Even when he's at his best, Felix can't do everything, which is why we pay nine guys to go up to the plate a few times a game and try to put a run on the scoreboard. Those nine guys didn't get the job done for the longest time tonight, though, and it looked like Felix was well on his way to the first of what will undoubtedly be several tough losses in his career. That said, he still managed to plug away and keep the Twins quiet until the bats finally woke up and unleashed a fury of awesomeness all over the Metrodome, a testament to Felix's maturity (and an inadvertent, subtle jab at Ryan Franklin, I suppose). Beltre and Sexson going back-to-back wasn't even the half of it - that tenth inning was a spectacle in and of itself.
How big of an inning was it? The six runs scored by the Mariners in the tenth were more than they had scored in 88 of their 121 previous full games. It was the kind of offensive outburst that instantly changed the minds of fans who were determined to stick it out until the bitter end just minutes earlier. When Sexson's (completely unnecessary) grand slam landed, entire sections of people got up and left the stadium, leaving only a select few to shout "LEEEWWWWW!!" when his blast made the game 17% closer in the bottom half of the inning. Tonight, the Mariners didn't just beat the Twins - they strung them along and took some punches before landing a haymaker and delivering a swift knee to the crotch. And it was good.
It'd be great to, y'know, hit Kyle Lohse a little bit, though.
Biggest Contribution: Willie Ballgame, +24.7%
Biggest Suckfest: Raul Ibanez, -36.6%
Most Important Hit: Strong triple, +22.9%
Most Important Pitch: LeCroy single, -19.6%
Total Contribution by Pitcher(s): +33.0%
Total Contribution by Hitters: +8.4%
How did Richie Sexson end up with only the seventh-biggest positive contribution despite driving in five of the team's eight runs? Simple - his first home run narrowed the gap, but didn't erase it, while his grand slam came with the team already leading by two in extra innings. So while his raw numbers got a healthy boost, his longballs really didn't make much of a difference. The big hits, in order, were (1) Strong's triple, (2) Beltre's homer, and (3) Betancourt's single.
Still, though, as Lance Brumder would say, grand slams are kickass, and a hell of a way to cap off an enormous inning. You can't tell me that it hasn't been real fun watching Sexson and Beltre tee off over the past few weeks.
Speaking of which, daily^ updates:
Beltre's last 183 at bats: .268/.298/.536. (.268 isolated power; .294 a year ago)
Sexson post-ASB: .270/.368/.672
Power be damned, Felix Hernandez still managed to steal the show. On a night when the strike zone seemed as small as Nick Punto, Felix hit the zone with two-thirds of his pitches (season average: 67.4%), avoiding solid contact despite having what seemed like worse stuff than his previous two times out. He would allow just three more baserunners after Matt LeCroy's two-run single in the first, walking one while striking out another nine. In short, even when Felix didn't look dominant, he was dominant.
It's not just that Felix is missing a bunch of bats - it's that, on the off chance that a hitter does make contact, he's not really doing himself any favors. Felix has only allowed 16 hits in 29 innings this year, but what's more amazing is that all 16 hits have been singles, many of the "seeing eye" variety. His line against this year: .157/.196/.157. NL pitchers at the plate: .149/.163/.190. Felix has essentially turned opposing lineups into nine Tim Hudsons. At his current rate of recording an out in 80.4% of all plate appearances, Felix's odds of throwing a perfect game, assuming 33 starts per year, are one per 11 seasons. Bear in mind that there have only been 17 perfect games in the history of baseball.
This was also Felix's first chance to see a lineup for the second time (albeit a pretty bad one). Did they approach him any differently?
Strike%: 73.4% first time, 67.0% second time
1st Pitch Strike%: 69.0%, 60.0%
Swing%: 55.3%, 44.3%
Patience Index^: 2.03, 2.43
1st Pitch Swing%: 34.4%, 16.7%
^-average number of pitches thrown in an AB when hitter swings for the first time
After doing absolutely nothing against Felix the first time, the Twins came back with a slightly more patient approach this time around, waiting on Felix and hoping that he'd fall behind in the count and have to come back over the plate with something hittable. They got the second part half-right - after throwing first-pitch strikes to 18 of the 30 batters he faced, more than four-fifths of the rest of the pitches Felix threw in each at bat found the zone. The problem was that they weren't quite as hittable as Minnesota would have liked, which is why they couldn't get anything going after the first inning. Even with a small zone, Felix is a strike-throwing maniac, and that's something that no one saw coming after his performance in Tacoma earlier this year.
There's been something of an uproar over Hargrove sending Felix back out there to pitch the eighth when he already had 103 pitches under his belt. People who don't like the maneuver have their hearts in the right place, but I don't think tonight is really worth complaining about.
There's a rather arbitrary fascination with the number "100" when it comes to pitch counts, that a young pitcher stands a greater chance of hurting himself when he throws pitch #100 than he does when he throws #99 or #101. However, pitch counts by themselves are pretty meaningless - you need a context, and in Felix's case, the context is not cause for alarm.
Pitchers hurt themselves when they try to pitch through fatigue and their mechanics get messed up. This tends to happen more often later in games when a guy's pitch count is climbing, hence the theory relating pitch counts to injury risk, but if a guy's mechanics are bad, he's every bit as likely to get hurt in the first inning as he is in the eighth. Likewise, if a guy's mechanics are fluid, and he's built up good stamina, he's no more likely to get hurt on pitch #120 as he is on pitch #12. At no point later in the game tonight did Felix show a mechanical lapse; his delivery was consistent and his velocity didn't indicate that he was getting tired (his fastball was still in the 96-97 range when he got pulled). He also wasn't throwing many pitches in stressful situations - only 40 of his 115 pitches came with men on base, and only 13 after the third inning. Felix was cruising.
If his first four starts are any indication, Felix may be one of those rare Bartolo Colon types who gets stronger as he gets deeper into the game. Chart:
Felix has reached the eighth inning in three of his four starts this year. He's thrown 72.1% strikes in the seventh/eighth innings, as opposed to 65.5% strikes in the first/second innings. This is a guy who's better than average when he's bad and almost historically terrific when he's good. Tonight, Felix was in one of those grooves, having found the strike zone with nearly three-fourths of his pitches between the fifth and the seventh. He looked comfortable, and Mike Hargrove had no reason to pull him from the game after seven.
Shortstop 1: 22 years old (third year), .274/.301/.369, bad defense
Shortstop 2: 23 years old (rookie), .270/.289/.378, awesome defense
I don't know if those numbers should be construed as good for Yuniesky Betancourt or bad for Jose Reyes, but either way, it's interesting.
When George Sherrill walks off the mound after getting the job done, I wonder if he stares at Matt Thornton and mouths "I'm better than you."
Joel Pineiro v2.0 takes on Brad Radke tomorrow morning at 11:10am.