And with that, the Mariners drop to 0-8 in their most recent opportunities to get to three games over .500. The last time they've been at least three games over was on the last day of the 2003 season, a bittersweet occasion that saw the M's win their 93rd game and still make no postseason plans for October. Getting out of the cellar was the first step, and reaching .500 was the second, but I think now we've identified the third, and the team's having a hell of a time making it a reality. On the plus side, in a division this bad being plagued by that kind of problem isn't mutually exclusive with making the playoffs anyway. Thanks for being mediocre, direct competition!
Biggest Contribution: Ichiro, +14.2%
Biggest Suckfest: Jose Guillen, -17.2%
Most Important At Bat: Guillen strikeout, -11.7%
Most Important Pitch: Matthews single, -9.4%
Total Contribution by Pitcher(s): -3.0%
Total Contribution by Position Players: -47.0%
Total Contribution by Opposition: 0.0%
Even in games you know you're supposed to lose, you get your chances. Chances to throw the right pitch, chances to make the great play, chances to deliver the big hit - no matter how slim the odds may be, no game is unwinnable. It's always just a matter of cashing in your opportunities. And it's in those difficult games (like, say, John Lackey against Cha Baek) that said opportunities become the most critical. Not all chances are created the same. Strike out with a man on against Darrell Rasner and it's not a big deal, because he'll probably keep putting more people on base. Do that against a better pitcher, though, and you're shooting yourself in the foot, because you don't know when you'll get another chance like that. The sheer infrequency with which guys like Lackey get into run-scoring situations demands that opposing lineups make him pay whenever he slips up.
Tonight's game, then, was one of missed opportunities, the majority of them at the plate. By the time I'd recovered from hockey-related disappointment and booted up MLB.tv Ichiro was on base with the M's already down 2-0, so I can't comment on the top of the first. The bottom half, though, was enough to drive a man crazy, provided the man wasn't already a Mariner fan who'd seen the same situation play out a million times in his day. After a single, stolen base, and patented Vidro productive out put Ichiro on third with one down, a normal team might expect its 3-4 hitters to drive him in and at least cut the lead in half. But not these Mariners. For, you see, the 3-4 hitters on the Mariners have arguably been the worst bats on the entire team, and if you wouldn't have believed it before, you certainly could after watching the first inning. Ibanez tapped a grounder back to the one guy to whom you can't tap a grounder when you've got a man on third base, and Lackey made the play with ease. Sexson followed that sterling effort with a roller to short that Cabrera flipped to first in plenty of time to retire the fairly small fraction of Richie that still cared enough to run. Three at bats from the middle of the order with a man in scoring position had resulted in three unforgivably easy outs. This team likes to blow its opportunities in bunches.
The end of the first brought us to an MLB.tv commercial break, but while I was expecting the standard Pac Man screen, my ears were suddenly assaulted by an unfamiliar voice confidently declaring "BASEBALL: IT'S ABOUT LOYALTY." Taken aback, I clicked on the MLB.tv window in time to see a fat bald guy in a Tigers jersey say "IT'S ABOUT DEDICATION" in a similar tone. Then came some broad from St. Louis telling me that "IT'S ABOUT BEING CHAMPIONS." And so on and so forth. Yankees guy: "IT'S ABOUT TRADITION." Cubs guy: "IT'S ABOUT NEVER GIVING UP." Red Sox guy: "IT'S ABOUT NEVER GIVING UP." Then, as if realizing that he'd copied the Cubs guy word for word and wanting to throw in something original: "NEVER EVER." Rockies guy: "IT'S ABOUT THE BALLPARK!" Mets little girl: "IT'S ABOUT SUPERSTITION" (loud whisper). White Sox guy: "IT'S ABOUT RECOGNITION." Braves guy: "IT'S ABOUT HEROES." Phillies guy: "IT'S ABOUT FRIENDSHIPS." Pirates guy: "IT'S ABOUT FAMILY." Reds guy: "IT'S ABOUT TEAMMATES." Twins guy: "IT'S ABOUT HISTORY." Yankees guy again in a blatant display of East Coast bias: "IT'S ABOUT DOING...WHAT IT TAKES...TO WIN." This relentless parade of aesthetically displeasing individuals wearing obnoxiously clean and recently-purchased bandwagon apparel repeating meaningless sentence fragments turned out to be an ad for Dick's Sporting Goods, but before this became clear I started to wonder what fans of some other teams would've said, were they also granted a spot in the commercial.
Devil Rays: IT'S ABOUT FUCK BALTIMORE
Angels: IT'S ABOUT DARIN ERSTAD
Padres: IT'S ABOUT THAT PITCH MARK LANGSTON THREW TINO MARTINEZ WAS A STRIKE WE SHOULDN'T HAVE LOST GAME ONE
Mariners: It's about using our indoor voices
Athletics: IT'S ABOUT WATCHING FROM HOME
Phillies: IT'S ABOUT FRIENDSHIPS (this is still funny to me)
Giants: IT'S ABOUT RETIREMENT
Royals: IT'S ABOUT FOOTBALL
Eventually the commercial was over, but while I thought that'd be the end of it, I couldn't have been more wrong - MLB.tv then sent us to one of the more perplexing still lifes I've ever seen.
They showed this image for a solid thirty seconds or so, accompanied by the same sound effects as the Pac Man screen before it. Now, you can imagine my confusion. At the very least, the Pac Man screen had a ball as Pac Man and gloves as ghosts. This doesn't have anything to do with baseball at all. On a desk, we have two figurines - one a nameless Milwaukee Buck, the other apparently being the upper half of a freshly botoxed Samuel L Jackson - a pencil sharpener, and a picture of cats. I suppose it could be, I dunno, Bud Selig's desk for some reason, but it seems more like an assortment of items so unbelievably random that you'd never see them all together in one place unless they were put there for the specific purpose of being unbelievably random. MLB.tv: bewildering our customers into thoughtless submission.
The weirdest thing about this whole set-up, though, requires streaming video instead of a still image. If you look closely at the pencil sharpener, you can see the reflection of a man. And in the video, you can see the reflection of a man who's moving. It's not even a sloppy mistake where the mirror is catching the guy with the camera, either; the man in the reflection has his back turned to the desk, doing something that appears to be completely unrelated. I didn't see any other people in the room for the duration of the commercial break, but I'm afraid that there might already be someone lying spreadeagle and bloody on the floor. We may have unwittingly stumbled upon a murder mystery. If they show the same desk scene tomorrow where the man isn't there anymore and the figurines have been stolen, then it's probably time to call the police.
Anyway, the end of the break took us to the second inning, where Mike Napoli's long fly out to right kicked off a spectacular string of absolutely nothing happening. The Angels and Mariners traded unthinkably easy half innings, and it was almost enough to make you forget that we were at a major disadvantage until you looked at the scoreboard and reminded yourself that we were losing. Over the next four and a half innings, there were a total of four baserunners between the two teams, one of them coming after Betancourt dropped what should've been an easy relay from Lopez to start a double play in the sixth. Cha Baek was doing his job to the best of his meager abilities, but if the lineup didn't much feel like touching John Lackey, well, there wasn't anything he could do about it. I suppose that, after getting 34 runs of support over his previous four starts, Baek was due for this, but that doesn't make it any easier for him to stomach. He did what he could, but the Mariner bats didn't seem particularly interested in taking part in the game. It's one thing to get shut down by Lackey, but it's quite another to get shut down by Lackey without so much as a kick or a squeal. The Mariner lineup, through five innings, was pathetic.
That brought us to the bottom of the inning, where we were horribly reminded that the only thing worse than a lineup looking pathetic is a lineup looking pathetic when it has a chance to break out. The Mariners got their first two men on and advanced them both into scoring position when Jose Vidro rolled one to second. Once again, the middle of the order had a chance to deliver a critical hit. Up came Raul Ibanez, to varying reactions:
Fans: aw fuck
Players: aw fuck
Raul Ibanez: aw fuck
Mike Hargrove: All right!
Mike Scioscia saved us from ourselves by ignoring both past trends and the currently flaccid condition of Ibanez's bat in calling for an intentional walk, but all that did was bring us to Richie Sexson with the bases loaded. And while the path he took in his at bat was unexpected, the result was the same - a first-pitch fielder's choice left the 2-0 Angel lead intact while giving us one fewer out to play with. The good news was that the red-hot and visibly steaming Jose Guillen was due up next, and he even managed to get himself into a 3-1 count, but then Lackey took the at bat over and, after working Guillen with fastball after fastball, dropped a 3-2 slider in the dirt and about three feet outside that got Guillen to chase. It was an absolutely awful, awful, awful pitch to swing at, as I don't think it even left Lackey's hand looking like it'd touch the zone, but part of the whole Jose Guillen package is that he swings at bad pitches and tries to do too much. Laying off the slider would've forced in a run and bumped our WE to 42.8%, but instead the out dropped it down to 17.6%, and it felt a lot closer to zero. The Mariners' own shitpickle approach to hitting had cost them another golden opportunity to get back into the game, and while there were still another nine outs to go, I think everyone realized that Lackey had given them all their chances, and they'd blown each one.
Then the Angels scored three runs in an emphatic display of "offense", which I'm pretty sure took everyone in the ballpark by surprise. At 5-0, the game was essentially over, and soon thereafter it became official. There are certain days where we expect the Mariners to lose, but the ways in which they do so continue to frustrate the lot of us. A competent lineup could've made today so much different, but instead we continue to live and die by our over-aggressive batting approach. It's good that they can have games like last night's, but there's value in predictability, and this group of hitters doesn't have any of it.
Washburn and Colon go face to face tomorrow night as we all continue to wonder why the Angels only had to clear one roster spot to make room for Colon coming back from the DL last month. I'm pretty sure the Mariners were only allowed a 24-man roster once they traded for Vidro. That's what Jason Ellison tells me, anyway.