Call up Adam Jones .324/.394/.612 Call up Adam Jones .324/.394/.612 Call up Adam Jones .324/.394/.612 Call up Adam Jones .324/.394/.612 Call up Adam Jones .324/.394/.612 Call up Adam Jones .324/.394/.612 Call up Adam Jones .324/.394/.612 Call up Adam Jones .324/.394/.612 Call up Adam Jones .324/.394/.612 Call up Adam Jones .324/.394/.612 Call up Adam Jones .324/.394/.612 Call up Adam Jones .324/.394/.612 Call up Adam Jones .324/.394/.612 Call up Adam Jones .324/.394/.612 Call up Adam Jones .324/.394/.612 Call up Adam Jones .324/.394/.612 Call up Adam Jones .324/.394/.612 Call up Adam Jones .324/.394/.612 Call up Adam Jones .324/.394/.612 Call up Adam Jones .324/.394/.612 Call up Adam Jones .324/.394/.612 Call up Adam Jones .324/.394/.612 Call up Adam Jones .324/.394/.612 Call up Adam Jones .324/.394/.612 Call up Adam Jones .324/.394/.612 Call up Adam Jones .324/.394/.612 Call up Adam Jones .324/.394/.612 Call up Adam Jones .324/.394/.612
Biggest Contribution: Ichiro, again, +22.2%
Biggest Suckfest: Jose Vidro, -19.4%
Most Important At Bat: Ichiro single, +10.4%
Most Important Pitch: Sanchez doubles, -10.9%
Total Contribution by Pitcher(s): -5.9%
Total Contribution by Position Players: -45.6%
Total Contribution by Opposition: +1.5%
For the viewer, baseball is a game of hope. You watch a game crossing your fingers for certain outcomes, celebrating when they occur and groaning when they don't. It's that feeling of fulfilled hope that really makes the whole experience worthwhile; while it's nice to be taken by surprise every so often, nothing matches the emotional lift you get from wishing for something and then seeing it happen before your eyes. If I may say so for the billionth time in the history of this blog, that's why we watch. We watch to hope and to be rewarded.
And that's why a losing streak like the one we had coming into today is so damaging. It's one thing to lose five games in a row, but losing five games in a row to two of the worst teams in baseball? That's the sort of thing that robs a fan of every last shred of optimism in his body. Lose a few games to the Red Sox and you shake it off, saying "well, they're really good, and at least we put up a fight." Lose a few games to weaker adversaries, though, and all your confidence is shaken, leaving you more depressed and cynical than anything else. Once in that state, it's almost impossible to hope, and therefore almost impossible to really enjoy a game. Nevermind the implications for our playoff aspirations; even when it comes down to simply being able to have fun watching a game, this kind of losing streak is demoralizing in every sense of the word.
Coming home to face the Pirates looked like a break, and while the easiest and quickest way to restore hope among a downtrodden fanbase is by toppling a giant, it's hard to be too upset with a couple of wins, regardless of opponent. If nothing else, it'd give the Mariners the opportunity to get back on the winning track while at least reminding the fans that not every game has to end on a sad note. Not exactly the optimal and most dramatic way to break a skid, but when you're in a rut you're not really in any position to be picky. While it probably wouldn't be a game or a series that'd let us hope again, it had the potential to give us reason to hope down the road, and that's something. Anything to help make this fun again.
Around 7:09 or so the Mariners took the field and reminded me why I've been having philosophical conversations with myself about baseball as entertainment instead of standing up and cheering in my room like a dork. The roster that went on and on about how badly it needed a day off showed up and seemed what any other team would consider out of sync, botching the first and reducing its odds of winning by 16% before a lot of the fans had even taken their seats. As Richie Sexson stood at first daydreaming about fast cars and loose women, honkey extraordinaire Nate McLouth shouted "think fast!" and bounced a sharp grounder to the right that got by our slumping colossus for his long overdue first error of the season. Miguel Batista then decided to compound the problem by leaving pitches up and then losing control entirely, giving up an RBI single and later walking in a second run before failing to provide an adequate solution to the mystery of why Ronny Paulino has a job. The inning was over, but the suddenly toothless Mariners were already down 2-0, and spirits were low. One of the cheap thrills of baseball is knowing that there are always crappy teams to push around when times are bad, but when you start to lose to those crappy teams, then you're left doubting yourself more than Jose Vidro in a Which One Of Us Least Resembles An Hispanic Orson Welles competition. It's not that anyone believes the Mariners are actually as bad a team as the Pirates or Astros, but when you're playing like it, what's the difference?
The Mariners attempted to mount a rally in the bottom half, even summoning Raul Ibanez's monthly quota of hits against a lefty, but thanks to Jose Guillen's trick ankles and Richie Sexson's early onset Operation Shutdown, it went for naught, prolonging the torturous but increasingly numbing misery. Things got better in the second, when the M's got their first two batters on base and Ichiro singled one of them home after a pair of outs by the pop-up twins, but a foul out by Jose Vidro ended the threat with another two runners aboard. It's troubling to me how easily so many hitters in this lineup pop out. I don't have any team statistics in front of me, so I'm not sure how they rank among the rest of the league, but it certainly seems like these guys hit a ton more pop-ups than the average batting order. There is no worse out in baseball. Spare me the strikeout argument; an infield fly, particularly one hit in foul ground, is the ultimate embarrassment. When you miss a pitch by that much, you'd be better off just not hitting it at all.
Miguel Batista got control of the zone and slipped into a groove, retiring ten of the eleven Pirates he faced between the first and fourth innings (with five strikeouts), but as good as the Mariners looked against Gorzelanny in the early going, they struggled to get anything done the longer the game went on, missing a ton of low curveballs and whiffing more than we've come to expect. This team has the lowest strikeout rate in the league, but they've gone down 40 times in the last five games, suggesting (but not confirming) the dual notions of fatigue and improved pitcher approach. I've never bought into the value of advance scouts, since it's difficult to imagine how much of a benefit they really provide, but with the Mariners, it seems pretty easy for a guy to observe that they swing at everything and then tell the next day's pitcher, "okay, don't throw strikes." It's one of the easiest lineups to book that I've ever seen, because with the exception of Ichiro and occasionally Vidro, everyone's a hacker. Even in three-ball counts we've seen pitchers unafraid to expand the zone, as Gorzelanny did today against Betancourt. I don't know how much of it's a fluke and how much is deliberate, but it certainly seems like lately pitchers have these guys figured out. I hope they don't.
Top four, two out, Jack Wilson and his hilariously unfortunate face lift a routine fly ball into right field:
Guillen: I got it
Ichiro: I got it
Guillen: Like hell you do, this is my zone.
A-Rod: I got it!
Guillen: You dirty son of a bitch!
Guillen: :pursues A-Rod:
Ichiro: :easy catch:
Things proceeded to get worse, as the Ichiro RBI single looked to stand up as the highlight of the game. Prolific singler Freddy Sanchez doubled home an insurance run in the fifth, and after Batista got yanked with the bases loaded an inning later, Jose Bautista drove in another with a groundball hit too weakly to turn for a double play. Those are among the more irritating plays you'll ever see, as it's like the batter is being rewarded for almost completely missing the pitch. I'd propose an infield fly-like rule on really soft grounders but then that'd kill Ichiro's batting average. Instead I'll just sit here and grumble about how Sean Green should've let Bautista hit the ball harder.
If the game felt uncomfortable at 3-1, it was mortifying at 4-1 and positively unwinnable at 5-1 after Betancourt threw another ball away, this time to second base instead of first. It was a difficult throw to make, so we can't blame any "overthinking"; the man just has problems any time he has to release the ball, and it's gotten to the point where I'm actually afraid of grounders hit to short. I know Betancourt won't have any trouble tracking them down, but it's what happens after the ball's in his glove that makes me most concerned. As is almost always the case, this probably all stems from an issue with Yuni's arm angle, but I don't know how to fix that mid-season, since playing infield defense is all automatic, and when you make a play you throw with whatever slot feels most natural. I'm obviously a guy who puts more stock in the importance of team defense than most other people, but this is really disconcerting.
Nothing that happened the rest of the way was any good. The at best misguided and at worst completely idiotic fans at Safeco applauded a Vidro sac fly in the seventh even though outs were the last thing we needed to surrender, and while I know it shouldn't bother me, they've been doing that stuff all year long, and it drives me insane. The worst is when they clap for a guy advancing to third with two outs on a fly out or grounder. Very, very rarely are 90 feet worth an out. Tonight's sac fly reduced our chances of winning by 1%. Rule of thumb: if it hurts the team's win expectancy, it doesn't deserve applause.
I felt a little twinge of pride in the eighth when the Pirates called on Jonah Bayliss with none on and one gone. Bayliss, you see, is only the third player from Trinity College to ever reach the Majors, and the first in more than 30 years. I never knew him at school since he graduated before I enrolled, but that didn't matter; we had a connection, and I found a little part of me actually rooting for him to succeed. Bayliss promptly allowed a home run to the first batter he faced, likely setting Trinity back another three decades, but while it looked like a little rally was on, with two on and two down the Pirates went to however you say Father Time in Japanese to retire Ben Broussard as the third out. Masumi Kuwata spent his entire career with the Yomiuri Giants, beginning in 1986 and posting several fine seasons out of the rotation, but at the age of 39 he apparently felt like making a transition to North America, a move which, given his employer and role, he probably regrets. But let today stand as a shining moment for his time in the big leagues, as a few months from now Kuwata will be able to return home and regale his litter of grandchildren with the story of how he retired a double science major who wasn't in the starting lineup to preserve a lead for a team going nowhere.
J.J. Putz relieved S. Green
A. LaRoche struck out looking
J. Bay struck out swinging
X. Nady struck out swinging
If you turned the game on at 10pm, ignored the scoreboard, watched those three at bats, and immediately turned it back off again, you went to bed happy. If you didn't, you didn't. The Mariners embarrassed themselves in the bottom of the ninth, save for Ichiro, the only hitter worth a damn on the entire roster right now. At some point you just can't keep trying to do a nine-person job by yourself, and if I'm Ichiro, I'm looking forward to the chance to leave for greener pastures and watch this team flounder from a distance. Imagine this lineup right now if you took away Ichiro and replaced him with the incredibly talented but streaky Adam Jones. Do that and Gorzelanny probably has enough left in the tank to start tomorrow, too.
As it happens, he's not. That's Paul Maholm's job. But he's facing Jeff Weaver, so it's not a particularly difficult job. It's pretty easy to be free and careless when your stated objectives for a given game are "don't allow two times as many runs as innings pitched." Nevertheless, I suppose there'd be a bit of irony in Weaver ending this slump, which is something to watch for. For an hour, anyway, until Feierabend comes in for mop-up duty. Mariners!!