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On the heels of another dramatic victory that seemingly came out of nowhere, the Mariners now stand even, the latest in a season that they've been at or above .500 since 2003. That'd be cool enough by itself, as it's an encouraging indication that the organization is finally on its way up, yet throw in a weak division and suddenly it feels like so much more than that. Being 39-39 returns the team to relevance after two and a half years of invisible ineptitude, but being members of the AL West instead of, say, the AL Central (where we'd be 14 out of first and 12 out of the wild card) allows us the opportunity to set our sights higher than just being content with average baseball, and that's exciting. Mariner baseball is exciting.

Coming into tonight, I'd say the list of objectives looked something like this:

  1. Get to .500
  2. Maintain a record at or above .500
  3. Pull into 2nd place
  4. Pull into 1st place
  5. Win ALDS
  6. Win ALCS
  7. Win World Series
  8. Win another World Series
  9. Win Stanley Cup
  10. Contract own team, going out on top
Before the year started, I would've told you that I'd be happy getting through #2, with the M's finishing around 83 wins while preparing for a pennant race in 2007. Now, though, the tune's a little different, and while I don't want to get ahead of myself, #4's within reach, with the "red-hot" A's only three games in front of Seattle with more than half the season left to play. It's a bit of an ambitious goal, and it's important not to lose sight of the fact that even being in this position is a sign of success, but anything that helps keep the players motivated while simultaneously generating fan interest is good for everyone involved, so here's to all this momentum carrying over into July. After all, the only thing better than baseball is meaningful baseball down the stretch. You might've forgotten what that feels like, but with the way things are looking right now, the M's could be set to jog your memory.

Chart chart chart!

Biggest Contribution: Richie Sexson, +23.5%
Biggest Suckfest: Julio Mateo, -42.2%
Most Important Hit: Sexson double, +35.0%
Most Important Pitch: Tracy double, -21.6%
Total Contribution by Pitcher(s): -3.8%
Total Contribution by Hitters: +42.9%

(What is this?)

If anyone gives you crap for making such a big deal out of a .500 record, and that fans of "good teams" have considerably higher standards, just remind that person that he is fat and ugly and nobody will ever love him and that he's too stupid to understand how awesome this is. You should also add in that if anyone should know a little something about lower standards of satisfaction, it's someone as fat and ugly and unlovable and stupid as he is. If you do it right that guy will probably never give you crap again, about anything, ever.

As per the recent theme, I'm a wuss who can barely keep his eyes open past midnight these days, so I'm sticking with the bullet point format for now:

  • Tonight felt like an epic battle for .500 between the Mariners and a horde of intangible demons reluctant to let us get there. It was the kind of game where you build a big lead, watch it slip away, and ultimately collapse, losing in some kind of devastating fashion and embarking on a slump that carries you to the cellar, far enough away from an even record to keep it out of your thoughts. After Webb settled in and Washburn alowed the homer to Shawn Green, I could've sworn the Mariners were going to lose; after a brief hibernation, the anticipation of impending doom returned for the seventh and eighth innings, when the bullpen blew a three-run lead and Mike Hargrove decided to turn it over to Eddie Guardado and Jake Woods. But Eddie got Luis Gonzalez with the go-ahead run on second, and Woods worked around a Green double minutes later, and before you knew it the Mariner bats were putting all the anxiety to rest with a big inning that slayed the demons and won the game. It took an extraordinary effort to get to .500, but every step in a marathon is more difficult than the one before, so it probably shouldn't come as too much of a surprise. That said, hopefully the outcome tonight allows the M's to hit their stride a little bit and rattle off a couple wins that aren't quite as nerve-wracking. Call it the "runner's high" if you insist on keeping the analogy alive, but the bottom line is that these guys are due for a laugher. Are we playing the Angels any time soon?

  • Richie Sexson's go-ahead double gets all the Win Expectancy love, but I think it was Kenji's homer that really did the D'backs in. Think of the double like a kick in the balls and the homer like a softball bat to the forehead - while the former will make retaliation more difficult, the latter will make it impossible. Old timer journalists would call it "killer instinct." Me, I think it's more just a matter of good timing, but whatever it is, I hope it doesn't go away.

  • In general, winning has a way of reducing the potential for complaint, but Mike Hargrove did a pretty awful job of managing the bullpen tonight, from leaving Julio Mateo in to face Chad Tracy to bringing in Eddie and Woods instead of a fresh Soriano/Putz with the game on the line. That was inexcusable, and we're lucky to have escaped. Seriously, while the Roberto Petagine PH appearance was terrific, Hargrove did more to try to lose this game than he did to win it. How do you manage a bullpen that crazy-like and still not call on Sean Green to face Shawn Green? I can't be the only one who notices these things.

  • As was pointed out in the game thread, Arizona currently has three pitchers named Brandon, and each of them appeared in tonight's game. There have been only 17 Brandons in baseball history, none of them showing up in the Majors before 2000. On a scale from 1-10, where 1 is something that puts you to sleep and 10 is intoxicatingly awesome, that fact scores a 0.

  • During his first at bat, Thom Brennaman remarked that there were "a lotta boos for Richie Sexson." This statement is easily confused with "a lotta booze for Richie Sexson," which would also be appropriate, albeit a little weird to mention out of the blue. Also weird was the fact that Sexson was getting booed in the first place - I didn't realize that Arizona fans held such ill will towards a guy who was twice the victim of a horrifying accident that nearly decimated his shoulder. If possible, I'd love for someone to explain to me the reasoning behind that sort of behavior. If anything, you'd think those fans would be appreciative of what Sexson just did to one of their division rivals.

  • In talking about Ichiro during his first at bat of the game, Mark Grace compared his popularity in Japan to that of Madonna and Michael Jackson here in the states. Other names that ran through Grace's head before he settled on those two - Cyndi Lauper, Corey Haim, Rita Moreno, Jerry Orbach, Archduke Ferdinand, Warren Harding, and Marcus Aurelius.

  • Adrian Beltre is working on a ten-game hit streak, and 15 of his 30 knocks in June have gone for extra bases. His line still looks too much like last August for me to buy into the hype just yet, but that doesn't mean I'm not thinking about it. Out of curiosity, if Beltre does sustain this performance for a lengthy period of time, do you think Hargrove risks moving him out of the #2 slot to make him a "run producer" instead of a "table setter"?

  • Jose Lopez's first inning triple was exactly the kind of hit he wouldn't have been able to make a year ago.

  • Another topic that came up during tonight's broadcast was skydiving, as color guy Mark Grace was apparently given lessons as a birthday gift about a week ago. Which got me thinking about what it would be like if the Mariner announcers followed suit:

    Niehaus: "Wow, you can't distinguish anything on the ground from way up here."
    Fairly: "We haven't taken off yet."

  • Kenji Johjima's OPS has now risen 77 points to .819 in two games.

  • Jarrod Washburn's ERA: 4.91
    Jarrod Washburn's FIP: 4.91

Again, there's probably more to be said, but I'll save it for a time when I have a little more stamina. For now, .500!

Felix vs. the first of two E. Gonzalezes we'll face in this series tomorrow at 6:40pm PDT.