In terms of viewing duration vs. exciting moments, these last few Mariner games have been a lot like Apocalypse Now, only with the Ride of the Valkyries sequence replaced by footage from Craig's Animals Close Up With a Wide-Angle Lens. And the animals are all asleep, and instead of the Benny Hill theme, the soundtrack is provided by Bryan Adams and the guy who wrote The Girl From Ipanema. It's not fair to say that they've all been complete wastes of time, since the last few ninth innings have gotten at least moderately interesting, but five minutes of hope is hardly worth three hours of asking yourself "why am I watching this?" over and over while you send bitter text messages to your friends who were smart enough to find something better to do. The worst part is that they haven't even justified the hope with a game-tying hit, the outcomes only serving to make us more frustrated than we were before the comeback even started. The Horror, indeed.
Biggest Contribution: Yuniesky Betancourt, +4.4%
Biggest Suckfest: Miguel Batista, -23.4%
Most Important At Bat: Lopez DP, -10.5%
Most Important Pitch: Anderson double, -9.4%
Total Contribution by Pitcher(s): -24.0%
Total Contribution by Position Players: -26.0%
I'm going to be honest with you - just as we saw throughout the Minnesota series, there wasn't really too much to remember about this game. Even the comeback attempt was forgettable, in part because conventional blowout managerial intervention forced both Willie Ballgame and Jason Ellison into reluctant participation in place of arguably the two best hitters in the lineup. Not that anyone realistically entertained the thought of an eight-run rally, but the presence of those two in the ninth inning batting order prevented even the slightest glimmer of optimism from registering in anyone's brain. I'm not going to blame Hargrove for this, since that would be silly, but it makes for an appropriate conclusion to a game where pretty much everything went exactly the opposite of how we would've wanted it to go.
If there turns out to be an enduring memory from this game, it's going to be how Joe Saunders picked up six shutout innings that he totally didn't deserve. The line score of seven hits, two walks, and one strikeout says enough by itself, but you can go even further than that - he barely threw half his pitches for strikes, he started the majority of hitters off 1-0, and he escaped two potential rallies with a pair of absurdly stupid line drive double plays, one by Sexson in the second and another by Lopez in the third. Both came with nobody out, both came while the game was still close, and both were hit hard enough to get to the wall were it not for an infielder's glove being in the right place at the right time. I'm a firm believer in the idea that luck evens out over time, and that it's rarely worth complaining about, but misfortune played a critical role in putting the Mariners behind the 8-ball tonight. They were actually hitting the ball right at the defenders, while the Angels were actually getting every little break. Things didn't turn around until the game was well out of hand.
Not that the Mariners themselves should be absolved of blame for Saunders' truncated shutout. When a guy isn't throwing strikes, you're supposed to wait him out and either take the walks or make him pay when he comes back over the plate. The lineup did neither, preferring instead to keep with its aggressive approach and bail him out time and time again when a little more discipline could've sustained a few rallies. A pitcher who allows as many baserunners as Saunders did while throwing so few strikes shouldn't get away with 92 pitches in six innings. That's just indicative of bad hitting. The M's were bit by their share of bad luck, but too often I found myself longing for the discerning eye of Jose Vidro instead of whoever else was at the plate, and I think we can all agree that that's not a situation we should ever encounter. We knew this would be a problem before the season started, so it shouldn't really take anyone by surprise, but at the same time, if we all saw this coming, why can't the team do something about it? It's no accident that the Mariners have struggled to score runs since the end of the Gillick era. An impatient, ball-in-play offense just isn't going to have enough success when it plays most of its games in hit-killing environments. Swinging the bat is cool and all, but doing it too much leads to games like this. I don't know how many times we have to learn this lesson before the issue is addressed.
On the other side of the ball was Miguel Batista, who was introduced with the following scouting report:
...prompting Mariner fans everywhere to choke on their Starbucks biscotti and note that "hey, you should bring them to work sometime." If Batista really has five quality offerings, he has yet to show them with Seattle, leading me to believe that either the guy in charge of FSN West's scouting reports has lower standards than Julio Mateo's girlfriend, or he means that Batista generally throws about five good pitches per game sample of ~100, and just couldn't phrase it very well in the limited space. Whatever the case, it didn't take very long for him to allow the fourth multi-run first in the Mariners' last five games, even after getting the first two batters out. Falling behind the Angels is bad enough without giving up run-scoring hits to professional punchline Garret Anderson, whose reputation has long outlived his usefulness. For perspective, this is what other teams' fans feel like when they give up run-scoring hits to Jose Vidro. More hits would follow, and with all the bounces going Anaheim's way for the first several innings, it was clear that Seattle wouldn't be able to compete against both the Angels and Scrappy the Scapegoat's uncomfortably intimate relationship with Fat Lady Luck. Before we knew it, Anaheim was bouncing RBI choppers over Richie Sexson's colossal body while the Mariners were standing the bases loaded, and it was a 4-0 game.
Then it was a 5-0 game.
Then it was a 6-0 game. Luck didn't have too much to do with either Guerrero or Napoli's longballs, which officially dropped the list of excuses down to zero. Miguel Batista was brought in to be a groundball pitcher who can miss a few bats, but tonight he kept the ball in the air while fanning only Shea Hillenbrand and Mike Napoli, which should hardly even count. I'm trying as hard as I can to give Bavasi the benefit of the doubt for at least two months or so, but so far his offseason is working out as every bit the disaster so many people thought it was. That Chris Snelling has a .400 OBP. We shouldn't have to take solace in the fact that Raffy Soriano gave up three meaningless runs in a 7-0 blowout. Baseball fans aren't supposed to look for satisfaction from players and teams other than their own, but for most of the Mariner fans I know, there really isn't much of a choice. That's sad.
Oh, and in case you were still watching, it soon became an 8-0 game after the Angels smacked Brandon Morrow around a little bit. I was willing to give this whole thing a chance on Opening Day when I thought the Mariners might actually have a shutdown reliever on their hands, but after making just four appearances in twelve games, I'm on board with shipping Morrow to the minors to resume developing as a starter. He just isn't showing enough in the Majors to stick, and his role has been so insignificant that there's not really any point to his being here. Right now, we know two things: (A) Morrow isn't pitching very often, and (B) when he is, he looks mediocre. Now, one could argue that (B) is a function of (A), but (A) isn't going to change until Morrow starts improving on (B), so if it's a direct cause-and-effect situation, then the only solution is to get Morrow pitching consistently somewhere else. That "somewhere else" should be West Tenn or Tacoma, getting five or six innings every five days so he can hasten has eventual arrival as an actual impact arm. Right now, there's just no point to his being in the bullpen instead of someone like Sean Green or Jon Huber, who can help you without making you worry about their development as prospects. It sucks that the organization jerked Morrow around, but he ought to be in the minors, and it's better to make the right move late than to never make it at all. In the event that he does in fact get demoted, hopefully the ML paycheck's enough to keep him content.
Then the Mariners rallied their little hearts out against a Dominican pitching machine until Mike Scioscia's perplexed and whiny eyebrows conjured Francisco Rodriguez from the bullpen to slam the door. With the underside of his hat suddenly clean and spotless, Rodriguez may no longer be cheating with the baseball, but he's still cheating with his elbow, since there's no other rational explanation for why his right forearm hasn't flown off and gone into orbit. Rodriguez accomplished the burdensome task of getting Jose Vidro to ground out and Jason Ellison to whiff before thanking God for his inhuman joints and celebrating the win with a breathtakingly Caucasian Mike Napoli. Suffice it to say that any Friday night that ends with this unholy scene is a Friday night that would've been better spent somewhere else.
The Ho and Bartolo Colon go face to horrifyingly distended face tomorrow at 6:05pm PDT. I'd try to dream up reasons why you should tune in, but if you're a daily LL reader, you're already going to anyway, since you're every bit as pathetic as I am. You loser.