Tonight's game brought to mind a philosophical question that I've been fighting with for almost a year, now:
Do we watch sports for the satisfaction of victory, or do we watch in hopes of experiencing an electric, thrilling individual event?
There's a (much) longer post in there somewhere, but I won't be able to write it until I can state the actual question better, which has just been all kinds of problematic. Basically, I'm wondering if it's the memorable moments or the potential for long-term success that keep fans coming back to even the worst teams in sports.
The question is easier to relate to Mariners fans by way of providing examples. Which do you consider to be the highlight of your fandom, Edgar's double in 1995 or the entire 2001 season? Personally, I think I lean towards the former, but a strong case could be made for either one. You can see why I've had so much trouble coming up with an answer for the original question.
The reason I bring this all up is because I think tonight's loss to Cleveland makes for a decent example of its own. Sure, the Mariners lost, but Raul Ibanez's game-tying home run was one of the biggest hits we've seen all year (that went in our favor, anyway). Does having experienced that sudden rush of enthusiasm and adrenaline make it all worthwhile, even though the M's wound up dropping the game? A few weeks from now, people might not recall the final score, but they're going to remember Raul's longball. I think there's something in there that needs to be explored, but there's also a good chance that this is all just the insane ranting of a guy who's tired of the Mariners losing winnable ballgames, so I'll hold off a more scientific evaluation until a later date.
What I won't hold off, though, is the chart:
Biggest Contribution: Raul Ibanez, +44.4%
Biggest Suckfest: JJ Putz, -25.1%
Most Important Hit: Ibanez homer, +45.5%
Most Important Pitch: Hernandez single, -27.8%
Total Contribution by Pitcher(s): -43.1%
Total Contribution by Hitters: -29.9%
Quite the polarized rating results - on the one hand, Ibanez had one of the highest individual ratings of the season, while on the other, there were five different players who hurt our chances of winning by at least 15%. A lot of the credit (by which I mean a lot of the blame) has to go to the pitching staff, which (A) put the team in an early hole, (B) widened the defecit when it looked like the Mariners might have some momentum, and (C) immediately pissed away the tie after a dramatic home run. Sure, the offense could've been better, but Gil Meche, JJ Putz, and Ron Villone had bad outings, and deserve most of the blame for this loss.
Personal decisions that affected player ratings:
-Miguel Olivo was penalized for the first inning passed ball, instead of Meche, who may have thrown the wrong pitch.
-Olivo also did not get credited with a second hit, as that was a defensive lapse all the way. As far as his rating is concerned, that play goes down as an out.
-Ichiro was given credit for successfully stealing third base when Sexson was caught going to second.
-JJ Putz took the blame for Jeff Liefer's double, even though it may have bounced off of Willie Bloomquist's glove, mostly because it was a well-struck ball, and it would've taken a damn good catch to reel it in.
That should take care of that.
Gil Meche, once again, was bad. However, tonight he was bad with an excuse - a stiff shoulder that was keeping him below 90mph and (presumably) affecting his control. He was removed after three inings with what's being called "right shoulder tightness," prompting one of two responses:
- "At least now we know why he's been so bad."
- "Here we go again."
With as much as I blast Matt Thornton on this site, I should really give him some props for what was, hands-down, his strongest appearance of the season. For just the 16th time in 35 games, he didn't walk a single batter, retiring the first nine guys he faced (with four strikeouts) before a grounder and a bloop turned themselves into a pair of earned runs. He was throwing hard and, more importantly, throwing strikes with his breaking ball, forcing hitters to let the ball get deeper before deciding whether or not to swing. It's one of those quandaries you have with a guy like Thornton - when you have a lefty who throws that hard, he has a bigger margin of error than someone who throws 88-90 (like, say, George Sherrill), meaning that he can succeed while still falling well short of flawless. The problem lies in the fact that, while Sherrill makes little use of his slim margin of error, Thornton is way short of flawless, to the point at which Sherrill is so much of a better option that it's not even funny. But now I'm starting to get back into Thornton criticism, so I should stop, because at least for one night, he doesn't deserve it.
Lefties are torching Jeff Nelson to the tune of a 1.052 OPS. Righties, however, are having quite literally half as much success. Could you imagine Hargrove having both Nelson and Mike Myers in the same bullpen? They'd each have 2006 contract options that vest with 100 appearances.
It's funny what a single game can tell you about a guy. Yuniesky Betancourt's Major League debut confirmed what many people already knew - he's a smooth defensive middle infielder with a contact bat and a lot of speed. As if his minor league extra-base hit rates weren't surprising enough, though, Betancourt came up and tripled on the first pitch he saw, doing all he can to shed his mistaken label as a slap hitter. Not that we should let ourselves get too exicted over a single hit (I'm reminded of what Greg Dobbs did in his first at bat), but it was a hell of a debut, complete with a standing ovation and several congratulations from fans and coaches of which Betancourt didn't understand a word.
I feel like Betancourt's career could settle somewhere between Deivi Cruz (with defense) and Orlando Cabrera's, a somewhat useful player who looks like a special one during his peak seasons. His low minor league strikeout totals bode well for a future of good contact and high batting averages, but his disastrously low walk rate will keep him from making the leap. If he's given the opportunity, though, he'll will make enough shiny plays and hit enough triples to make himself a fan favorite.
Number of people who said something similar to "Welcome to the Majors, Yuniesky!" after his first-pitch triple: 2329873659823742364789
Among Mariner hitters with at least 100 plate appearances, Miguel Olivo ranks second in percentage of fly balls staying in the infield (also known as "easy pop-ups"). He had another two today, one of which was caught and the other falling between two generous middle infielders. Consider this your statistical indication that he has no idea of what to do with a breaking ball - even when he makes contact, he gets under them and lofts them harmlessly into the air. It just boggles the mind when you see a guy like Cliff Lee try to challenge Olivo with a fastball out over the plate, because you can't for the life of you understand why he isn't just throwing everything offspeed.
Having Lisa Bloomquist show up on TV for a few minutes has probably made Willie about ten times as popular among male fans between the ages of 18-60.
At what point do we look at Raul Ibanez's splits, see that he's had some success against lefties, and admit that we were wrong about his being a platoon hitter? Since re-joining the Mariners, Raul's put up a .296/.356/.448 line in nearly 300 plate appearances against southpaws, turning into a legitimate threat at the plate regardless of who's on the mound and taking a job opportunity away from Bucky Jacobsen, if he ever gets healthy. His career OPS against lefties is now 86 points worse than what it is against righties, considerably better than where it was prior to 2004. I don't think I've ever been as happy to be dead wrong about something as I am with Raul.
Kevin Millwood and Aaron Sele tomorrow night at 7:05.