Come October, when Red Sox fans gather from all around to discuss their disappointing 2006 campaign, I want them all to lower their heads and look back on this series with shame and regret. I want this to be the weekend that all the johnny-come-latelies jump off the filthy rat-infested ship that is the Red Sox bandwagon once and for all, leaving only the true long-term fans and that one guy who isn't totally obnoxious. I want David Ortiz to wake up on Monday morning with no hope in his heart, wondering how everything went south so quickly and fighting back tears as he catches a glimpse of JJ Putz shaking Kenji's hand on the front page of the paper.
The "Boston Massacre" in Fenway last week raised the axe above the chopping block. Now I want the Mariners to swing it back down. So kudos to Jake friggin' Woods, Raul Ibanez, and the Red Sox defense for bringing me a third of the way to the highlight of my August.
Let's look at a chart!
Biggest Contribution: Jake Woods, +28.5%
Biggest Suckfest: Ichiro, -8.2%
Most Important At Bat: Ibanez double, +11.3%
Most Important Pitch: Loretta pop out, +6.4%
Total Contribution by Pitcher(s): +37.4%
Total Contribution by Position Players: -1.8%
Say what you will about the Yankees and Red Sox getting way too much media coverage, but you have to give them this - playing against either of the giants has a way of keeping you interested, regardless of how poorly your team may be doing. If you're at the ballpark, you're on your feet and making a lot of noise because both New York and Boston have extensive fanbases, and you have too much pride to be out-chanted in your own house. If you're watching at home, you're excited and paying close attention because these are big games that you generally aren't expected to win, and those kinds of contests have more drawing power than, say, matinees in Kansas City. Beating these guys gets you noticed and earns you respect, which is a remarkably satisfying combination.
So, yeah, it's safe to say that, in a fifth consecutive season that'll end before the playoffs, I look forward to showdowns against the beasts of the East (and Anaheim) more than I do any of the other games that fill out the second half schedule. There's just something about the potential for tongue-in-cheek bragging rights, even in a year where you're a punchline, that keeps me amped up. I love playing Boston. Losing to them sucks, but beating them makes it so, so worthwhile.
Tonight's pitching matchup looked awful on paper, but then so did Washburn/Johnson (for us), Felix/Wang (for them), and Baek/Karstens (for us, before I knew anything about Karstens, and knew way too much about Baek), and we all remember how each of those turned out, so I don't think anyone was ready to concede a loss before the first pitch. On top of that, Boston was coming at us with a Manny-less and further depleted lineup, and for one night ours might've actually looked better. That there's even a question should tell you just how far the Red Sox have fallen, and just how much promise this Mariner team actually has for the future.
I should probably be up front about this now, while I have the opportunity - when I watch Jake Woods pitch, I feel strangely comfortable, like no matter how tough a jam he may get himself into, nothing bad is going to happen. It took me a while to pinpoint the reason why, but I've come to realize it's because he reminds me of me when I used to pitch. We're both lefties who belong in the bullpen, we both lack an out pitch, we both have spotty command of big looping curveballs, we both fall behind a bunch of batters, and we both find ways to throw scoreless innings despite allowing countless baserunners. The only differences are his Mystic Tan and my stunning good looks. That's why I wasn't too nervous when Woods went 2-0 to the first three batters he faced, putting two of them on; subconsciously I knew he'd find a way out of it, and sure enough he came back by striking out a pair of powerful right-handed hitters. The sequences to both Pena and Lowell were identical: strike looking, strike swinging, ball, ball, strike swinging. Woods had a plan for every pitch, and each was perfectly executed. At least, that's what I imagine was his approach. If this were Joel Pineiro I would've called his ass lucky, but that's because Joel and I don't share an unspoken kinship. I just get Jake, the same way he'd get me if he ever watched me face the Red Sox.
That brought us to Curt Schilling, who took time off from his busy schedule of having an opinion on everything to start a game in Seattle. It didn't begin very well, as he left a fastball over the middle of the plate that Ichiro drilled into right, but this being one of Ichiro's patented Slumps Of Death, the ball fell into Gabe Kapler's glove well short of the wall. I've said before that I'll never speculate on Ichiro's struggles ever again since he invariably bookends his ruts with periods of unstoppable awesomeness, but I will say this - when things are going bad for Ichiro, he looks like the easiest out in baseball. Quick at bats, no power, ugly swings; he looks genuinely hopeless, like an overmatched minor leaguer. Then all of a sudden a few grounders find holes and he's got his fourth multi-hit game in a row. That's just the way it is with Ichiro. I don't know if this is true or not, but if it helps, think of his year as a series of cat-and-mouse games with opposing pitchers, where they make small adjustments to get the better of him, and then Ichiro - being one of the smartest hitters in the league - makes small adjustments to get back in control. It makes a hell of a lot more sense than "random statistical fluctuation," after all, since Ichiro seems to get way more variation in his performance than a statistician would expect. I like to think that Ichiro's constantly learning, and that even when he's in a slump, he's still working harder than anyone else to get back to his standard level of performance.
(Obligatory comment on Ichiro's balls in play:
GB/FB and BA before July 29th: 2.15, .347
GB/FB and BA after July 29th: 1.21, .211
When he consistently puts the ball on the ground, he succeeds. Not that I'm in any position to give Ichiro batting advice, but, dammit, keep the ball out of the air.)
Ichiro was followed by Chris Snelling, who actually took two pitches before ripping a single, and that's when the fun started. I guess it wasn't immediate, since Jose Lopez still had to come up and do his first-pitch pop out thing, but whatever. That Lopez hasn't drawn a walk in 88 August at bats tells me he's trying to hack his way out of this slump, with disastrous results. You talk about a guy who just really sucks right now. Anyway, Raul Ibanez made up for Lopez's lack of anything good by grounding a double down the first base line past a diving Mark Loretta, who was too busy thinking "holy hell I'm out of place" to make a stop. It looked like Snelling was in for something really unpleasant, be it an abrupt stop sign at third or a play at the plate, but the ball hit the portion of the seats that juts out in right field and ricocheted away from Kapler, allowing Snelling to score standing up. With Red Sox Nation sitting on its hands and nobody being particularly fond of an awkward silence, Mariner fans stood and applauded while I cheered at home, confident that Woods would be able to make the one run of support stand up.
And, not surprisingly (to me), he did exactly that. The next three and a half innings were nothing short of a pitching clinic, with Schilling demonstrating to the youth of America how to vote Republican and make proper use of a splitter, and Woods showing that you shouldn't even bother trying to learn how to throw the awkward pitch since it hurts the webbing between your fingers, and you can usually get by tossing crap with your left hand. Things got interesting in the top of the fifth when Woods put two on with one out, but he got Loretta to pop up before predictably inducing the pathetic David Ortiz into a harmless grounder with a fastball inside. Coming off a high-pressure inning, and having run his pitch count up to 88, Woods knew his day was done, but his legacy will live on forever, just like Joel Pineiro's after he shut out the Red Sox in April. Surely Jake, like Joel, will achieve legendary status as the Sox return home telling tales of wonder and helplessness.
Perhaps the most interesting thing that happened during that stretch of the game was the camera showing Alex Cora in such a way that a certain fan seated behind him became visible, a fan that bears a striking resemblance to one 2006 Seattle Mariners Opening Day Designated Hitter:
One can only assume that the large man standing next to him is Bill Bavasi, informing Carl that the terms of his DFA and subsequent release include a restraining order requiring him to stay at least 100 yards away from Earth.
Anyway, Woods' unparalleled magic brought us to the bottom of the fifth, which probably ranks second on the list of Innings Played In Seattle That Coco Crisp Will Drink Away From His Memory. Barely a month separated from his awful misplay that essentially gave Adrian Beltre an inside-the-park home run, Crisp made a completely stupid diving attempt on a sinking liner off the bat of Willie Ballgame. The ball got by, Yuniesky Betancourt scored from first to make it 2-0, and Willie wound up making a huge turn at third before playing it safe and going back for the stand-up "triple." Apparently Willie isn't the only guy capable of playing terrible outfield defense at inopportune moments; all you need is for Willie to somehow be involved in the play for crazy shit to start happening. Ichiro failed to drive home the third run by tapping a weak grounder, and Snelling struck out (albeit in another long at bat) to end the inning, but the damage was done. The Red Sox just didn't have a prayer of scoring two runs in four innings against Julio Mateo's arm slot or Eric O'Flaherty's pocket full of dreams.
Sure enough, reliable cloud-seeder Mateo recorded a trio of flyball outs in the sixth, and in an effort to keep JJ Putz rested and healthy the Mariners went ahead and put the game out of reach in the bottom half, with the help of a little defensive hilarity. Boston actually has a pretty lousy bunch of gloves, with The Hardball Times ranking them third-worst in the AL at -26 outs, but the fact that they lead the league in fielding percentage convinced Rick Rizzs that they have the best team defense in baseball, so imagine his surprise when, after a diving stop kept an Ibanez grounder on the infield, (A) Alex Cora flipped the ball wide of second, allowing Jose Lopez to sprint for third, and (B) distinguished scholar Curt Schilling identified the left field ballgirl as a liberal and tried to smite her by making an off-balance throw at her head, letting Lopez score easily and Ibanez to reach second standing up. Terry Francona could hardly disguise his humiliation as the camera showed him staring at the ground in the dugout. It was only 3-0, but the Red Sox clearly didn't have their heads in the game, and the ensuing run-scoring hits by Ben Broussard and Kenji Johjima certainly didn't do anything to encourage more intense concentration. The only thing they cared about anymore was getting Schilling to add one more to his career strikeout total of 2,999, but as much as I would've loved to see him celebrate the achievement in the middle of a game he was losing 5-0 to a last place team on the road, Francona yanked him before he had the chance. Which is too bad, because Willie Ballgame was the next batter due up, and, well, you see where I'm going with this.
If things felt good after five, they were comfortable, almost leisurely after six, and when Jose Lopez made it 6-0 with a single in the seventh the only thing left to wonder about was whether or not the M's would shut out the Red Sox for the second time this year. If the Red Sox were against the idea, they didn't issue much of a protest, and with a runner in scoring position Eric O'Flaherty retired Doug Mirabelli and Dustin Pedroia to end the game and send a sizeable fraction of the 40,817 attendance home happy. It's funny how quickly you can forget about the worst road trip in franchise history if you let yourself.
David Wells and Gil Meche tomorrow at 7:05pm PDT. Wells is a lefty and has a curveball, meaning Chris Snelling won't play while Raul Ibanez does, but Gil Meche sucks, so based on recent trends, we might have a chance.