated slugging percentage and 24 home runs in 1924 at bats. It's not quite as bad as serving up two longballs to Woody Williams or Sean Burroughs, but it's still pretty inexcusable. How does that happen? Of all the ways to lose, why is it Damian friggin' Jackson who delivers the knockout punch? Petco Park is like my own little personal house of terror. Watching the black Willie Bloomquist down your team with a pair of blasts into left field has to be one of the most unpleasant experiences in the world, second only to hearing a belligerent Padres fan behind you yell "Scoreboard!" every time you clap for a player on your team.
Let's look at the chart:
Biggest Contribution: Rene Rivera, +33.8%
Biggest Suckfest: Joel Pineiro, -21.8%
Most Important Hit: Rivera homer, +37.3%
Most Important Pitch: Jackson homer #2, -26.5%
Total Contribution by Pitchers: -36.9%
Total Contribution by Hitters: -11.5%
It's tough to pin this one on the pitching staff when the lineup managed just eight baserunners in nine innings, but Joel Pineiro and Julio Mateo each got tagged by Damian Jackson, so Win Probability Added shares my impression that the pitchers should be held solely responsible for the loss. Which isn't to say that the offense didn't have its problems, mind you. The moment that sticks out in my mind is Adrian Beltre grounding out with a man on third and one out in the top of the eighth (Sexson followed with a long fly out). When you have the go-ahead run just 90 feet away and the 3/4 hitters due up, you need to score that run, and the Mariners failed. Their win expectancy was up to 62% after Winn doubled; when Sexson flew out, it dropped to 36.6%. In other words, you could say that the back-to-back outs by Beltre and Sexson were roughly as detrimental as the second Jackson home run. And all three were consecutive! Let's observe:
Winn double: 62%
Beltre out: 45.7%
Sexson out: 36.6%
Jackson homer: 10.1%
That's a steep slope. Thank goodness for the inning break, which inserted a convenient pause into my developing depression.
Joel Pineiro was a strike-throwing dynamo this afternoon, upping his strike percentage by nearly 10% from his last start. In hindsight, you could say that he was accurate to a fault, as the Padres hit several balls hard and cleared the fence twice. His fastball routinely registered in the 87-89 range and his offspeed stuff didn't have the usual bite. By the end of the sixth, San Diego hitters had seen 96 pitches from Pineiro and swung and missed at just four of them. To me, that's an indication that Joel just wasn't fooling anyone (to add to that, two of his three strikeouts were called). Even a depleted lineup like the one Joel faced today will be able to tee off on a guy who isn't throwing real well, and that's just what they did. Some terrific defense kept Pineiro's line from looking worse, and this is certainly a step down from his previous few starts. Damian Jackson pulled his fastball into the seats, for chrissakes, and Xavier Nady beat the snot out of a ball that landed somewhere in Oceanside.
That defense - boy, that was something, wasn't it? Not only did Jeremy Reed make his standard daily amazing full-extension diving catch (along with one or two other good ones), but Bret Boone got into the act as well with a diving stop and an over-the-shoulder flip to Mike Morse to start a critical double play. I couldn't believe my eyes, and for once I actually found myself saying "Boo-oone," rather than the monosyllabic alternative.
This really was Bret Boone's series in the sun. He finished 6-12 with a double, a triple, a homer, and a walk, along with a small handful of pretty good plays around the bag. His home run today, as much as it may not have looked like it on TV, was a no-doubter off the bat, a line drive that hit the facade of the upper deck in left-center (complete with classic bat flip). Throw in that remarkably awesome double play and you've got a guy who probably looked useful to a San Diego GM who's looking for a second baseman to bridge the gap between now and Loretta's return. It's a shame that Boone grounded into that 4-6-3 in the ninth, and that Loretta's fill-in - Jackson - blasted twice as many homers as Bret. That ninth inning DP was a total killer.
Something I noticed each of the last two days: where it once represented an inevitable Padres victory, Trevor Hoffman's Hell's Bells entrance theme no longer signifies the same assuredness of triumph. Yesterday's 8-5 game made for a pretty easy save, but with a one-run lead today, you could detect some nervousness in the crowd when Hoffman came in. After Ibanez singled, there was a lot of visible anxiety on the faces of people nearby. It's not that Hoffman is bad - he's converted 18 consecutive save opportunities, after all - but he doesn't seem so automatic anymore, which probably stems from the fact that he's currently sporting the lowest strikeout rate of his career. It sucks to watch your favorite players decline, but when it happens to players on the opposing team, it's pretty neat. I didn't have to feel like this one was over an inning early.
During every Sunday day game, the Padres honor the US armed forces by accomodating a squad of soldiers with tickets in a section high along the first base line. They get all kinds of camera time, and receive a standing ovation during the seventh inning stretch. Part of today's tribute was a PA broadcast of LeAnn Rimes' rendition of God Bless America. If LeAnn Rimes really loved America, she wouldn't have entered a profession which requires that people listen to her.
Julio Mateo is one of the most extreme flyball pitchers in baseball, and he was summoned to pitch in a stadium that's seen balls just fly into the seats in the afternoon sun of late. It's not like this was the wrong move by Hargrove, since Mateo's the best long reliever we've got, but you could almost feel that home run coming before it was actually hit. It's just weird that it came off the bat of Damian Jackson, rather than Nady, Greene, or McAnulty. Life is funny like that.
A move I didn't agree with was having Jeremy Reed bunt Randy Winn to third with none out in the eighth. The idea was that Beltre would be able to drive him in with a hit or a fly ball, but that didn't exactly go down as planned, and Sexson's fly out capped the unsuccessful inning. The problem with the strategy is this: Rudy Seanez has been nothing short of fantastic this year, pitching like one of the best relievers in baseball and just killing right-handed batters. Righties haven't been able to make much solid contact against him all year long, and Beltre hasn't exactly been driving the ball deep into the outfield, so you just felt like that plan was going to backfire. If Seanez has a weakness, it's pitching to lefties, who have tagged him for a few extra-base hits. Reed's put up a .286/.355/.401 line against righties, with just 29 strikeouts in 182 at bats, so he was a decent bet to make contact and either move Winn over with a ground ball or score him with a single. By taking the bat out of Reed's hands, Hargrove denied to use a platoon advantage for pretty much the first time this season. Hell, even if Reed pops out and Winn stays at second, it still would've been the right call, and Beltre's been hitting a bunch of singles of late that could score Winn from second base, anyway. I didn't like the move then, and I really don't like it now.
Congratulations go out to Rene Rivera for his first career home run, also a ball that looked a lot better in person than it did on video replay. Williams hung a slider and Rivera stayed right with it, using a line drive swing to hit the pitch ten miles. That at bat showed two things: One, that Rivera is capable of hitting mistakes, and two, that he's not going to be much of a power hitter at the plate. The reason I say this is because Rivera's swing was pretty level, the kind of swing that sends frozen ropes into the gaps and off of walls, instead of over them. The ball just hit the right part of the bat and got enough elevation to reach the seats, though, which made for a pretty awesome moment. Rene will be lucky to ever hit 10 home runs in a Major League season, but given enough playing time, he could pick up 20-30 doubles. There's more offensive potential here than his career numbers would suggest.
Something you see a lot of in San Diego is a guy on a street corner holding up a sign in the shape of an arrow, with a company name or special offer written in the middle and the arrow pointing you in the direction of the establishment in question. The idea is to catch the attention of motorists who are in the market for whatever it is your arrow sign is advertising, and who have some time to kill. The two arrow signs I saw today read "The Diamond Store" and "Condos For Sale". Now, maybe it's me, but this seems like suboptimal utilization of a promising ad industry. I just can't imagine ever driving around San Diego thinking, "you know, I could really use another condo." How many impulse customers do these places really expect to bring in? Maybe if the signs read "Coffee shop" or "Cheap gas" I'd pay more attention.
No game tomorrow. The Mariners will be in Oakland to kick off a three-game set against the third place Athletics on Tuesday.