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The finale was too typical - an early Sox lead, eroded near the end; a late Sox surge, almost but not quite enough. Ethan cried when it was all over - and this was only his first time. I tried to console him, but ended up joining him. It's a puzzle, isn't it? I don't know why grown men care so deeply about something that neither kills, nor starves, nor maims, nor even scratches in our world of woe. I don't know why we care so much, but I'm mighty glad we do.

-Stephen Jay Gould, The Best Of Times, Almost

Biggest Contribution: Jose Lopez, +15.8%
Biggest Suckfest: Sean White, -51.7%
Most Important At Bat: Johjima single, +10.5%
Most Important Pitch: Wigginton double, -15.7%
Total Contribution by Pitcher(s): -73.3%
Total Contribution by Position Players: +21.3%
Total Contribution by Opposition: +16.0%
Total Contribution by Carlos Garcia: -14.0%

(What is this?)

My Internet's giving me all kinds of trouble this afternoon, so I just want to say one thing before calling it quits for the day:

Too often, we see people attempt to infer qualities of character and attitude from performance on a baseball field. A dominating victory means a team is relentless and determined. A spirited comeback means there's no quit in the group, that no one's willing to give up until the final out's been recorded. A walkover loss means you've got a clubhouse full of spineless pussies who just want to go through the motions and cash in their paychecks. We've all seen it, and we're all probably guilty of doing the same ourselves at least once or twice. It's almost addicting to try and gain that kind of insight from an outside perspective, and since there's no one there to tell us we're wrong, we do it over and over again, asserting truths that we have no actual basis for believing.

Here's the problem with that - team psychology and team performance are so far away from each other that observing one in isolation gives us little or no legitimate knowledge of the other. We try anyway, because nobody's ever satisfied with unanswerable questions, but the conclusions we draw are meaningless and occasionally downright insulting. To the best of my knowledge, no baseball team has ever quit, and I think the players about whom such things have been said might want to have a few words with the accuser. Last year's Mariners lost 11 in a row at one point and were labeled with all kinds of unflattering adjectives, but then they came back to take seven of the next eight from superior opponents. The 2002 Orioles, who finished the year on a 4-32 slide, rallied back in the ninth to tie the Red Sox, and then did it again in the 14th before finally losing an inning later. Even the 2003 Tigers scattered a handful of dramatic wins throughout their hopeless season. Baseball teams don't quit, and it's offensive to think that any of them do.

Nor do I think that there are certain teams who're able to consistently ramp up their play in times of crisis. To do so implies that, at all other times, they're playing somewhere below their maximum ability, which is every bit as insulting as saying someone quit. These are all finely-tuned, highly-motivated professional athletes who stand to lose quite a bit if they're ever caught giving less than 100% effort. As such, on all but the rarest of occasions, players are always giving everything they have and looking out for the best interests of their team as a whole.

With this in mind, you're probably going to hear a lot of jibber-jabber about how "these Mariners never quit," how their alleged comeback ability is indicative of a newfound positive spirit that wasn't in the clubhouse last year, or the year before that, or the year before that. We've already seen it in a number of places, and after today's massive near-rally, there's almost certainly going to be more, as it's something encouraging to talk about on the heels of a loss. Hell, even coaches buy into that kind of stuff; Hargrove has said the same things on several occasions already this season. While it seems like Hagrove would be a good place to go to for this kind of information, though, since he's in the clubhouse every day, I guarantee you that if you ask the players, to a man they'd tell you that they're never giving less than everything they have, even if it may not seem like it to the naked eye.

Here's the thing: every team has games where they dominate, games where they rally, and games where they get their asses kicked. The 116-win Mariners lost that historic heartbreaker to Cleveland, while last year's Indians put a 19-1 hurting on the Yankees. Both of those things happen to everybody every season, and when it comes to identifying the character of the clubhouse, they don't mean a thing. What it comes down to is that good teams have more good games and bad teams have more bad ones. This year's Mariners don't have a "more positive energy" than last year's; they just have a better roster, and the result is that they perform better on the field. It's that simple. Sure, it might be fun to think about, but just like clubhouse chemistry, it's less about how good the members of the team are as people and more about how good they are as players.

Yeah, the Mariners almost mounted a spectacular rally this afternoon. It sucks that they didn't, especially since it seems like they could've won were it not for a few choice miscues, but it was still exciting to watch. It was also encouraging - not because it was indicative of a better team attitude, but because it was indicative of a better team construction. The pitching is horrible, but last year's lineup probably wouldn't have scored 12 runs today. That, more than anything else, is what you should take out of the game. Not that the Mariners feel better, but that the Mariners are better, period. Attempted psychology always takes a back seat to cold hard facts.

Felix and Meche tomorrow at 5:10pm.