As far as problems go, not knowing which game to declare the greatest Mariner win of the season is a pretty good one to have.
Biggest Contribution: Ichiro, +50.6%
Biggest Suckfest: Joel Pineiro, -66.8%
Most Important Hit: Ichiro homer, +36.8%
Most Important Pitch: Caroll single, -19.0%
Total Contribution by Pitcher(s): -4.6%
Total Contribution by Hitters: +46.3%
I'd have to say that my favorite baseball games are generally the ones where the win expectancy chart looks like an upward parabola. While thorough thrashings are enjoyable in their own right, come-from-behind wins hold a special place in my heart, next to playoff hockey overtime and cranberry juice. Part of it comes from the sheer drama, part of it comes from the subconscious acknowledgment that you probably didn't deserve to win, and the rest of it comes from the fact that the universe has to maintain a constant state of emotional well-being, so that when fans of the other team feel like they just had their lungs ripped out of their chests, your mood must be elevated to cancel it out. Having to rally back from a deficit isn't the easiest way to go about improving your record, but if you're able to pull it off, you're going to make a lot of people a lot happier than they would've been with a standard 6-2 cakewalk. That's just how it is, and at least for tonight, I'm not going to complain.
This one started off rather ominously - just moments after Hendu said that "Joel has to keep the ball down" if he wanted to stick around until the later innings, all 170 lbs. of Jamey Carroll lifted a deep fly ball to left field that cleared the fence, prompting a surprised "Fly away!" from the optically-challenged Dave Niehaus, who presumably thought that Carroll took the pitch for a strike. Only, no, the ball came back just as suddenly as it left, with Raul Ibanez having made perhaps the most spectacular catch of his career. Just don't ask this guy in the Colorado bullpen how it looked, because apparently he had better things to be looking at somewhere else:
One batter into the game, Ibanez preserved the shutout, leaping and stretching to catch a fly that came down 30 inches behind the wall. Everyone watching breathed a deep sigh of relief, except for Joel, who realized that he'd have to try harder to accomplish his goal of getting waived since the Mariner uniforms totally clash with his hair. A lineout, single, and great stop by Yuniesky Betancourt later, Pineiro got out of the first unscathed despite getting hit hard and fooling nobody. The result was fine, but by the end it had become abundantly clear that the M's would need to pile up the runs, because as has been the case in each and every start for the past two and a half seasons, Joel didn't have his best stuff. Although I guess if you're willing to accept that a guy's arsenal can change every year, one could make the argument that this was Joel throwing his best stuff, since it wasn't any better or worse than the rest of the crap we've seen him throw since 2004. Whatever the case may be, the point is that Joel looked like he was due to get rocked, so the pressure was on the offense to give him the three dozen runs of support he was probably going to need.
That's where the Raul Ibanez one-man variety act came into play. Shortly after pausing for a brief intermission during the commercial break, the show picked up where it left off, as Ibanez sent a bomb into the right-center seats to plate two and give the Mariners an early lead. Maybe it wasn't just June after all. The timing was good, too, because embarrassing at bats by Adrian Beltre and Jose Lopez made it look like the M's were going to waste Ichiro's leadoff double, which isn't a good way to endear yourself to a fan base that just watched you get shut down by Josh Fogg the night before. One inning and Ibanez was already at +30.0% in Win Probability Added terms. That's a big-time performance if ever there was one.
Then the trouble started. After striking out Jorge Piedra - swinging! - for the second out of the second inning (with Brad Hawpe appropriately standing on second base), Pineiro decided to pitch around the .565 OPS'ing Yorvit Torrealba in favor of the .561 OPS'ing Clint Barmes, who is ordinarily about as threatening as lettuce. Seriously, on a scale of hitter productivity, where 10 is Albert Pujols and 1 is Clint Barmes, Clint Barmes is a 1. So you can imagine my displeasure when Barmes lined a run-scoring single to center, cutting the lead in half when any pitcher who doesn't get perms could've avoided trouble altogether.
And that was only the start of it.
Balk, single, single, walk, single, outfield assist, fly out, double, groundout, homer. Counting Barmes, Pineiro turned a 2-0 lead into a 7-2 deficit in the span of nine batters. Of the three outs he recorded over that interval, one was because Todd Helton ran himself into no-man's land after Matt Holliday's RBI single and got nabbed by Kenji Johjima. The worst possible OPS you can allow over any period of time is 5.000; against those nine batters, Joel's was 2.028. That's 43% better than the best season Barry Bonds has ever had. Excruciatingly horrifying. Torrealba's homer that made it 7-2 seemed like the end, but Mike Hargrove chose to leave Pineiro in there long enough to watch Richie Sexson give him the finger by refusing to pick a low throw by Yuniesky Betancourt, and then give up a ground-rule double to Carroll that very easily could've scored a run if the umpire felt like following the rules (with two outs, the runner is going on contact, so any double should be able to score a runner from first). Finally Hargrove came out to remove Joel from what was hopefully his last start ever in a Mariner uniform, departing to a chorus of boos and the solitary applause of one teal-clad usher atop the Seattle dugout, who hopefully lives alone and is loved by no one. The anger and hostility emanating from the crowd was such that, had Joel looked up, three dozen people would've spit in his face.
(Side note - I wanted to give Joel some sort of Pinata-related nickname, but as it turns out I've been beaten to the punch. When multiple people are comparing you to a decorated container whose sole purpose is to be beaten to the point of fragmentation by blindfolded children with sticks, you probably aren't a very good pitcher.)
Jake Woods came in and promptly struck out the first batter he faced.
Trailing 7-2 less than 24 hours after getting shut out in the quickest game in Safeco history, it would've been easy to turn off the TV and find something better to do. After all, we've seen this game before, and it doesn't end well. Either the Mariners score a few runs to make things interesting before falling apart in the later innings or the opposition continues to pile on, leaving us with the kind of score you'd expect to see across the street. But we continued to watch. For one thing, it was still only the first third of the game, but for another, we're still fresh off that dramatic win in Arizona, and an offense that's this red-hot doesn't go cold after three bad hours. It'd be foolish to suggest that too many people were confident that the M's would come back, but Colorado's five-run lead didn't feel as secure as it would've a year or two ago, so that was enough to keep us tuned in.
We were rewarded for our loyalty in the fourth inning, when a two-run homer by the uncoordinated black golfer who swings Carl Everett's bat cut the lead to 7-4. Two batters later, Jeremy Reed tripled into the gap (the Mariners, with 30 three-baggers on the year, are only 123 off the all-time record), and while he didn't come around to score, it was clear that the offense had a little life. Kim wasn't long for the game, and Colorado's middle relief, like everybody else's, is pretty bad, so there was reason for hope.
Kim would leave with two men on base in the fifth, as Clint Hurdle didn't want to let him face Ibanez; on the day, lefties had gone 5-8 with a triple, a homer, and a walk against Kim, while righties were a combined 2-11 with four strikeouts (submariners and sidearmers are susceptible to extreme platoon splits). In came southpaw Ray King, whose closest celebrity look-alike is Mann's Chinese Theater. Struggling to get his release point in front of his formidable man-tits, King promptly uncorked a wild pitch that scored Ichiro and sent Beltre all the way from first to third. A 7-5 game, with another run 90 feet away and your hottest hitter at the plate? Things were looking up, at least until Ibanez swung through a fastball for the second out. Fortunately, any good LOOGY knows that his job security depends on his stunning inability to retire right-handed hitters, so King let Richie Sexson score Beltre with a single before getting Carl Everett to foul out. 80% of the way back, still with another 12 outs to play with.
Then things got a little troublesome, because when you're trying to crawl your way back into a baseball game, you kind of take it for granted that your pitchers won't make the deficit any worse. Everyone in the stadium who forgot that the Mariners also had to pitch suddenly came to their senses when Jake Woods loaded the bases with only one out in the sixth. Letting the Rockies tack on an insurance run or three would be a total momentum-killer, so it was absolutely critical that Hargrove bring in a guy capable of escaping the inning without any damage.
So he went to one of the most extreme flyball pitchers in baseball when what we really needed was a strikeout or double play. Even if you're willing to concede that the sixth inning is pretty early for Rafael Soriano, Sean Green is out there, and groundballs are pretty much all he ever gets. I hated the decision, and I continued hating it while Garrett Atkins popped out to Sexson and Brad Hawpe hit a liner to Ichiro's glove. Mateo wriggled out of the jam, but I still think that was stupid.
To the bottom of the sixth we went, with some guy I've never heard of taking over in relief for the Rockies. I didn't even notice that they'd made a pitching change, which is kind of hard when you consider that replacing Ray King with anything other than a Suburban is generally among the more conspicuous things a manager can do, but that's how much I was concentrating on the hitters. "Was" being the key word, here, because immediately after Johjima led off the inning with a single I got a phone call, which took some of my focus away. For Jeremy Reed and Yuniesky Betancourt's sake, it's probably good that that happened, because I hate wasting leadoff baserunners, and they surely would've bore the brunt of my ire.
Then Ichiro homered and I gave my friend a headache.
Was this really happening? Were the Mariners really in the lead, 8-7? I mean, I was going to watch the whole game no matter how it turned out, but just because I thought they had a chance of coming back didn't mean I expected it to happen (nevermind as quickly as it did). I was floored, and the game suddenly turned from a slow crawl into a sprint to the finish line, as the last three innings just flew by in a blur. ESPN.com tells me that Julio Mateo worked the seventh and got through a hitter in the eighth before giving way to George Sherrill, who struck out a righty before granting Todd Helton the best possible outcome he could hope for in that AB, a tapper back to the mound. I honestly needed to consult the play-by-play log for this because I have no real recollection of ever seeing it. I remember Sherrill coming in (the MLB.tv feed broke in the middle of his appearance), but I don't remember a thing about the seventh, so, yeah.
Shots at adding on an insurance run were wasted by Richie Sexson, Carl Everett, Jeremy Reed, and Adrian Beltre, and we went to the ninth with an 8-7 score. Which might've been a problem earlier in the year, but not now, not with JJ Putz, who got Matt Holliday to ground out before striking out Atkins looking on a 3-2 fastball that you couldn't have placed any better on the low outside corner. All that was left was one final out.
Pitch 1: Strike (swinging)
Pitch 2: Strike (swinging)
Pitch 3: Strike (swinging)
B Hawpe struck out swinging
A splitter to start out when Hawpe was looking fastball, a 98mph heater down the pipe, and then another splitter to finish him off. JJ doesn't just strike hitters out - he makes them look like idiots in front of tens of thousands of people. Just like that, the Mariners won and moved to within a single game of first place after Bob Melvin's boys put the hurt on Oakland earlier in the day for the second straight game. The way I feel right now is the complete opposite of how I felt last night. I can't wait for tomorrow.
Just a few more things before I call it a night...
Hendu after Carl's home run in the fourth:
I have yet to find anyone outside of Tony Muser who thinks that there are situations where a home run may not be appropriate.
Hendu also couldn't stop singing the praises of Cory Sullivan, who earlier this year set a record by laying down seven sacrifice bunts over two games. On the year, he has 27 bunts in 268 plate appearances, a 10% average. Take away the bunts (and the four bunt singles) and he's posting a respectable .332 OBP, with 39% of his hits going for extra bases. I'm not a Rockies fan, but if I were, I'd probably be pretty livid about this colossal waste of ability.
Joel Pineiro's xFIP of 5.09 is 79 points below his season ERA of 5.88. However, one of the inherent assumptions of using xFIP is that the pitcher in question is of Major League caliber, with Pineiro clearly is not. He's striking out just 10% of opposing batters this year while his walk rate is up and he's allowing more line drives than any other starter in baseball. It's not just in the numbers, either - his stuff is completely gone, and it's never coming back. I have zero confidence that Joel will be any better over the rest of the season than he has been through the first three months, and with that in mind, it's time for him to go. Cruceta would be the most obvious replacement, but honestly, just about anyone would be an improvement. How quickly Bavasi addresses this glaring weakness could have a significant effect on the final standings.
I was actually toying with the idea of making a list of "Current Corpses Who Would Make Better Starters Than Joel Pineiro," until I realized that people die every couple of seconds, and that my fingers couldn't possibly keep up.
This was truly a game that the Mariners won despite Mike Hargrove. He left Pineiro in longer than he should've, he shouldn't have gone to Mateo when he did, and he shouldn't have let Carl Everett and Jeremy Reed get critical at bats against left-handed relievers in the fifth and seventh innings. The moment that stands out to me was Reed facing Tom Martin with the bases loaded and two outs in the seventh; Reed entered the AB 0-21 against lefties this year, and you just yesterday traded for a guy who's been genetically programmed to excel in precisely these situations. I suppose Hargrove was "saving his bullets" for the ninth inning in case Brian Fuentes showed up, but the worst possible thing a manager can do is plan for the future when the present requires his intervention. Had Hargrove have gone with Eduardo Perez instead of Reed, Hurdle would presumably replace Martin with Scott Dohmann, but I'll take my chances with that matchup (Dohmann has been destroyed this year) over Reed/Martin. Of course, if you wanted to get really creative, you could've countered Dohmann with Roberto Petagine and then brought in Willie Ballgame as a substitute once the AB was over, using up three players at once but maximizing the at bat. It comes with the double bonus of having Willie in the lineup in case Fuentes has to pitch, because he can actually hold his own against southpaws. But whatever, I'm just a guy who writes stuff. Perez will get his shot tomorrow.
Dave Niehaus raised an interesting point early in the broadcast about how the Mariners have been relatively injury-free so far this year, and how that's helped them climb the ladder while the rest of the division has started to struggle. And it's a good point - injuries, particularly to the pitching staff, were a big part of the reason why I didn't think the M's would win the division before the year. The depth just isn't there. That said, I think the team's in reasonable position now to counter injuries to any but the absolute most valuable players, with Cruceta throwing well in Tacoma, Baek doing everything Joel could do, Morse hanging around, and Snelling/Choo warming up at the plate. It's also worth pointing out that nobody is ever "due" for an injury, and that getting 82 games through a season without any major DL stints only means that you're half as likely to get one as you were in April. Depth is important, but at this point I'd rather Bavasi just try and plug the bigger holes instead and hope that Lopez and Putz are able to keep their distance from anything infectious.
I was going to write something long-winded about Jeremy Reed, but then I realized that I don't need to in order to get my point across. Jeremy Reed is a bad player, a borderline fourth outfielder who's been a colossal disappointment ever since being named one of the top prospects in baseball with Chicago. Both his approach and swing mechanics suck, not at all what I expected to see from someone with the batting average and BB/K ratio he put up in the minors. With a .724 OPS against right-handed pitchers, he's not terrible as half of a platoon with Willie Ballgame, but he's also no longer the kind of player I want to keep around in hopes that he suddenly discovers a well of lost potential. Jeremy Reed is screwed up, he's not getting any better, and if there's a guy on the market who we can bring in to man CF for the next year or so until Adam Jones is ready, then I'm all for it. Reed might be able to fix himself and turn into an asset, but that's not going to happen soon, and frankly I'm not sure that the long-term upside is worth the short-term misery.
Jarrod Washburn and Jason Jennings tomorrow at 1:05pm PDT. Be there. Oakland draws Brandon Webb, so, who knows.