This is one of those times that it feels completely different to be a blogger than a player. Ask any of the Mariners and they'll tell you how disappointed they are that they couldn't hang on to the lead to beat Matsuzaka on his own field. Me, though, I'm just glad they didn't embarrass themselves. This was a mismatch from the get-go, so even though the M's jumped out to a big first inning, I dunno, I'm just having trouble feeling too upset about the conclusion. Wrestle a pack of wolves and you might get a few good shots in early on, but at the end of the day, you'll still end up in a stomach. It's hard to be too broken up when you know exactly what's coming. Sorry, Ho, but you'll have to earn my trust before you're anything but an automatic loss against vastly superior pitchers.
Biggest Contribution: Jose Guillen, +19.0%
Biggest Suckfest: Ho Ramirez, -36.9%
Most Important At Bat: Ibanez DP, -24.3%
Most Important Pitch: Ramirez homer #2, -30.0%
Total Contribution by Pitcher(s): -39.8%
Total Contribution by Position Players: -19.2%
Total Contribution by Opposition: +9.0%
For the past several weeks, Thursday's been my designated day to go to the Half Door (a totally killer local bar) for dinner and drinks. They've got good wings, a solid beer list, and a bunch of TV's littering the ceiling, so it's a good opportunity to go relax and blow off some steam for a few hours. I was there today, and even though I knew the Mariners had a 7:05 (East Coast) first pitch, I was taking my time; when my friend asked about the game, I told him that, quite simply, "I don't think this is one I'll want to watch." Still, when they flipped one of the TVs to NESN for the first inning, I decided to pay attention anyway, since (A) it was there, and (B) I wouldn't be too far away from a little liquid comfort in the event of the blowout I was expecting.
So I turned my focus to the TV behind the bar in time to see Ichiro walking to first to lead off. This would've been unusual enough on its own, but then the walk was followed by another walk, and then another walk. Convinced that I was hallucinating, I decided against ordering any more drinks, but that didn't do anything to stem the tide of unexpected awesomeness. Raul Ibanez promptly put the Mariners in the lead with a grounder, and after Richie Sexson got beaned in an at bat where I was sure he was going to strike out (a sentiment that applies to roughly 105% of all his at bats), Jose Guillen unloaded with a double that he ironically shanked into right. It was around this point that I became that annoying out-of-town guy who smiles and keeps his arms in the air while watching the local team lose on a bar TV. Certain that this was rapidly becoming my lucky day, I kept watching with a grin as Julio Lugo cost the Sox two runs and two outs with the kind of shoddy defense that they'd usually expect from, I dunno, pretty much anyone else on the field. While the Boston fans in the room groaned and complained, I acted way too satisfied with myself, as if nothing could possibly bring me down from the high that accompanies all completely anomalous victories.
Such is the folly of the overconfident. In all my excitement over the top of the first, I'd forgotten who was taking the hill for the Mariners, and against which lineup he'd be pitching. If you haven't yet had this experience for yourself, take it from me - nothing sobers you up quicker than a little Ho Ramirez. Well, getting pulled over might, since that seems to be a pretty popular consensus. But that's it. Other than that, Ho's your best bet for instant detox. I think the list goes (1) being pulled over after having a few, (2) watching Ho Ramirez pitch for your team, (3) getting SARS, (4) having an entire bucket of ice water dumped on your head, and (5) time. There's your holy pantheon of effective buzzkills. I was stuck with #2 tonight, and sure as the sun, I was back to my normal state of uncomfortable distrust within minutes.
To be fair to Ramirez, it's not entirely his fault that he subsequently got lit up tonight. He was throwing his little heart out, but unfortunately for us and even more unfortunate for him, the Red Sox have a good lineup, the kind that "has a plan" and "makes pitchers pay for mistakes." I know, I didn't believe it either, but apparently such batting orders do exist, you just have to work to build them. Ramirez got out of the first but ran into a steamroller in the second, as the first six batters of the inning all reached base and David Ortiz soon followed with a single to tie the game. Manny grounded into a miraculous double play to end it, but still, every Mariner fan in the world was thinking the same thing: we knew that five-run lead wasn't big enough. In terms of Ivan Drago: Justice Enforcer, the Mariners treated the Red Sox like generic street villains instead of like Apollo Creed. It may have been good enough against mediocre teams like Kansas City or Chicago, but Boston's the boss at the end of the level that you have to hit a hundred times to defeat, and the M's let up too early. With any luck, the sudden tie game would wake them back up, but I don't think any of us were real optimistic.
We were right, at least for a little while. Making up for his earlier strikeout and double play, Manny Ramirez launched a two-run bomb over the Monster to officially complete the total comeback. Again, it wasn't so much Ho's fault for pitching as it was the organization's fault for deeming him suitable for the job. If you're a CEO and you hire a dog for secretary, you can't get upset when it wees on the carpet and puts your reading glasses in the break room toaster. The dog shouldn't have been there in the first place, just like Ho shouldn't have to face guys like David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez instead of Matt Rogelstad and Luis Oliveros. It's unfair to him and, as a result, unfair to us, as we had to sit through yet another run-happy outing by a starting pitcher.
And yet, signs of life were flashed in the fifth, when Jose Guillen singled home one run and Yuniesky Betancourt followed two batters later with another to tie it up again. It wasn't the sexiest game-tying base hit, as Betancourt beat out a grounder to Lugo that should've been an out (even with Guillen's obstruction), but I like to think that Betancourt hit it to short on purpose, picking out the weakest set of hands like the kicker in The Waterboy. Because if none of the Mariner players are going to display any unique and incredible skills, I'm going to pretend like they do.
After that, things kind of stabilized for a while, although there was a terrifying moment in the bottom of the sixth when Julio Mateo pulled the best 0-2 slider he's ever thrown out of his gargantuan ass to whiff Manny Ramirez and cause a simultaneous reversal of the Earth's magnetic field. He followed that with one of his patented double play grounders, as Youkilis was thrown out at first and the lead runner Ortiz, trapped in the basepaths, surrendered and wrapped his arms around Betancourt for the hug his parents never gave him. Fenway responded like the audience in Full House and we were all reminded that, as much as we may hate guys on other teams who light us up, David Ortiz is a big smiley teddy bear who is borderline impossible to dislike. If everyone in baseball were more like David Ortiz, the world would be a better place. And the pitching would suck.
The Mariners didn't do crap for a while, and then neither did the Red Sox, until Manny faced Chris Reitsma in the bottom of the eighth and hit a 3-2 fastball to the outfield bullpen in right-center. Hargrove'll tell you that they had Manny struck out, as there was a controversial check swing earlier in the at bat, but we've never really cared about what Hargrove's had to say before, so I don't know why we'd start now. In retrospect Reitsma probably shouldn't have thrown a fastball in that situation, with two outs, the bases empty, and a much less dangerous hitter on deck, but in his defense it was a good pitch on the low-outside corner, and Manny just did a better job of hitting. I can't even remember what it feels like to have a hitter capable of doing that kind of damage at the drop of a hat. The big weapons in our lineup are a speedy slap hitter and a corn-fed colossus batting .150. This team needs a .950 OPS power threat in the worst freaking way.
We got to the ninth, but even though Vidro led off with a walk, there wasn't anything to look forward to, because Francona was smart enough to go with a lefty to face Ibanez, and nothing good was going to come out of that encounter. This team also needs a right-handed bench bat. (And a manager who's willing to use him.) Ibanez did his miserable little shuffle to first as Boston turned the double play, and as a final insult, Francona left JC Romero in the game to face Richie Sexson as the tying run. That just speaks to how little of a threat opposing managers perceive Sexson to be right now. The at bat sucked, and after nearly three and a half hours, we'd finally arrived at a predictable outcome in the most unpredictable of fashions.
Now it's on to New York to face the Yankees, as we figure out whether they're really starting to turn things around, or if they were just taking advantage of the hilariously pathetic Rangers. Cha Baek and Kei Igawa tomorrow at 4:05pm PDT as the Mariners will probably go from drawing a lot of walks against a Japanese pitcher with good control to drawing too few walks against a Japanese pitcher who might as well be throwing blindfolded. Join us for our adventure against the second of New York's jawless wonders!