If the Mariners go undefeated from this point forward - which, based on how they've looked these last few nights, I think we all can agree is completely possible, if not probable - all we need is for Oakland to lose at least 15 of its remaining 33 games for it to be hello, postseason for the first time since 2001. And you thought the '69 Mets were a good story.
Chart chart chart!
Biggest Contribution: Yuniesky Betancourt, +31.8%
Biggest Suckfest: Eduardo Perez, -13.0%
Most Important At Bat: Beltre homer, +30.7%
Most Important Pitch: Lowell single, -25.9%
Total Contribution by Pitcher(s): +0.7%
Total Contribution by Position Players: +44.3%
I love looking at pictures of a happy, fired-up JJ Putz. They're so much better than these. Anyway, it's late, I'm human, and tomorrow's a day game anyway, so let's go to the bullet points:
- Although I understand that we may be a little more familiar with this than the Red Sox, sometimes a playoff atmosphere is the closest you get to the actual playoffs, so you treat those games like they're the biggest of the season, in terms of effort level on the part of the players and emotional investment on the part of the fans. So, as dumb as it may seem to fans of better teams, this is a shining moment for the Mariners, as they've come out of nowhere to clinch consecutive series against the top dogs in the AL East. And hey, if we're going to lay some blame at Hargrove's feet for the colossal meltdown that was the most recent road trip, we have to give him at least partial credit for the way the team has turned it around at home against roughly $350m of sheer terror. You have to wonder how the Oakland season series would've gone had these guys played the A's with as much energy as they have the Yankees and Red Sox. The Mariners may be 60-69, but right now they're playing fun, rewarding baseball that leaves you eager for Opening Day 2007. A week ago I was ready for the offseason; now I don't want this to end.
- Watching Gil Meche is just so much more comfortable when you accept that he sucks, because it diminishes the lows and accentuates the highs. You know why women are always going on and on about spontaneity? Surprises are a kick. Good things make you feel so much better when you don't see them coming, much like Gil Meche throwing first-pitch strikes or recording a quality start against a reasonably potent lineup. The thrill of the unexpected is enhanced even further when you're actually expecting the complete opposite of what takes place. If you're watching a game and think Gil's going to allow a home run in every at bat, you're going to be overjoyed, because at least 50% of the time it's not going to happen. That was tonight. Gil's been twelve shades of awful ever since I finally started buying into the hype, so while he kept getting strikeouts and keeping the ball on the ground, I was preparing for the worst. In the end, we were both winners. Gil may not have been facing the strongest batting order in the league, but for the better part of seven innings, he was legitimately dominant.
- For the first seven and a half innings I couldn't tell if the Mariners were playing too well to lose or too poorly to win. On the one hand, Gil was pitching real well and succeeding against the big hitters when he had to, and the offense had erased a pair of deficits against a guy who couldn't throw a bad pitch if he tried. On the other, all three of Boston's rallies had started with none on and two out, and the Mariners were wasting chance after chance by going 2-11 with runners on base, including consecutive weak outs with a man on third in the fifth and a double play with two on in the seventh. The final inning answered my question - turns out it was the former - but for the longest time I honestly had no idea.
- Of the 71 separate "events" that took place in tonight's game, ten of them changed the Mariners' chances of winning by at least 10% (five in their favor, five against). That may not seem particularly interesting to people who've never charted a game before, but it's pretty unusual, and qualifies this one as being legitimately wild. That's what happens when you see as many late-inning heroics as we did for both sides in the game.
- While Yuniesky Betancourt's solo shot in the seventh that tied it at two was totally awesome, my enduring memory of the game - offensively, anyway - is going to be Adrian Beltre sending a Mike Timlin "sinker" into the right field stands an inning later to tie it at three. Not because the ball landed in the middle of a pocket of Red Sox fans, but because it's the sort of thing we just never would've expected him to do a year ago. Bill Krueger speculated after the game that Beltre's succeeding because he's learned how to take advantage of the jet stream in right, and while I'm not ready to accept that as fact, the ten extra-base hits he's launched into right field double his 2005 total, and we've still got more than a month left in the season. He's very clearly improving as a hitter before our eyes, and his park-adjusted .270/.336/.469 batting line is downright terrific considering the way he started the year. He's not just finding holes, either - he's hitting balls in ways he couldn't have dreamed of in April, and that's what makes me so optimistic that his improvement is for real.
Adrian Beltre has taken his sweet time learning how to hit in Seattle, but if he keeps swinging like this, it'll all have been worth it. Not too long ago I would've been happy to unload his contract and put that money to good use somewhere else, but now that he's hitting home runs - to right field, no less - I can't wait to see what he does every game. Have I mentioned lately how strong this offense looks when it's got Adrian Beltre producing in the middle?
- After watching Ben Broussard lift a sac fly to put the M's up 4-3, the first thing Chris Snelling did when Broussard returned to the dugout was ask him what Timlin was throwing, and how he was throwing it. It's one of those things you teach high schoolers to do but never expect out of guys in the Major Leagues, and one of those things that makes Snelling so utterly lovable. The kid just lives and breathes baseball, and if you don't worship the ground he walks on yet, God willing, you will soon.
- TJ Bohn. Yay. Moving on...
- JJ Putz wasn't ready to pitch when he got called into the game in the eighth inning to stifle a rally. He was throwing hard but his fastball was all over the place, and he didn't look quite right. The struggles carried over into the ninth but came to an abrupt halt in the middle of Eric Hinske's at bat to lead off the inning, when JJ woke up and started placing the ball exactly where he wanted to. The instant that happened, Boston didn't have a chance. It was an obvious transition, as the crowd went from a state of quiet anxiety to one of boisterous exhilaration once JJ got going. On a 2-2 pitch he froze Hinske, who was looking for the splitter, with a 99(!)mph heater at the knees. The next at bat he whiffed Javy Lopez on three pitches, setting the stage for the final at bat, which somehow came down to Alex Cora despite this being the team with the second-highest payroll in baseball. After quickly getting ahead 0-2, JJ wasted a pitch up high, got Cora to offer a defensive flick at an outside fastball for a foul, then blew it by him with a heater down the pipe to end the game. Absolutely, completely, 100% dominant. How he's still throwing like this in late August is beyond me, but I kind of stopped thinking of Putz as a human months ago.
- An unfortunate side-effect of JJ's awesomeness is that his pitches occasionally break more than the catcher expects, causing things like this to happen (image offered without further comment):
- One last thing, since I'm running on fumes here. I love MLB.tv, I use it every day (even during the offseason), and without it this website probably wouldn't exist. Where most of my friends think it costs too much, I think paying roughly fifty cents a day for all the baseball I want is a freaking bargain. It's been an invaluable resource for my development as a fan and as a writer, and it's gotten to the point where I believe it plays an extraordinarily significant role in my life.
That said, MLB.tv has its problems, and they're beginning to get worse. When I first started using it, we got to listen in on the broadcasters between innings, the feed was smooth, and we got network graphics showing the score, situation, and pitch speed. Now the graphics are gone, the feed frequently crashes, and the announcers have been replaced by Adult Swim-style white text and some of the most godawful muzak I've heard in my life. It's like the stuff you used to hear during those relaxation CD infomercials at four in the morning, only with a lot more bluegrass harmonica and a lot less desire to keep living life. And as if that weren't enough, they routinely cut into the agonizing audio loop after about a minute to show a few seconds of a music video featuring a clinically dead Tom Petty:
Between this and those irritating "Comeback Player Of The Year" voting spots they make you watch every time you try to load a highlight, I'm starting to lose it. Here's to MLB.com covering my future therapy.
Cha Baek and Kyle Snyder tomorrow at 1:05pm PDT. Watch, or don't.