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When people find out that I write about the Mariners on a daily basis, they generally say one of two things:

(1) "That's nice, but what I asked was 'are you paying for dinner?'"
(2) "Why? Don't they suck?"

As far as the latter is concerned, my usual response is something along the lines of, yeah, they suck, but I love to write and I love the Mariners, so it only made sense to put them together. And that's true - as much as it may occasionally seem like a chore, overall I love what I do, for more reasons than I can count (reason #1: the ladies). I actually go so far as to tell people sometimes that I wish I blogged the Royals, because I think my writing is more enjoyable when I'm bitter and resentful and convinced that, like Peter Gibbons, every single day of my life is worse than the day before it, so that every day you see me is the worst day of my life. There's a certain serenity that comes over you when you realize that everything is completely and utterly hopeless, and I've been told that's where I get my best material.

If people keep prying, I go on to say that I don't want to be a cheerleader, but that there's really no alternative when your team is winning unless you want to come off as a major wet blanket. Which I don't. So I'm hypothetically torn, longing for the days of comfortable irrelevance when I was able to say whatever I wanted without having to pick a side. It's just so much easier when the Mariners are terrible, I tell them.

But then, since I started blogging in December '03 I've seen the team post two of the worst seasons, with some of the most colossal busts, in franchise history. I've never known what it's like to blog a winning team because I've never had the chance. You're not qualified to make a comparison between covering two types of teams if you haven't been able to experience one of them. So let me tell you now - if this is what blogging a winning team feels like, then by Jove, I'll be a cheerleader, even if it means writing material doesn't come to me so easily. After all, we're all united by a common interest in seeing the Mariners succeed, not in finding out how many creative ways I'm able to use big people words after Eddie Guardado allows a game-changing home run to Pablo Ozuna. So go Mariners. The satisfaction that came from posting a normal 2005 recap is nowhere close to the satisfaction that comes from watching a game like tonight's.

This was the game that was going to end the hot streak and send the M's into a tailspin, but they refused to let it happen. Not tonight. Not a chance.

Biggest Contribution: Adrian Beltre, +49.5%
Biggest Suckfest: Jarrod Washburn, -36.7%
Most Important Hit: Beltre double, +31.5%
Most Important Pitch: Saenz homer, -38.5%
Total Contribution by Pitcher(s): -24.9%
Total Contribution by Hitters: +74.9%

(What is this?)

(Note that, for Win Expectancy purposes, I split up the credit for that weirdass run-scoring caught stealing thing in the third inning 50/50 between Ibanez and Beltre, because I didn't know what else to do.)

For most of the night, this had the feel of That Game - while the Mariners held a precarious 2-1 lead in the middle innings, it could've (and should've) been a lot worse, as the lineup squandered several opportunities to knock Billingsley out of commission. Instead, the hitters rested on their laurels, content to take it easy and let Jarrod Washburn hold the lead by doing his thing, which as it turns out he's totally incapable of doing, since he's Jarrod Washburn and "doing his thing" involves the proliferation of opposing baserunners, often in sequence. With two outs in the bottom of the sixth, the Dodgers rallied for four runs, with Olmedo Saenz's lead-changing homer being the knife wound in the gut and Ramon Martinez's double being the infectious bacteria. I shouted. I cursed. I threw things. I hit things. Our candyass pitcher allowed four two-out runs to a couple of candyass batters, effectively destroying any and all momentum the team had gained over the previous five days. That was it, the end of all the good vibes. I could've sworn.

I guess the moral of the story is that under no circumstances should you ever underestimate the power of a comical user-submitted .gif image.

No sooner did the Rally Dino go up than Carl Everett himself drilled a pinch-hit homer into the right field bleachers. It wasn't much, but it was something, an indication that, while Washburn was clearly finished, the rest of the team still had a little fight in it. The feeling grew stronger when Ichiro and Beltre followed up Everett's bomb with back-to-back singles, and while they'd pick up only one more run in the inning to head into the bottom of the seventh down 5-4, two-thirds of the lead had been erased in the blink of an eye. There had to be more where that came from, right?

The floodgates burst open when Danys Baez threw one of the worst 0-2 pitches I've ever seen in my life to an eager Jeremy Reed. That pitch must've floated over the middle of the plate for a good two seconds before Reed (.165 isolated slugging) yanked it over the fence to tie the score at five. And although at that point it was still anybody's game, it didn't feel that way, as the Mariners had suddenly come out of nowhere to steal all the momentum away from the Dodgers. If Reed's homer wasn't enough to convince you that something was up, Rene Rivera's single was, and when Ichiro followed him with a single to left you just knew that Adrian Beltre was going to grab some of the daggers we've tossed at him over the past year and a half and use them against the same people who watched him develop. Or I did, anyway. I think. I guess I'm not really sure what I expected to happen, although I wasn't feeling any sense of impending despair, which is unusual for that kind of situation, so that's something.

Beltre's double plated two (courtesy of another phenomenal slide by Ichiro around the catcher's cleat) to give the M's a 7-5 lead. Jose Lopez piled on with an RBI single of his own, but that was just gravy; Beltre's double was the enormous crate of tungsten that broke the camel's back. The Dodgers went down with nary a fight, allowing Seattle to climb back to within one game of .500 for the first time since April 16th. Forget JJ Putz striking out Barry Bonds on a 3-2 splitter to end the game last Friday; this one was better. It may not have had as memorable a moment, but this was the biggest win of the year. Enjoy it.

Here's the thing, though - a loss tomorrow and all is forgotten. I guess not all, really, since we've already taken the series (three for three in interleague so far), but even having gotten over the Oakland debacle with flying colors, this still has the feel of a rather delicate hot streak. To get this close to an even record...they can't blow it now, not after all the progress they've made. They can lose again in three days if they have to, but the next two games are hugely important, as the team has to prove to itself that it can (A) reach .500, and (B) reach something higher than .500. If I had my druthers, the next loss would bring us closer to .500, rather than further away. So here's hoping Felix is on his game tomorrow night.

With his performance in LA over the past two nights, Adrian Beltre has leapfrogged both Richie Sexson and Yuniesky Betancourt in the Win Probability Added spreadsheet's "hitting" category. Discounting defense, since it's pretty much impossible to measure accurately with this method, Sexson now stands as the least valuable player on the team.

Only time will tell if Beltre's hot streak is for real - me, I'm going to try to wait and see if he keeps it up through the All-Star Break before jumping to any conclusions - but what I can say is that having Good Beltre instead of Bad Beltre makes the lineup significantly better. That seems obvious, mostly because it is, but check it out:

Runs scored per game when Beltre gets 2+ hits: 6.13
Runs scored per game when Beltre gets 1 hit or less: 4.56

It's hardly a perfect analysis, but the point is that when Adrian Beltre's hitting well, the Mariners go from having a league-average offense to one of the best, the kind of batting order that helps you get over forgettable starts like Washburn's tonight and pushes you towards the playoffs. That also happens to be the batting order many of us expected to see before the year started.

Beltre's impact is far from being the biggest on the team, though:

Runs scored per game when Sexson gets 2+ hits: 7.25
Runs scored per game when Sexson gets 1 hit or less: 4.44

Runs scored per game when Ichiro gets 2+ hits: 6.00
Runs scored per game when Ichiro gets 1 hit or less: 3.78

The main reason for Sexson's big impact should be pretty obvious - many of his hits leave the yard. If there's one guy you can't afford to have slumping in your lineup, it's your primary power threat. If you thought watching this team hit tonight was fun, just imagine what it'd be like to have Good Beltre and Good Sexson going at the same time.

A Dialogue, Part I: Jeff's Fantasy

Buck Martinez: "The Mariners are leading 8-5 here in the ninth..."
Other Guy: A win puts the Mariners at 8-0 in interleague play this year."
Buck Martinez: "They're the only unbeaten team in interleague play in baseball."
Other Guy: (sarcastic) "I feel like I've mentioned that to you a few times tonight."
Buck Martinez: "And I feel like you're an asshole."
Other Guy: "Isn't it about time for you to get fired by someone?"
Buck Martinez: "Isn't it about time for you to change your diaper?"
Other Guy: "Is that your thing? Taking what I say and turning it around on me? Is that what you do?"
Buck Martinez: "I'm sorry, I was too distracted by the game on the field to get into a pissing contest with some four-eyed sissy boy. Listen here, Nancy, some of us actually played this game."
Other Guy: "You're right. Which part is your favorite memory, batting .225, never making the World Series, or getting fired in the middle of the season and getting replaced by a no-name third base coach who did better than you?"
Buck Martinez: "Okay smartass, remind me which one of us was chosen as a broadcaster because of his experience."
Other Guy: "All right you dull bitch, remind me which one of us is the color commentator and which one's the lead."
Buck Martinez: "At least I'll be able to retire and live comfortably off of all the money I've made in baseball, you fair-haired jackbag."
Other Guy: "At least I'll be able to retire and live comfortably knowing that I'm not Buck Martinez."
Buck Martinez: "Whatever."
Other Guy: "Hey, the wife's making a pasta dinner tonight, why don't you come over after the game and call her a slut? That make you feel better?"
Buck Martinez: "F*** pasta and f*** you."
Other Guy: "Classy guy, Buck. Classy guy."
Buck Martinez: "I'm not paid nearly enough to deal with trash like you every week."
Other Guy: "It's a wonder they pay you at all."
Buck Martinez: "So here comes Kenny God damn Lofton to the plate..."

A Dialogue, Part II: Reality

Buck Martinez: "The Mariners are leading 8-5 here in the ninth..."
Other Guy: A win puts the Mariners at 8-0 in interleague play this year."
Buck Martinez: "They're the only unbeaten team in interleague play in baseball."
Other Guy: (sarcastic) "I feel like I've mentioned that to you a few times tonight."
Buck Martinez: "Here's Kenny Lofton to hit with two down and none on..."

Felix and Derek Lowe tomorrow night at 7:10pm PDT. Be there.