Healing isn't an event, it's a process. Things that break don't get better in one step. They have to pass through a series of intermediate stages, each one better than the last, until everything's as good as new once again. With that in mind, it's hard to be anything but pleased with what Felix did tonight. After a solid four weeks away from the mound, you had to expect a little rust, but even on a low pitch count with a limited repertoire, Felix came one or two pitches away from keeping the Angels off the board entirely. And more, that he was able to leave on Hargrove's terms instead of his elbow's is a gigantically positive sign. Today, Felix came back. Next time, barring any sudden surprise, he'll throw more pitches. And the time after that, he'll be right back to doing what he does best. It's as simple as that.
So, yeah, today was a big day for the Mariners. Don't let anyone tell you that Felix's numbers were a disappointment. Today wasn't about results - it was about Felix coming back and proving that the scare is behind him. And, by all indications, it is. So while it might've seemed a little out of place to give a standing ovation to a guy leaving in the fourth, the ovation wasn't so much about what Felix did as it was about what his return symbolizes, and what he's going to do down the road. For the first time in a month, the Mariners are whole. It's time to stop treading water and make a move. There wasn't much hope in Felix's absence, but with him, anything - and I mean anything - is possible.
Here's to a fun season.
Biggest Contribution: Jose Guillen, +15.6%
Biggest Suckfest: Raul Ibanez/Richie Sexson, -5.1%
Most Important At Bat: Guillen single, +10.1%
Most Important Pitch: Kotchman single, -8.6%
Total Contribution by Pitcher(s): +6.7%
Total Contribution by Position Players: +17.7%
Total Contribution by Opposition: +25.6% (!!!)
I'm gonna be honest, as fun as it is to whoop up on the Angels, I don't think they ever so much as entertained the thought of winning this game. From donning uniforms redder than Reggie Willits' cracker cheeks to sitting Vlad Guerrero to making defensive miscue after defensive miscue, they just looked like a team that had no interest in earning anyone's respect or playing with honor and dignity (for what it's worth, Orlando Cabrera apparently didn't get the message, probably because he's not a team player). I'm not going to accuse Mike Scioscia of throwing this game, but I'm not not going to accuse him, either. With the lineup they sent out there, they might as well have asked for a forfeit. It would've come with the side benefit of not letting Felix get his work in, but hey, if Scioscia doesn't see that, I won't complain. I have no problem with an opposing baseball team basically letting us do whatever we want.
With Anaheim sending out its B team (which is essentially what they are when Vlad gets a day off), it was up to Felix and the Mariners to do their jobs and put them away. And while Felix could've looked more comfortable in the top of the first, he managed to get the job done without putting us behind. Willits and Figgins led off with extraordinarily un-Angel-like six-pitch at bats, but they both ended in outs, and while the next two guys reached base, Kotchman rolled a grounder to first that Sexson only slightly misplayed in recording the third out. As Felix walked off the field without so much as a grimace, we knew he'd passed the first test. And hell, one inning of Felix was already more than we'd seen of him since the Boston game, so there was nothing to be upset about.
That took us to the bottom half, where Ichiro led off with the kind of single that would embarrass pretty much any other hitter in the Major Leagues. Except for Willie Ballgame, who saw his season hit total eclipsed by 150% by Ichiro in one game. After that came Jose Vidro, and what happened next was a clear indication that things were going to go our way tonight. With Ichiro on the move, Vidro hit a line drive single into right-center to put men on the corners with nobody out. Were this 2006, Vidro's liner would've been about ten feet closer to the ground, drilling Ichiro in the head and ricocheting to Kotchman at first for a highly unorthodox and slightly lethal double play. But not tonight. Ibanez and Sexson made quick outs in what was seemingly a waste of our early advantage, but both of those were incredibly predictable, and in order for something to qualify as a disappointment, one must go in expecting more than he gets, and I think we all expected exactly what we got. Fortunately Jose Guillen was there to delightedly pick up the pieces, with a well-hit single to plate the first run of the game.
For all intents and purposes, that should've been it, as Adrian Beltre came up next and bounced a routine grounder to Figgins at third. Figgins, though, forgetting the Caucasian status of his target, wildly overthrew Kotchman at first, allowing a second run to score. It was a bad throw borne of bad form, as Figgins didn't seem to have a very good throwing motion all game long. Every time he made a throw, he sort of short-armed it and only threw with his forearm, if that makes any sense. The result was that there wasn't any power nor much accuracy to his tosses. For a utility player batting .127, a strikeout and an error made for a lousy way to begin a game.
Making things worse for Figgins was that, following his error, Escobar promptly uncorked an ugly pitch that got away from the comically lethargic Mike Napoli, allowing Guillen to score from third. Two miscues in one minute for a team that prides itself on "playing the game the right way" had extended the Mariner lead by a pair, and moods were bright. While Ibanez and Sexson looked like they had little interest in winning, the Angels were actively trying to lose, and as we all know, the Angels give three times more effort to achieve their goals than anybody else in the league. Determined to chop their division lead in half by the end of the night, there was no stopping the Angels once they got the suck ball rolling.
The second inning came and went, with Felix kind of settling in and Ichiro picking up his second hit in 20 minutes. He also managed to steal second base on a pitchout while Napoli spaced out and did whatever it is white people do to kill little increments of free time, like knit or whistle or shop at Pottery Barn. That was about it, though, which took us to the top of the third, also known as the most frustrating Felix inning of all time. After quickly retiring the first two batters, Felix got ahead of Figgins 0-2 before losing him on a walk. Cabrera and Matthews then farted a pair of infield singles to load the bases. And when I say "farted," I mean they literally hit the ball about as far as one could roll it by placing it on home plate, squatting in the box, and farting on it. Cabrera's was a high chopper that didn't come down for thirty seconds, and Matthews' swinging bunt stayed fair for sixty feet before coming to a stop in front of a very disgusted Adrian Beltre. Kotchman then hit a soft comebacker that any other pitcher in baseball could've fielded, but since Felix tends to fall way off the mound towards first base when he throws hard, he was in no position to make a play, and the Angels were on the board. Shea Hillenbrand bounced into one of the 97 outs he's already made this year to end the threat, but the damage was done, thanks to some of the weakest hits anybody'd ever seen. The Angels' deliberate attempt towards sucking had somehow backfired, as they sucked so bad they scored a run.
Our only consolation at that point was that, while luck had given Anaheim one run, the Angels themselves had already given us two. And then they kept right on helping the cause when Maicer Izturis let an Ibanez roller bounce off his glove into the outfield to lead off the bottom of the third. Raul somehow hustled his way to second on the play while Gary Matthews debated whether or not injecting himself with the baseball could make his muscles bigger, and then he hustled his way right on to third when Escobar uncorked another wild pitch. The fun had started, and by this point there was no turning back. After Sexson drew a walk on the same pitch he chased in the first, Jose Guillen tried to murder Reggie Willits with a line drive that just barely eluded his head. Beltre followed that with a single back up the middle that was hit about as hard as anything he's ever hit in a Mariner uniform, and he even managed to bookend a Johjima sac fly with a pair of stolen bases while Napoli thought about tanning. A Betancourt single proved to be the end of the night for Kelvim Escobar, who continues to struggle against Seattle because he has yet to learn that the best way to succeed against this lineup is to suck really bad. Somebody forgot to take notes on Matt DeSalvo. If you go in expecting to walk every Mariner hitter you face, and pitch like it, in the end you'll probably be pleasantly surprised.
One would think that changing the pitcher would mean the end of the fun inning, but Hector Carrasco begged to differ, as he gave Jose Lopez the same Pitch Of Death that Gil Meche gave Frank Thomas with the bases loaded in that game last August. If you're a right-handed pitcher going up against a right-handed hitter and your fastball tails in, pretty much the last thing you'd want to do is throw that fastball and start it over the outer half of the plate. Throw a slider. Throw a changeup. Throw a curveball. If you have to throw the fastball, throw it low, or throw it high, or throw it outside off the plate, or throw it inside on the plate. Don't start it over the outer half so that it tails back over the inner half, because then all you're doing is speeding up the guy's bat on a pitch that's still hovering around the sweet spot. It had to be the worst possible pitch for Carrasco to throw, and the result was that Lopez got the easiest home run he's ever hit. No hitter worth his salt doesn't put that thing in the bleachers. I'd love to give credit to Lopez for turning on the pitch, but at the same time, holy crap, Carrasco's going to be seeing that pitch in his nightmares for weeks.
By that point, the game was pretty much in hand, and all that was left to do was watch to see how Felix recovered from a lengthy rest in the dugout. It, uh, well it could've been better. While he struck two guys out in the fourth, he also walked one and gave up three solid hits, the last of which got him pulled from the mound. Felix was visibly upset with Cabrera's continued ownership of the king (9-17 career), but while he may not have been too pleased with his outing, he departed healthy and to an ovation that I honestly didn't expect from a fan base as stupid as ours. It seems that even the most vanilla and ignorant of Mariner fans have come to realize that Felix is our one and only hope, both for now and for the future. This fan base has a ways to go, but that's a start. Anyhoo, with two on and two down, Sean White was summoned from the bullpen and got Gary Matthews to fly out on what the cameraman had convinced me was a three-run homer until the very last instant, when I saw Guillen camped out ten feet in front of the warning track. I guess sometimes you have to make your own drama.
For those of you who weren't watching, Felix wasn't working at 100% today, nor was he using his full arsenal. We rarely saw the slider, and a lot of his fastballs were coming in at substandard velocity. Not because he's hurt, but because he was holding back and trying not to exert himself too much. We only really saw Felix put everything he had into his pitches when he got into jams, and since he hadn't done that for a month, some shakiness was to be expected. By and large, it was the right approach, and while it didn't work perfectly today, the rust'll go away as he gets back into a routine. It really is incredible to me how well Felix is handling this whole situation. For a 21 year old with all the talent in the world - and the knowledge that he has all the talent in the world - Felix has done a remarkable job of keeping cool and looking out for his best long-term interests, rather than, say, fighting through pain or reaching back for a little something extra when he knows he probably shouldn't. A pitcher should be his own best pitching coach, and Felix is definitely doing everything right.
Once Felix departed, my interest level in what was still a Mariner blowout sunk pretty low. Oh, I watched Sean White confound an unbelievable 13 consecutive Angel hitters with the kind of stuff you can pick up in the checkout aisle of a grocery store, and I saw Carrasco throw Johjima another one of those High-Inside Fastballs That You Never Throw Kenji Johjima, but for the most part I was just waiting for the end, because once a win is assured, there's no sense in waiting any longer than is necessary to get that last out. I love piling on the Angels as much as the next guy, but I think hacking and failing against Sean White is embarrassment enough. The extra offense...well, we'll probably need those runs tomorrow.
Finally we got to the ninth inning of an 11-3 ballgame, when Jason Davis made his Mariner debut and showed us about as much as you'd expect a new pitcher to show in the ninth inning of an 11-3 ballgame. Davis pumped a few fastballs up there at 94, but I think he was mostly just out there to throw strikes and get quick outs without making a scene, hence the slow two-seamers he was flashing. I think I'll give Davis a few slightly more important situations before I decide how much he brings to the table. As Davis went to work, listening to the crowd, you wouldn't have been able to tell which team was losing by eight, because there wasn't any noise at all. Yeah, I understand that blowouts can be boring, but when you get to the ninth, you need to be cheering. The Mariners were beating up on an important division rival. Show them a little recognition.
Davis recorded his final out to mild applause (I guess maybe the Yankee series made everyone tired), and with that the Mariners were back within one game of first place. Why the Angels tried to give this game away on a sliver platter, I'll never know, but every win counts the same in the end, so I've no reason to care. With that kind of charity, they really are a bunch of Angels. We'll see if it carries over into tomorrow, because something tells me that, with Cha Baek going up against the criminally underrated John Lackey, we're going to need a few breaks, and "hey, Anaheim's benching its best player!" probably won't be one of them.