When the Mariners are indisputably horrible, writing is fun. When the Mariners are good, writing is fun. When the Mariners pull this in-bewteen bullshit like they've been doing since the break, writing is a ghastly chore. Knock it off and pick a side.
Biggest Contribution: Adrian Beltre, +3.9%
Biggest Suckfest: Jose Lopez, -13.9%
Most Important At Bat: Sexson DP, -9.5%
Most Important Pitch: Rios single, -14.1%
Total Contribution by Pitcher(s): -11.7%
Total Contribution by Position Players: -38.3%
Total Contribution by Opposition: 0.0%
This was supposed to be a spectacular matchup between two of the top pitchers in the league. And for four and a half innings, it was. Halladay was rolling, allowing just one hit on 64 pitches through the first five and - in the only time this will ever be meant as a compliment - looking a lot like Josh Towers. The Mariners don't have a good lineup, so the feat wasn't extraordinary or anything, but as far as keeping the score down, Halladay was doing his job.
And Felix, I think, looked more like his early-season self than we've seen since he came off the DL. After getting ahead 0-2 on Reed Johnson to lead off the bottom of the first, Felix dropped a hammer curve for the called strike three, setting the tone for a five-pitch inning and a pretty dominant first four. Through those four, Toronto managed just two walks and two hits (one in the infield), with eight grounders, two pop-ups, and four strikeouts. For the most part, Felix had solid command of his fastball down in the zone, and he was doing everything he needed to do to match Halladay frame for frame. Troy Glaus has never been so embarrassed.
That was Awesome Felix. That was the Felix I wanted to write about. That Felix then promptly disappeared.
Although I feel like I've been saying this a lot lately, the bottom of the fifth was one of the more dreadful innings I've ever watched. I should've known from the four-pitch leadoff walk that things weren't going to go well. Royce Clayton then reached on a bunt when, for the second time in a week, the ball was fielded cleanly with nobody covering first. This time it was the defense's fault instead of the pitcher's - with Sexson charging, Lopez should've taken his place on the bag - but the point is no different: that's a Little League mistake that should never happen twice to a contending team in the span of a few games. It's embarrassing and unprofessional. Incidentally, much like our offense.
Following a sac bunt and intentional walk to load the bases and set up the double play, Felix faced off against Alex Rios with no margin for error. He got ahead with a fastball and then worked his way into a 1-2 count, at which point he painted the outside corner with a perfect tailing high-90s heater that everyone but umpire Chad Fairchild thought was a strike. With Mariner fans already celebrating the huge punchout, no call was made, and Rios stayed in the box to continue his at bat. The dugout started yelling at Fairchild and Johjima even had to walk to the mound to calm down a visibly agitated Felix and make sure he didn't do anything stupid. Remember that Washburn pitch to Sheffield that immediately preceded the grand slam? This was that all over again.
...and beyond their appearance as strikes, the other big reason those two pitches are so similar is that the subsequent pitch dealt us a ton of damage. Felix calmed down and got the DP groundball he wanted, but it found a hole between third and short to plate two runners, and a horrible throw home by Ellison put another two in scoring position. If people were upset before, now they were steaming. McLaren snapped in the dugout, immediately got ejected, and came out to the field to get his money's worth, striking up an animated and entirely one-sided argument with Fairchild, a minor league call-up umpire who was overwhelmed by everybody's expectation that he wouldn't suck. I kept waiting for McLaren to slug him in his stupid face but that rotator cuff surgery makes it difficult to throw a good haymaker.
No sooner did McLaren walk off the field than Felix hung some sort of offspeed mistake to Troy Glaus for a first-pitch three-run homer. At that point the game was finished, and I thoroughly, 100%, absolutely lost it. Everything on the desk got thrown to the floor, every English word that Jay Buhner taught Ichiro came flying out of my mouth (at a not-insignificant volume), and I shut off the game to go hit stuff with a bat in the backyard. At 11:30 in the morning, this was the earliest that I've ever had to give up on the Mariners. It was also the sort of episode that makes me think I might have legitimate anger issues. In my daily life I'm mild-mannered, generally unexcitable, and fairly quiet, projecting an impression of confidence and stability. I'm not the kind of guy you'd expect to have much of a temper. I should know, because when I'm not watching sports, I don't understand it either. Nothing in my personal life has ever made me upset to the point of being dangerous. There's just something about an awful loss, though, that sets me off and makes me think I might be capable of killing a guy. It's times like that that I read a little Wikipedia and think "yeah, I guess I could be a sociopath." Am I proud of it? Not at all, but by putting it out there and owning up to my problem, I allow my lawyer to argue against premeditation in case some unfortunate soul happens to cross my path next time Brandon Morrow can't throw strikes in an important inning.
I didn't come back. After closing the MLB.tv window in the fifth, I went and entertained myself elsewhere until the game was over, at which point I started thinking about what I wanted to write in this post. And as usually happens, taking that kind of break helped me calm myself down and get a better perspective on what took place.
When watching the game, I got lost in the heat of the moment and blamed Fairchild for the fifth inning meltdown. I've seen that pitch called a strike a million times before, and if Felix gets the benefit of the doubt against Rios, who knows how the game ends up? Everything turned on that one pitch, and for us, it turned in a bad direction.
Now that I've settled down, I've shifted my blame to Felix. So he didn't get a call. It happens. Just like I said after the Washburn/Sheffield game, borderline pitches are called borderline for a reason, and even if you throw a pitch that's a strike 75% of the time, it's a ball the other 25%. Gameday and the FSN tracer say the heater was a little outside. Did Felix hit his spot, and do most umpires call that a strike? Yeah, and yeah. But it wasn't a strike today, and given that Fairchild was running a tiny zone all game long, Felix probably shouldn't have been too surprised.
After Johjima came out for a little visit, Felix was able to bounce back fine from the non-call - you can't blame him for the two-run single that would've ended the inning had it been hit five feet to either side. It's what happened next that makes me upset. Obviously frustrated, Felix lost his focus and immediately served up a bad pitch that put the game away (Vernon Wells would follow with a double for good measure). That was a youth mistake that he'll eventually outgrow, but even so, it's the kind of slip-up you'd expect a two-year veteran to have overcome by now. When things are going poorly, Felix just has no sense of damage control. It sucks the way things happened to get Toronto the first two runs, but that doesn't give you an excuse to lose your composure and allow three more. It's silly and juvenile, and something that Felix will have to conquer if he wants to take the next step. Even the best stuff in the world can't save a guy if he comes undone at the first sign of frustration.
I shut it off after the double. Felix evidently allowed another homer in the sixth, Morrow struck out the side in the seventh, and RRS served up a third longball in the eighth, but whatever, I don't put much stock in the relevance of statistics or performance once a game gets out of hand. The Mariners did a whole bunch of nothing at the plate and, two hours and seven minutes after the first pitch, Raul Ibanez appropriately tapped back to the pitcher to conclude the second consecutive shutout at the hands of the Blue Jays. This team now has just 36 runs and a .229/.298/.339 batting line in ten games since the break, and while the opposing pitchers have admittedly been pretty good, there's no excuse for being that dismal. Playing four in Texas should help get the hitters going, but the front office can't let itself be fooled - we need a bat every bit as much as we need an arm, because far too many of our regulars are pulling us down. Shake things up. Bench some guys. Move some guys. Promote some guys. The ensuing lineup might be unusual or uncomfortable, but no matter what happens, it can't do any worse than getting blanked.
Ho and Millwood tomorrow at 5:35pm PDT. Hot dog.