On a day when Barry Bonds equaled possibly the most well-known player in the history of sports, Albert Pujols continued his torrid pace by slamming his 21st home run, Brandon Webb posted an 18:1 GB/FB in a complete game shutout of the Braves, and Michael Barrett cold-cocked a total dick after a play at the plate in front of 40,000 hostile fans, it was Gil Meche who stole the spotlight. Granted, we may be the only people who actually know that, but anyone who's watched Gil Meche sweat his way through one of his textbook 100-pitch/4.2-inning abominations in the past understands the significance of tonight's performance.
I'm going to go back to something I posted last July:
Odds of allowing zero homers: 45.3%
Odds of allowing two or fewer runs: 36.0%
Odds of striking out 6+ hitters: 24.0%
Odds of walking 2 or fewer hitters: 62.7%
Odds of allowing fewer hits than IP: 48.0%
Odds of lasting 7+ innings: 32.0%
Odds of all these happening in the same game: 0.38%
So, one time per 263 starts, or roughly once every eight years, Gil Meche will toss an absolute gem, prompting several fans to declare that Meche has finally realized his true potential and become the #1 pitcher they always knew he'd be. The last time it happened was June 15th, 2003, so, based on the odds, we've got another six years before he does it again. I gotta say, the people in Meche's corner are nothing if not fiercely loyal.
The percentages have changed a little bit since I wrote that, but the overall point remains valid - such an achievement is exceedingly rare. Which is why I was about to faint from the vapors when Gil induced Mike Piazza into an inning-ending double play in the seventh, because at that point he'd thrown seven shutout innings with seven strikeouts, one walk, and two hits allowed. At 99 pitches and with the score 5-0, it appeared that Meche's day would come to a close as another one of the games in which he "put everything together," throwing the percentages for a loop. Twice in three years? According to probability, such a thing is impossible!
As it turns out, it was impossible, as Gil surrendered a leadoff home run in the eighth to a wiry shortstop with silky blond hair, and proceeded to get stuck with an additional two runs allowed thanks to a Lopez error and Eddie's miraculous sense of spite out of the bullpen. Just like that, two of the aforementioned conditions were violated, and Gil had no longer "put everything together" after all. The cosmos was in order once more.
This brings to mind an interesting philosophical question: did the universe know that Mike Hargrove was going to send Gil back out there for the eighth inning? Had he pulled him after seven, everything we believe in, everything we've taken as truth would be shattered to pieces, impossible to put back together. Pigs would fly, Eddie would starve, Sean Paul would speak English, and Gil Meche would look like a talented pitcher again way before he was ever supposed to. The only logical conclusion to reach is that the universe planned for this to happen in the eighth. Had Hargrove yanked Gil earlier, the damage would've been done in the seventh, or the sixth, or the fifth. A kind of divine predetermination, if you will. Gil can't "put everything together" for another start until at least the year 2010, and that's just the way it is. He can still look good in the meantime, but he'll never look flawless, the way Felix or Santana do when they're on their game. That's too bad for the world's most ardent Gil Meche supporters, but I imagine they'll try their best to forget about tonight's eighth inning anyway when it comes time for their next struggle with reason.
Biggest Contribution: Gil Meche, +23.2%
Biggest Suckfest: Richie Sexson, -6.6%
Most Important Hit: Johjima homer, +12.3%
Most Important Pitch: Giles groundout, +3.9%
Most Important Other Play: Lopez doubles up Piazza, +4.4%
Total Contribution by Pitcher(s): +25.5%
Total Contribution by Hitters: +21.4%
That's a nice looking chart, as the Mariners' win expectancy didn't dip below 60% after Reed's "triple" in the third inning (I say "triple" because Reed was pulling up at second base when he saw the ball get away from Brian Giles, at which point he decided to run to third. For WPA purposes, I stingily gave Reed a double and docked Giles for a miscue). It didn't dip below 90% after Johjima went deep in the fourth. That makes for a pleasant, comfortable game, although Eddie did his best to try and give it away in the eighth before Putz came to the rescue. It's nice how now I can rely on a terrific closer to come in and slam the door on a potential rally, whereas a month ago I would've chewed my nails down to the wrist. I hate the idea of relegating a guy to strictly save situations, but there is something to be said for dependability at the end, no matter the score.
I like to make fun of Gil Meche from time to time, because it's incredibly simple, but I can't really do any more of that today after the performance he turned in. He had a little difficulty getting first-pitch strikes but he had good enough command of a heavy fastball and a big hook to battle back in the count and keep San Diego off balance. You hear about pitchers keeping hitters "off balance" so often that it hardly means anything anymore, but seriously, that's what Gil was doing tonight, as he was effective at mixing up his stuff and making sure the Padres didn't know what was coming. They didn't really start making solid contact until the seventh, but at that point Gil was getting tired, so such an issue may be excused. It's worth pointing out that his curveball was catching an awful lot of the plate, rather than diving low or to the corners, but the Padres still couldn't do anything against it, a function of (1) hitters having to guess what was coming, and (2) the ball having a lot of break. That's encouraging, although I'm not sold on the pitch working as well in the future if Gil loses a little command of his fastball, or does a slightly worse job of pitch selection. But better to worry about what might happen to Gil than what did happen to him, right? Tonight's glass is half full.
Jeremy Reed is now sporting a healthy .180 isolated slugging percentage (SLG - BA), good for third on the team among players with 20+ at bats. And yet, despite this, I don't think there's a less intimidating "power hitter" in all of baseball. Not because he can't hurt you - clearly, he can - but because almost everything he hits well leaves the bat on a line almost parallel to the ground, which doesn't have the same effect on a pitcher as a guy with an uppercut who puts the ball in the air. When Reed's going well, he just spreads liners around the outfield; if they're right at a fielder, they're singles, and if they split the gaps, they're doubles and triples. It's a random distribution. Occasionally he'll elevate the ball a little bit and catch some wind, pushing it over the fence, but that's never intentional. He really is the prototypical line drive hitter that Willie Ballgame thinks he is and Jeff Cirillo was supposed to be. It'll be interesting to see if Reed starts walking a little more as pitchers begin to respect his bat, although I imagine a lot of that will be dictated by how well Johjima and Betancourt are doing.
Speaking of Johjima, his OPS currently stands at .795 after bottoming out at .719 on Tuesday. As a guy who seems to generate the most power straight down the left field line, I'd be a little wary of his slugging numbers in Safeco, but he appears to be taking a liking to the porch behind the LF scoreboard. If you're a fan who's looking for a Johjima or Lopez home run ball, that's where you ought to sit. If you want an Ibanez home run ball, sit in section 106. If you want a Sexson home run ball, try to sneak in around 2am the morning before the game and hide behind the center field fence while the groundskeepers tend to the outfield. And if you want a Beltre home run ball, well, so do the rest of us.
Dave Roberts' at bat against Meche to lead off the game was interrupted after one pitch by some loud noise that TV told me was coming from the Safeco PA system. The Padres broadcast never did provide an explanation, although I like to think that it was the sound of angels telling God what Gil Meche was going to do tonight, and God crying.
Chan Ho Park and Felix Hernandez at 1:05pm for a Sunday matinee. Park: ex-Dodger, $65m/5yr contract, failure. Adrian Beltre: ex-Dodger, $64m/5yr contract, failure. Potential suitors of Eric Gagne should consider themselves forewarned.