You may not have noticed, but the Mariners have won seven of their last nine games (picking up six games on the Yankees in the process, because admit it, we're all watching). It's been a pretty quiet hot streak in large part because six of the seven wins have been of the one-run variety, which are always a little nerve-wracking. I suppose a dedicated pessimist could offer the argument that winning one-run games is mostly luck, and that the Mariners could just as easily be 1-8 over the same stretch, but that opinion sucks and I hate it. If someone had told me that, fresh off a series-opening loss to Tampa Bay afte being swept out of Baltimore, the M's would be six games under .500 just a week and a half later, you better believe I'd have taken it.
These may not have been the most impressive of victories, but every win is important - the Mariners have had a tough schedule this year, so beating the occasional Devil Rays of the world while picking up a few peripheral wins helps them avoid a tailspin. Their next 11 games are all against NL East teams, each of which are pretty good, so if the Mariners come out of this stretch 30-37 or 31-36, I'm going to be pleased. Nobody in this division has shown very much, so...well, you never know who's going to catch fire and carry the team on his back for a few weeks, so as long as the M's stay within shouting distance of the Rangers/Angels, there's always a chance, however slim. Really, you couldn't have asked for much more from this team, given how it was built.
It's been mentioned a few times already that this team has rattled off seven wins in nine games without key guys like Beltre really doing much of anything, and that there's the potential for a lot more if they ever heat up. There's truth in there, I guess, but at the same time, it's not like Randy Winn and Raul Ibanez will combine for four or five hits every day. Yeah, okay, if everybody on the team simultaneously played at their highest possible level of performance for a few weeks, then the team would pull off an incredible run of annihilation, but that's foolishness, and it only serves to set the bar of expectations way too high.
So, yeah, what happened today? I'm still trying to figure out if the Mariners actually won that game, or if the Marlins should just get two in the "L" category. The pitchers managed to keep Florida off the board pretty well, but put up some awful peripheral numbers in so doing, while the offense needed some help from the Marlin defense to cash in one of its many opportunities (as you could expect, with Franklin on the hill). Which isn't to say that the Mariners don't deserve the win - they scored more often than the Marlins did, and that's really all that matters - but on a scale from 1-10 gauging domination in triumph, with 10 being the most impressive win known to man, today ranked around a 2, just ahead of "victory by forfeit".
The game stayed pretty stable until the fifth inning, when the Mariners finally pushed a run across the board to take a 1-0 lead. Franklin gave it away as quickly as he got it, though, putting the M's behind 2-1, but an Ibanez blast to lead off the sixth knotted it back up. From that point until the eighth, it was a game of missed opportunities, as the two teams combined to go 0-7 with men in scoring position until Pat Borders hit a comebacker to Jim Mecir, who threw the ball away and let the Mariners crawl in front. Okay, so that's 0-8, and then Dobbs hit a sac fly, so they still weren't so much converting their opportunities as they were relying on the opposition to screw themselves, but whatever the Mariner plan was, it worked. Two innings of shaky relief later, BAM, win time.
Biggest Contribution: Eddie Guardado, +18.9%
Biggest Suckfest: Pat Borders: -21.6%
Most Important Hit: Mecir error, +27.4%
Most Important Pitch: Moehler single, -20.9%
Total Contribution by Pitchers: +27.3%
Total Contribution by Hitters: -3.4%
Based on those last two numbers, you could say that this game was won by pitching, but that wouldn't be true - look just above, and you'll notice that this game was actually won via Jim Mecir's throwing error. Remember how I mentioned a few days ago that announcers like to say that "good teams get all the breaks"? And how it's really more like "all the breaks make good teams"? This is a pretty good example of that. Without Mecir's error, the Mariners may easily have lost this game.
Nothing in particular to say about Franklin - he got the job done with smoke and mirrors yet again, using his one strikeout in a critical situation, whiffing Miguel Cabrera with men on second and third and one out in the sixth. He's sporting a K/BB of 1.04, he's still giving up too many home runs (today notwithstanding), and he's got a career-low strikeout rate, meaning that even more balls are being put in play than usual. You've heard all this before, and you know what it means. If this is what the team needs to get by, though, I'll take it, because what's the alternative? Sitting here with a smug grin of self-satisfaction, watching Franklin implode and cost the team games while repeating over and over that I was right all along? There's no fun in that, and I'd much rather a guy continually prove me wrong and contribute to the ballclub. I didn't like the Ibanez contract from day one, but all he's done is turn around and be one of the team's better hitters since last April. I have no problem saying that I was wrong about Ibanez, and that I hope I'm wrong about Franklin. Just know that there's a difference between rooting against one's own team, and being skeptical.
Matt Thornton had perhaps my favorite relief appearance of the season, coming in to intentionally walk Jeff Conine before being pulled in favor of Shigetoshi Hasegawa (who, apparently, is indeed alive). Okay, that isn't exactly true - Thornton threw two "normal" balls before issuing the final two of the intentional variety - but the box score doesn't show that, and a few months down the line, we won't know the difference anymore. What's weirder about Thornton's appearance is that Mike Hargrove thought it necessary to bring in the hard-throwing lefty to face Lenny Harris, who was originally sent up to pinch-hit for the pitcher (and subsequently called back when Thornton came in). According to the scouting reports I've read, Harris can have the bat blown out of his hands by anything from a light breeze to a guy sneezing in the bleachers, so that was pretty much a completely unncessary call to the bullpen. And hey, if you're Hargrove, wouldn't you rather have Harris facing Franklin or Hasegawa than Conine facing Thornton?
Things that are louder than the crowd at Dolphins Stadium:
- Purring kittens
- Rice Krispies
- Audience applause at a Jimmy Fallon stand-up special
- A book
- The color blue
After slapping three opposite-field flares for base knocks, Mike Morse finally pulled a line drive single, the first legitimate hit of his Major League career. This is something to celebrate. He was also drilled by a pitch. That isn't. Isn't it nice to know that, when Morse just gets a piece of a ball, it goes as far as Wilson Valdez's line drives?
Is there anyone who looks more uncomfortable or out of place in a baseball uniform than Jack McKeon? That man needs a drab gray long-sleeve button-down, a cigar, and a fedora.
I was talking with Devin about this earlier, and thought I'd bring it up again. When Eddie Guardado came in to close out the game, one of the Florida announcers said "Here's a guy who really likes the ball." What does that mean? It's one of those B-list sports cliches that can be and is easily adapted to fit other sports (isn't afraid of the pigskin/puck/broom/goat head). Of course Guardado likes the baseball. Have you ever heard of a guy who said "Y'know, I'm not really much for that little round thing with seams. Is there any way for me to help out without, I dunno, having to touch it?" Why would a closer ever not like the baseball? Isn't that sort of a pre-requisite for becoming a pitcher in the first place? Sometimes I think announcers would be better if they just went with some dead air instead of trying to fill as much of it as possible with worthless chatter, but then I remember how much I hate Jim Rome, so everything in moderation, I guess.
Back tomorrow afternoon (4:05) as Gil Meche takes on the red-hot Todd Bridges. I mean, Dontrelle Willis.