Methinks Lou isn't sleeping very well tonight.
Of course, it was really Alex Sanchez who put the finishing touches on the late Devil Ray collapse, but that won't make Lou feel any better. For Mariners fans, this was one of those infrequent rewards you get for sticking with a bad, boring team through another bad, boring game. Had we expected anything better, the top of the seventh might have ranked as one of the most painful innings of the season, and the bottom half had a lot of wasted potential. That eighth inning, though...sweet sweet mercy, that was fantastic. Five solid at bats in a row and all of a sudden the M's had themselves in position to win. We haven't seen that very often.
This is what happens when you have a decent bench - you get big hits in the later innings that help you win games. Which isn't to say that the Mariners have a good bench, mind you, but that fans of teams who have good benches get this feeling a lot more than we do, and I'd like to change that. And hey, as long as we're talking about rare occurrences, how about the Mariners getting two big breaks with Sanchez's error and Perez getting called out at first in the ninth? A lot of announcers like to say that good teams make their own luck, but I think it's the other way around, that luck can make a team look good. That was certainly in play today, because man, at the end of the game, this team looked good.
You can see the effect that Ibanez's homer had in the fourth inning, but everything disappeared as soon as Ron Villone entered the game. Think of it this way: when Villone was summoned from the bullpen, the Mariners had a 60.8% chance of winning. When he left, it was down to 10.9%. Ichiro's RBI sac fly a few minutes later made things a little better, but heading into the bottom of the eighth, we were still faced with just a one-in-eight chance of victory. When Jeremy Reed improbably struck out with the bases loaded and one down, it felt like someone stuck one of those splintered Pacific islander knives into your back and twisted it around as if spinning spaghetti noodles. But then, instant rapture.
Biggest Contribution: Dave Hansen, +40.5%
Biggest Suckfest: Ron Villone, -49.9%
Most Important Hit: Hansen two-run single, +40.5%
Most Important Pitch: Sanchez two-run double, -38.9%
Total Contribution by Pitchers: -35.2%
Total Contribution by Hitters: +46.5%
A few things of note: first of all, Hansen got credit for a two-run single, not for a bases-clearing triple, thanks to the Sanchez error. Also, Guardado comes up slightly negative because he gets credit for allowing a single and getting two outs - Eddie Perez was safe at first base on the "double play". Hansen probably just had the most important pinch-hit you'll see a Mariner get all year, and Villone's brief appearance rivals JJ Putz's two implosions in three days for worst of the season.
Joel Pineiro got jobbed. This wasn't his best start of the year, given that he allowed nine baserunners and threw 102 pitches in 6.1 innings, but he didn't deserve to get tagged with four runs allowed. He left the game with the score 2-1 Mariners, and with the knowledge that his mechanics and stuff were the best they've looked in a long time. He was hovering in the 88-91mph range with his fastball, not as good as we've seen in years past but better than it's been in the last few weeks, particularly because he controlled it pretty well. They key, though, was that he had fantastic breaking stuff, getting a bunch of whiffs on sharp low sliders and freezing a few more hitters with a big sweeping curve. Consistent secondary pitches allowed Joel to battle back from falling behind early - he started off just 12 of 25 batters with first-pitch strikes (excluding the IBB to Hall). I didn't notice anything funky with his release point tonight, and apparently neither did the Devil Rays, who didn't know what was coming until the ball was in flight. Absolutely a strong start to build off.
Ron Villone has inherited 29 baserunners this year, and 38% of them (11) have scored. Let's take a look at how some other primary lefties are doing in that department:
By no means is this a complete study, and there are a few who have had similar struggles (Rhodes and Romero, for example), but the point is this - Ron Villone has not been a good reliever this year. He is frequently summoned from the bullpen with men on base, and he's allowing too many of the guys he faces to reach, pushing other runners across the plate. Although lefties haven't hit for any power against Villone through the first two months, they're still reaching more than a third of the time, which isn't what you look for from a bullpen southpaw who gets pounded by righties. He gets his strikeouts, the memories of which create the illusion that he's an effective middle man, but he misses his spots too often to ever be a consistent shutdown reliever. That he got himself an expensive multiyear deal this past winter is a damn shame.
Richie Sexson went 0-1 with a strikeout today, but he still drew three walks, upping his OBP to .367 despite a low batting average. Even with the home runs, Sexson's a real good bet to be an underappreciated player in Seattle, due to his perceived rally-killing strikeouts. Did You Know: Sexson's 34 walks are close to double what Adrian Beltre is on pace to collect over the full season.
Joel Pineiro inadvertently beaned Jorge Cantu in the back to lead off the top of the seventh. Presumably out of retaliation, and aiming to strike at the heart of the Mariner spirit, Scott Kazmir drilled Willie Bloomquist with one gone in the bottom half of the same inning. An artist's rendering of Willie's reaction:
With the game going badly, my first thought was "Charge the mound, you dumbass!!" not bothering to consider the potential consequences. For one, Willie would be ejected, forcing us to lean on Mike Morse for the rest of the...well, okay, that one doesn't seem so bad. But charging the pitcher would've forced the team to get aggressive and act as a cohesive unit, which...well, that one's not so bad, either. But hey, brawls are dangerous, and you never want to risk having one of your star players get hurt by-...wait, what star players? Willie probably would've lost his reputation as a cute little white boy who'd never hurt a fly, though, and that's something.
About a year ago, the Devil Rays were fresh off a series win against the Padres in San Diego, and I was attending a BP Kevin Towers Pizza Feed at Petco Park. During the Q&A session, Towers made several references to how he wants to build his outfield to be more like Tampa Bay's, a quick, athletic group that so impressed him by taking away balls in the gap (by the way, San Diego's starting corner outfielders tonight: Brian Giles and Mark Sweeney). We saw some of that in the fourth, when Carl Crawford ran down a potential double that Adrian Beltre stung into left-center. Of course, we should've seen it coming, since Beltre can't catch a break to save his life. Later in the game, we saw Julio Lugo take a hit away from Beltre by making a fine backhand stab at short, and Travis Lee keeping Beltre off base on the same play by making a full-extension dig while keeping his foot on the bag. It shouldn't be long before we have an Official Adrian Beltre Stress Ball Night promotion at Safeco.
Some teams often have prominent celebrities in attendance. The Yankees have Billy Crystal. The Lakers have Jack Nicholson. The Red Sox have Stephen King. The Bulls have Bill Murray. We have Chef Morimoto.
A few times during tonight's broadcast, FSN ran ads for a network exclusive with Mike Tyson. Prior to the segment, we were told that "viewer discretion is strongly advised." At one point, I was talking to someone who thought that the statement referred to the game, not the commercial. Can you say "official 2006 team slogan"?
The Duvall class of 2005 was having prom night at Safeco today. Strange location aside (I guess the post office and the stamp factory were closed), I'm reasonably certain that the sensations felt at a Mariner game are the polar opposite of what every male student was hoping for after the dance.
Bret Boone's defense is really, really bad.
Right back at it tomorrow afternoon at 1:05pm, as the M's will gun for their fifth series win in the last seven. Jamie Moyer will go up against Hideo Nomo, who is trying for his 200th career victory in Japan and the US combined.