It's not that it wasn't a fun game - a ton of guys crossed the plate, some key hitters picked up some key hits, and the Mariners were (almost) able to rally back from a significant defecit - it's just that, in the end, it always sucks to score ten runs and lose. When you consider that the worst pitching staffs in baseball allow five or six runs a game, even the Rockies or Royals should feel reasonably safe when they plate ten baserunners. Not so for Seattle, not tonight. Now we know how Rangers fans felt during, for lack of better term, the A-Rod years. Despite some unexpectedly impressive hitting off Ted Lilly and Jason Frasor, the Mariners fell to Toronto because nobody could get anyone out until the seventh. It doesn't take a brain surgeon to figure out why this game took three and a half hours.
I will be honest - as much as it sucks to lose 12-10, these were the kinds of games you had to see coming before the season started. Having bought two shiny new bats over the winter, but still armed with the knowledge that guys like Aaron Sele and Gil Meche would be in the rotation, some barnburners were unavoidable, and we had one of them today. You have to wonder if it's almost worse to be a fan of the winning team, since it's impossible to feel comfortable with a slim lead in a game like this. At least for the Mariners, they knew they didn't deserve the game by the end of the fifth, so anything they did after that was gravy. Maybe that's just the part of me that's used to low-scoring games talking. Whatever, let's go to the chart:
Biggest Contribution: Richie Sexson, +25.0%
Biggest Suckfest: Aaron Sele, -48.0%
Most Important Hit: Sexson homer, +17.3%
Most Important Pitch: Catalanotto single, -20.2%
Total Contribution by Pitcher(s): -71.2%
Total Contribution by Hitters: +13.9%
I'm not 100% certain, but that might be the least valuable collective pitching performance of the season, in terms of win expectancy added. Which probably shouldn't come as much of a surprise, considering how they turned an early lead into a six-run defecit, and how they immediately pissed away the momentum of the Sexson home run. For shame, pitchers. At least the offense did its part; the reason its rating is so low (given the amount of runs they scored) is because the bulk of the damage came when the Mariners were trailing, and they weren't able to rally all the way back into a tie or the lead. Still, you can see three pretty visible spikes in the graph after Hinske's first home run - the batters didn't roll over and die, which is admirable, given the team's situation and the likelihood that the pitchers would give it right back.
It's funny - before the game, I was pretty upset with Mike Hargrove for playing Pat Borders instead of Miguel Olivo, since Olivo came in 4-5 against Lilly with three homers and a walk. What's more is that Lilly's a lefty and Olivo had a good game his last time out, meaning that this could've been the start of a little hot streak, or something. When you have a guy as intent on playing the matchups as Hargrove, it a little disorienting when he ignores them in favor of something else, be it his gut or his insistence on starting Borders in Toronto, where he won a World Series MVP. Of course, Borders would go on to reach base three times and nab two baserunners, so that shut me up pretty quick. I even made note of a funny Fairlyism that I can't use anymore, now that Borders went and did good for himself. God damn.
Fortunately, Ron Fairly doesn't limit himself to one quotable segment per game. At one point early on, the camera panned to the banners hanging from the stadium roof, and Dave Niehaus mentioned that the Blue Jays won back-to-back world championships in '92/'93. Said Fairly:
They had some good ballclubs back then. They put together some mighty fine seasons.
Listening to Fairly, it's almost as if he thinks his audience is a bunch of idiots. He always tries to dumb things down and never lets the listener reach his own conclusions, preferring instead to explain exactly what everything means to the point of redundancy. For example, when Sele was fighting to get through the second inning:
Just judging by the (pitch count) numbers, Sele's not going to be around much longer.
Okay, that's fine. Any competent member of the audience understands that Fairly thinks that Sele's throwing too many pitches to get into the later innings. But he continues:
He's going to get up near the 100 pitch count...
The accepted standard for when a pitcher might be pulled from the game.
If he continues at this rate, he's not going to be around for seven or eight innings.
They'll be out of the game before that, and the bullpen will be given the game.
Everything he says has to be broken down into its simplest components to the point at which nothing could possibly be misinterpreted. It's really kind of incredible how little thinking for yourself Ron Fairly would like you to do.
Not that Fairly's the only problem in the broadcast booth. For the second time this month, we got to hear from Rick Rizzs just how balanced a switch-hitter Eddie Murray was over his career, serving to confirm the suspicion that Rizzs is nothing more than an audio tape played in the studio that loops every 16 days.
Aaron Sele had his fifth consecutive ugly start, a streak which has all but killed the memory of that neat stretch he had in May. His K/BB is hovering around 1, he catches too much of the plate for a guy with a weak repertoire, and just about everything he's throwing right now is getting pounded. At this point, he's just reverting back to what he was in Anaheim, a bad starter who doesn't even have value as an innings-eater because he's gone by the sixth. His trade market is almost assuredly non-existant, meaning that how he spends the rest of 2005 will be determined by how many other current members of the starting rotation have new homes in two weeks.
Perhaps the most memorable moment from Sele's start today came in the third inning, during an Eric Hinske at bat. Sele and Pat Borders were having trouble agreeing on which pitch to throw, so Borders came out to the mound for a quick visit to find out what Sele was thinking. Evidently, Sele wanted to throw a fastball in on the hands, but it broke back over the plate and Hinske deposited the pitch in the right field seats. As Hinske jogged around the bases, Borders shot Sele the patented Pat Borders Death Glare:
What's more is that Borders remained in that position for a few seconds after Hinske crossed the plate, as if emphasizing the point that Aaron Sele is a crappy pitcher with a crappy game plan, and that, from that moment on, the pitch-calling would be left up to Pat and Pat alone.
Does anyone melt down better than Shigetoshi Hasegawa?
Two separate events worth talking about took place in the top of the ninth. The first was Chris Snelling pinch-hitting for Jose Lopez and lining a low...pitch...into the right field gap for a double, his first hit in the Majors in three years. It was a spectacular double - everything Snelling does is spectacular - that showed us a lot about the guy's ability as a hitter. I've talked about it before, but I think it's worth repeating that perhaps Snelling's strongest physical tool is his bat speed, generated by a pair of remarkably quick wrists. He recognizes and times pitches well, and is able to maintain his balance by hitting out of an exaggerated crouch, a skill and stance that remind me a lot of Jeff Clement. The main difference between the two is that, while Clement uses a lot of his upper body when he swings, Snelling is more of a "flick" hitter, in that he flicks his wrists to get the head of the bat in front of the ball and drive it somewhere. There's not much momentum coming from the rest of his body, which will limit his home run power. That doesn't mean he won't be a threat to hit 45-50 doubles a year in his prime, though, and that has all kinds of value when you combine it with a terrific batter's eye and contact ability.
The second event from the ninth inning was Scott Spiezio pinch-hitting for Pat Borders. It's bad enough that this happened in the first place - while Miguel Batista is a righty and Spiezio is a switch-hitter, Willie Bloomquist is a better hitter than Spiezio against anyone, and should've been the one at the plate in that situation - but what made it worse was the result of Spiezio's at bat, a called strikeout. The pitch that froze him:
Not only does the ball look over the plate in that picture, but when you consider that the game's always filmed at an angle from the outfield, it might as well have been right down the friggin' heart of the plate. I don't know who takes a fastball over the plate with a full count in the top of the ninth, but Spiezio did, and it sucked. On 3-1, he swung right through a fastball on the inner half, and I wonder if it was a confidence issue, that he thought he had a better chance of drawing a walk than getting a hit on the 3-2 pitch. Not that I can blame him, if that's the case - he has three times as many free passes as he does hits on the year. But still, that's just indefensible behavior in an important situation, and what it tells me is that Spiezio just doesn't have his head in the game at all right now. Which might explain why fewer than half of his plate appearances have resulted in a ball being put in play. Sunk cost. Cut bait. Move on.
Why Ron Villone Could Be A Quality Deadline Addition for a Contender:
He's throwing sidearm.
Not all the time, but over the past few weeks, he's dropped his arm slot down more than a couple times against left-handed hitters. Not coincidentally, Villone hasn't allowed a run since June 20th (a span of 14 appearances). When he makes it work, the ball is hidden from left-handed batters until the instant it leaves Villone's hand, which gives them precious little time to recognize the pitch. It's what's made Mike Myers so successful against lefties, and Jeff Nelson so successful against righties. Unlike those two pitchers, though, Villone can come back to his normal arm slot against right-handed hitters, eliminating the disadvantage that sidearmers typically have against opposite-handed hitters. Not only can he function as a situational lefty; he can bridge the gap between a starter and a setup man, which makes him pretty valuable to a team like the Red Sox, who could really use that kind of pitcher. Villone's going to bring a shiny reward come deadline time.
Normal outfielder calling for a flyball during a potential sac fly:
"I GOT IT! I GOT IT!!"
Jeremy Reed calling off Randy Winn in the second inning during a potential sac fly:
"I GOT IT! YOUR ARM SUCKS! I GOT IT!!"
The last thing I want to talk about is Jose Lopez's performance so far. He's put up a disappointing .610 OPS in the Majors after tearing through Tacoma as (one of?) the youngest players in the league a year ago, which is making a lot of people impatient. The first thing you need to remember is that he's only 21 years old, but that doesn't really tell the whole story by itself. The way I like to think of it is that a successful player is made up of two parts: having an ability, and having an idea. Oftentimes a player will balance these two components, using his knowledge of the game (his "idea") to better understand when to apply his physical skills (his "ability"). For example, Albert Pujols is a tremendously gifted athlete who learned the ins and outs of the Major Leagues almost immediately, and he's since blossomed into a superstar.
Other times, you'll see guys who are more skewed to one side - be it a Jamie Moyer, whose idea vastly outweighs his ability, or a Juan Encarnacion, whose ability vastly outweighs his idea. The better a player is in one department, the worse he can afford to be in the other, as he's able to compensate for his shortcomings.
Right now, Jose Lopez has ability, but he doesn't have a very strong idea. He hasn't taken off because his ability isn't on par with that of other superstars or young phenoms. As a 21 year old, Lopez has been rapidly promoted through the system, having to adjust to a higher level of competition every time he's getting comfortable. The end result of all this is that he's a pretty unpolished player right now, a guy with a lot of physical tools who hasn't had enough time to learn how to apply them. He's been good enough to coast through the minors almost on pure ability alone, but he's had limited experience against quality pitchers, which is catching up with him in the Majors as he goes up against the best arms in the world. He's going to get better as he develops his idea, but until then, you'll just have to be patient. If you sit back and watch as he flashes his physical skills, dreaming about the day he learns to use them properly, I think his at bats will be a lot more enjoyable.
Ryan Franklin and Gustavo Chacin, tomorrow at 4:07.