George Sherrill retired the final batter about twenty minutes ago and my heart is still racing.
If you ignore the final score for a second, today's game seemed almost identical to yesterday's - a healthy early lead instills a sense of comfort and calmness, but Anaheim starts chipping away and forces the Mariner lineup to scratch together a little insurance to stay ahead. Throw in a white-knuckle ninth inning and you've got yourself a carbon copy of a ballgame. And you know what? Today's win feels just as good as yesterday's. You can become conditioned over time to care less and less about losses, but wins, like Gobstoppers, are always so so sweet. Particularly when they involve the Angels losing.
Biggest Contribution: Richie Sexson, +15.9%
Biggest Suckfest: Julio Mateo, -6.2%
Most Important Hit: Sexson double, +16.6%
Most Important Pitch: Cabrera homer, -12.4%
Total Contribution by Pitcher(s): +15.0%
Total Contribution by Hitters: +27.3%
Richie Sexson is The AntiPutz, making the biggest positive contribution on the team two days in a row. Sure, you could say that he sort of rested on his laurels after that first inning double, but it was a big double, so who are we to complain? Julio Mateo comes away looking better than you'd expect, given what he did, while Sherrill comes away at +7.1% after coincidentally losing about 7.1 gallons of sweat during the game (seriously, I bet the mound tastes like saltines).
In any given game, you can expect a team to earn a sum total of either +50% or -50% of Win Probability Added, depending on whether they won or lost. However, it often doesn't work out quite like that, as defensive miscues by the opponent can help a team's chances of winning through no fault of their own. For example, look at the following little table:
Game # Expected WPA Actual WPA
1 -0.500 -0.617
2 +0.500 +0.472
3 +0.500 +0.423
Errors, wild pitches, and passed balls by the Anaheim defense and pitching staff have "given" the Mariners a free +0.222 in WPA over three games. To put it a little differently, the Angels have essentially improved Seattle's chances of winning by an average of roughly 7% in each game by themselves. When you're on the road and playing against a good team (and the Mariners are a good team, God dammit), you really can't afford to put yourself at a further disadvantage by making stupid mistakes, because they're going to come back and bite you in the ass. And that's exactly what's happened. Kudos to the M's for taking two out of three to open the season, but man, they sure did get their share of help.
Sometimes I like to pretend that Mariner players read this website for the sake of stroking my own ego. Other times I like to pretend that Mariner players read this website so that I can say things like "see, Jarrod Washburn read what we thought about his contract and set out determined to prove us all completely wrong!" Because, boy, he was something else today. He struck out seven batters in seven innings - including an impressive strikeout of Vlad Guerrero to get things going in the first - while inducing eight groundball outs against five in the air (a few of which were harmless pop-ups). I don't have a single complaint about his performance. He stayed around the plate, he missed bats, and he kept Vlad in the yard, just like he said he would. It's possible that he came into the game with an inherent advantage, having been around these Angel hitters for his entire career, but even if you take that into consideration, he was still terrific. Kinda flukey, but terrific nonetheless.
The thing that kinda gets to me about him, though...when Washburn pitches, instead of remaining over his front knee, his lead glove flies wildly away towards third base, directing momentum sideways and forcing him to throw slightly across his body. (Here's an example of what I mean.) Not only does that place extra stress on the throwing shoulder and elbow, but it's also been known to contribute significantly to spotty control. Washburn, though, has always been a strike-thrower, so it's apparently not as big of an issue here as it is with a few other pitchers. It's still something he could stand to clean up, as a little adjustment could improve both his control and his velocity, but he's been doing it for so long that it's probably not worth the effort. Anyway, that's just something I couldn't help but notice. I suppose it'll be of a little more concern if he starts developing shoulder problems down the road, but until then, whatever. I'll gladly take more games like today's in the meantime.
A running theme throughout the game was how Washburn was looking forward to facing his old teammates. He said that he'd made some "mental notes" in anticipation of the matchup, and the Geico Quote of the Game showed him talking about how Darin Erstad is a serious guy, so he wanted to go out there and try to make him laugh. (Of course, Rick Rizzs would later go on to not only repeat the little anecdote, but also totally botch it, claiming that Jarrod wanted to make everyone laugh to break their concentration. Holy smokes!) I think it's safe to say that Washburn was a little amped; he went out there in the first inning with a more energetic delivery and a 93mph fastball before calming things down later on. Nothing like showing the guys whose boss right off the bat.
Before the game, Dave labeled Jarrod as a guy who regularly gets you into the seventh or eighth innings. I wonder if anyone's told him that Washburn has averaged just about six frames flat per start over the last two years. He's not really Livan Hernandez out there.
Given his face, body, attitude, and dumb shaggy hair, Jeff Weaver looks like a total stoner. Bartolo Colon, meanwhile, looks like a guy who used to smoke out all the time before forcing himself to stop because he got the munchies too often. John Lackey's their dealer.
Julio Mateo can do a lot of things. He can come out of the bullpen to get through a tough at bat, he can throw three innings in case some of the other guys are unavailable, he can spot start, and he can have a lot of success in a place like Safeco Field. What he can't do is pitch in high-leverage situations without getting burned pretty often. He doesn't miss very many bats, but the bigger problem is that he is an incredibly extreme flyball pitcher. As you should all know by now, guys who give up flyballs will also give up home runs, and that's pretty much the last thing you want from a guy pitching important innings in the later stages of a game. It's the same reason why I haven't been real high on the idea of Octavio Dotel as a closer in years past. Dotel, like Mateo, puts the ball in the air like it's going out of style, and the inevitable result is a bunch of souvenirs and crushing defeats. These pitchers can still be effective around the home runs, but they're still way too risky an option to protect those narrow late leads. Julio Mateo needs to stay a middle reliever. Trying to squeeze more out of him is just asking for trouble.
I don't know which thing about Hendu annoys me more - the way he stumbles over simple sentences, the way he makes up his own spur-of-the-moment nonsensical colloquialisms, or the way he just gets things totally wrong. An example of #1: every other thing he says. An example of #2: "(Donnelly)'s getting loose like you get ready to catch a train." An example of #3: "Tim Salmon introduced himself to Guardado last night with a big home run." (Salmon has faced Guardado 26 times in his career, more than anyone else on the team.) What makes it worthwhile is that I don't think I'm the only one who feels this way. In the absence of Ron Fairly, Dave Niehaus was forced to work with Hendu again, and early in the game you got the feeling that he really wasn't enjoying himself. Before they switched off the announcer mics between innings, you either heard total silence or Dave muttering to himself about things I probably won't understand until I'm however old he is. There's not much chemistry there, which makes it fun to try and pay special attention to the announcer dynamic when the game starts dragging.
Dave on a flyball to center field off the bat of Carl Everett: "Is the infield fly rule going to be called?"
Yesterday we had to deal with the reality that MLB.tv would no longer allow us to listen in on the broadcaster booth during commercial breaks. Today we were introduced to the MLB.tv Death Static, which perks up when you least expect it and serves to convincingly discourage the act of leaving your speakers on between innings. It's a horrifying sound for which there is no earthly comparison, as the existence of one would ruin Satan's surprise of making it the noise you here before you die. In case you aren't an MLB.tv subscriber and you'd like to have some idea of what I'm talking about, just imagine the sound of a thousand infants crying into megaphones as they get devoured by a plague of flesh-eating robot locusts. That's the best I can do.
Esteban Loaiza and Gil Meche tomorrow at 7:05pm PDT.