It's days like this I'm glad I'm not a beat writer. When you're working on a deadline you typically have to cheat a little bit and start writing before the game's over, and while that usually isn't so bad, today these guys probably wound up writing three different stories.
Column #1: Needing a win to build up some momentum heading into their biggest series of the year, the Mariners wasted little time in jumping on Lenny DiNardo and pushing the Oakland Athletics further out of the race.
Column #2: In a cruel encapsulation of their last week and a half, this afternoon the Mariners flew too high and came crashing back down in spectacular, heart-breaking fashion. Where earlier the team that came within one game of the division-leading Angels promptly lost seven in a row, today they staked themselves to a massive lead over Oakland, only to fritter it all away in a devastating loss.
Column #3: While the two players will never be mistaken for one another, Ben Broussard came up with a sensational home run that supplied the kind of mid-season inspirational lift this team hasn't felt since Ken Griffey Jr.'s return in 1995. Feeding off of Broussard's tying home run, the Mariners rallied to a stirring 14-10 victory and in so doing delivered a statement to the other contending teams in the American League: We're not going away.
Those beat writers, like pretty much everyone on the roster but Chris Reitsma, earned their money today. I'm not one to put much stock into the impact of momentum and inspirational victories, but if ever there were a game like that capable of pushing a team over the top, this was it. What a thoroughly entertaining afternoon.
Biggest Contribution: Ben Broussard, +36.8%
Biggest Suckfest: Chris Reitsma, -57.6%
Most Important At Bat: Broussard funk blast, +35.3%
Most Important Pitch: Swisher double, -32.9%
Total Contribution by Pitcher(s): -51.1%
Total Contribution by Position Players: +84.5%
Total Contribution by Opposition: +16.6%
One of the quirky things about baseball is that you never know when you're going to get a fun game. In other sports, you can usually tell ahead of time, and surprises like that Arizona/Chicago MNF meltdown are the exception. A good game is far more likely to happen when you're looking for one to happen.
In baseball, they happen whenever they want, regardless of the matchups. One of the reasons that Felix vs. Matsuzaka showdown was so incredible is that it actually lived up to its billing, which is a fairly uncommon circumstance. It seems like those things usually blow up before they get a chance to take off, whereas you can get something as entertaining as yesterday's Brewers/Cardinals contest in a game featuring two struggling teams and Manny Parra and Brad Thompson as starting pitchers. For all intents and purposes, barnburners are random events that can happen to anyone. And today we saw one happen at Safeco despite the most innocent of settings.
Not that anyone could've predicted the ensuing sequence of events, not after the way this thing started. For as sexy as his ERA was coming into the game, Lenny DiNardo is not a sexy pitcher. In either of the two ways you can interpret that, really, as you could guess from his name alone. I've always kind of thought that names give away ability ceilings. "Lenny DiNardo" sounds like a generic, average-looking nobody. "Roy Oswalt" and "Johan Santana" sound like phenoms. If ever there were a prospect named "Arturo del Fuerte," he'd probably be devilishly handsome and incredibly powerful. This probably sounds insane to all of you but I'd be lying if I said I didn't let it occasionally cloud my prospect evaluation. "Wladimir Balentien" sounds like a mythical manbeast. "Jeremy Reed" sounds like a busboy.
Anyway, while it would've been easy for us to predict a bunch of weakly-hit groundouts, the Mariner lineup decided to take us by surprise for once and assemble an early lead. Their method wasn't awe-inspiring, but they were able to parlay some bad control and a handful of base hits into a three-run headstart, which already felt like more than enough against the worst offense in the American League. Just to drive the point home further, though, Adrian Beltre ripped a hanger over the left-center fence for a no-doubter home run that blew things wide open. Although it was only the second inning, Dave Sims was already calling it a laugher, and as for me, I was just feeling good about our second easy win in three days. The blast pushed Beltre's slugging percentage over .500, which - when combined with his defense - probably makes him the best human third baseman in the AL. While Richie Sexson is going in one direction, the guy who signed the big contract we actually liked is headed in quite the other.
I wasn't really sure how to respond to the big lead, because I'm a man who's unfamiliar with blowouts. Jarrod Washburn is also unfamiliar with blowouts, but unlike me he stepped up and took the initiative to turn it into a more comfortable situation. Within minutes after Beltre's seemingly nail-driving bomb, the A's had cut the lead in half, and while I was still feeling pretty good about the cushion, Washburn clearly wasn't on top of his game. (Either that or Oakland was hitting the ball really well, but I find my explanation about seven times more likely.)
In the bottom half Jose Lopez provided 33% more insurance with his first RBI in two weeks, but in the top of the fourth Jarrod reminded us that even the safest of leads need only a slight turn for the worse to start seeming precarious. He gave up three consecutive long fly balls to the bottom of the Oakland order, prompting the game thread to inquire as to when the regression's finally going to catch up. It wouldn't take very long. Almost as if on cue, Shannon Stewart led off the fifth with a home run, and after Jack Cust droveoids in another run with an RBI single, Jarrod was able to escape with the lead only by getting Dan Johnson to aim his line drive at Jose Guillen.
Halfway through the game it was 7-5 M's, and you got the feeling that yet again it would come down to the bullpen, given the offense's tendency to fall asleep after scoring a lot early on. And it'd be up to the middle relief for a little while, too, since Jarrod looked finished. We've talked in the past about how Washburn's had pedestrian efforts look great in the box score thanks to shoddy hitting by the opponent. This was shoddy hitting making an awful effort look pedestrian. Everybody is entitled to their off days, but make no mistake, Jarrod had one this afternoon, as his command failed him far too often and he couldn't get anything down in the zone. In his five innings of work, he recorded two whiffs and 13 fly outs. Not a single out on the ground. Games like this are exactly why Washburn couldn't cut it as anything but a #5 pitcher in pretty much any other ballpark.
As the Mariners did nothing and we went to the sixth, it was bullpen time. Given that it was still a little early for Green or Sherrill to make an appearance, you'd have been able to forgive McLaren for going with Morrow, or O'Flaherty, or even Mark Lowe in the unlikely event that he'd be asked to work on back-to-back days. But Chris Reitsma? That didn't make any sense at the time, and hindsight sure as hell doesn't cast it in any better light. Chris Reitsma is hands-down the worst reliever on the team, the kind of guy who should be limited to appearances in blowouts or games of at least 14 innings (or DFA'd). He's not a guy to which you hand a two-run lead against a division rival when you have other available options. It just boggles the mind how wedded this organization still is to the idea of Reitsma as a reliable fireman despite so much evidence to the contrary.
To Reitsma's credit, he wasn't getting hit that hard, at least not at first. Donnie Murphy led off with an infield single after Willie's throw pulled Sexson off the bag, a call with which Richie disagreed in a manner that ultimately got him ejected. First base umpire Mark Carlson, of course, instigated everything and didn't act the least bit professional, following Richie after he walked away, but I wasn't about to complain, not after getting one of our several millstones replaced by the baddest motherfucker to ever complete a nursing major at McNeese State University. McLaren also came out to argue in what's becoming his typical animated fashion, not leaving the field until the constant bobbing back and forth gave him a sprained neck that only a Willie Ballgame back rub could fix. And so it was that, in getting a $14m player ejected, the Mariners became a better team.
The A's picked up another two weak singles to load the bases with one out. The pitches hadn't been crushed, but the situation should've been dire enough to warrant the appearance of Sean Green's fire extinguisher. To McLaren, though, it apparently wasn't. Reitsma stayed in long enough to allow a bases-clearing double to Nick Swisher and, for good measure, an RBI single to Mike Piazza before departing to a chorus of boos that hasn't been heard in Seattle since Seahawk fans caught wind of Bill Leavy having a stopover at SeaTac. After feeling comfortable for the first five innings, the lead change came as a complete and utter surprise, taking a few minutes to properly sink in. Sometimes you can get so deep into that blowout elation that even the rudest of jolts take a while to pull you back out.
Reitsma, incidentally, is a born-again Christian. To steal someone else's joke, he's such an extreme believer that he feels the need to get crucified in every appearance. I don't have any particular problem with born-again Christians, and I'm certainly not familiar with Reitsma's backstory, but you'd think that after undergoing playoff disaster, arm surgery, and back-to-back seasons of a 7+ ERA, he'd begin to question his faith. As an objective outside observer, it seems to me that this isn't a man God wants to succeed.
Potatoes O'Flaherty would get out of the inning, but the Mariners didn't touch Calero in the bottom half, and after the A's tacked on another run with a Shannon Stewart RBI single the Safeco crowd fell dead and the reality hit us that we'd just witnessed one of our most suffocating chokejobs in years. The crowds for this entire series had been surprisingly huge and vocal - the city's been looking for a reason to believe again for a few years now, and finally had it - but the only thing more depressing than a quiet 20,000 is a quiet 40,000. Something needed to happen, because otherwise this game wouldn't be forgotten for a while, and I don't mean that in the good way.
Just when we thought something would happen in the bottom of the seventh, it didn't, and it didn't hard. Ichiro singled to lead off and stole consecutive bases, but then 22 year old Jairo Garcia turned 25 year old Santiago Casilla (this will never, ever stop being hilarious to me) struck out Vidro and Guillen back to back to put us in the unenviable position of having to drive a runner in from third with two outs. Remember, Vidro's the guy we traded for because he never strikes out.
In retrospect, I never should've doubted King Awesome. I'm not entirely sure what I was thinking. Beltre continued his absurdly amazing month of July by singling into left, making it a 10-8 ballgame and bringing some life back to the environment. That's when Ben Broussard stepped in as the tying run.
I've mentioned this before, but Broussard is one of those guys who I just always expect to hit a line drive. In that respect he's kind of like the total opposite of Betancourt or Lopez. While I'm way more familiar with the team's numbers than I ought to be, I still have these preconceived notions about every hitter on the team that're hard to ignore. They are, in no particular order:
Broussard: line drive to right field
Beltre: long fly out to straightaway center
Ichiro: slap base hit to left
Sexson: home run to center
Johjima: home run to dead left
Betancourt: pop out to short
Lopez: pop out to second
Ballgame: pop out to catcher
Burke: bloop single to right
Guillen: line drive single to right
Ibanez: strikeout on a low breaking ball
Vidro: groundball up the middle
Ellison: late swing at a high fastball
I don't care how bad Broussard may look on a given day, I still always think he's going to beat the crap out of the ball. Beltre aside, there wasn't one player on the team I'd have rather had up at the plate in that situation, and a big part of me was convinced that we were seconds away from a tie game. I can't explain it, but honestly, I don't think I'd want to be able to.
And sure enough, on a 2-2 pitch, Ben launched one into orbit. It was a clear home run the instant he made contact, sending everybody in the stands and the dugout straight to their feet in what was one of the most exhilarating moments of the season. As Broussard half-sprinted his way to first base he pointed to...something...over by the dugout, and it's a testament to the significance of the whole thing that we've already adopted it as one of our favorite images of the year even though nobody's really sure what the hell he was doing.
Suddenly it was a tie game and the Mariners had the advantage, having still left the good bits of their bullpen untouched. Sean Green came in and did his thing in the top of the eighth - retiring two solid lefties, no less - and as we headed to the bottom half it felt like the M's were on such a roll that they'd have to pay a luxury tax on their snowballing momentum.
That's when everything officially fell apart for the A's. Kenji Johjima led off with a double down the line despite the fact that Oakland's infield was in a no-doubles arrangement, and when Huston Street then threw the ball away on Lopez's sac bunt, you knew it was over, and that anything else that took place from that point forward was just gravy. A stadium that was clinically dead just 15 minutes earlier was rocking like it used to the last time this team was good, and as much as I've criticized the typical Safeco crowds in the past, they were on top of their game this weekend. A few batters after Lopez's bunt, Jose Guillen came up with the bases loaded and smacked a single just past Johnson the other way, plating two satisfying albeit completely unnecessary insurance runs. And just for the hell of it, Broussard would chip in with an RBI single of his own a little later. In a sequence of 16 events between the seventh and eighth innings, 13 of them broke the Mariners' way. At 14-10, there had been 50% more points scored in eight innings today than in last November's Seahawks/Raiders Monday Night cakewalk.
For the record, those throws that pitchers make to first base on sac bunts aren't as easy as they seem. Even if the batter isn't sprinting down the line, it still feels like you're rushed, and if the bunt's down the third base line you often end up having to throw either off your back foot or without a good forward step. For somebody who makes a living using the momentum of their body to throw downhill, trying to throw accurately with your arm on flat ground when you're in a rush is no easy task. Street found that out the hard way.
We went to the ninth, which was basically a formality at that point. Since JJ had already warmed up, there wasn't much to gain by sitting him out and going with someone else, so he came in and coasted to three easy outs. He wasn't throwing at max effort, but then, why would he? And sub-max effort JJ Putz was still good enough to make Donnie Murphy look even sillier than he already does. The ballgame was over, and as Jamie Burke approached the mound, JJ gave him a punch in the chest that would've felled a less awesome backup catcher. The Mariners went about celebrating a win in which they honored the 1977 season by scoring more runs in a game than they did at any point in their inaugural campaign.
In a way, this was the best possible outcome - we still won a game in which it became blatantly obvious that Chris Reitsma doesn't belong on the roster. The danger, of course, is that Bavasi will interpret this as meaning that we need another reliever (instead of someone more capable of handling the ones we already have), but hopefully that's just my brain trying to interject some pessimism into an otherwise terrific afternoon. Even thought Reitsma ought to be DFA'd yesterday, I'll take him on the roster come August 1st as long as it means we haven't traded Wlad for Dotel. There's value in making your bullpen completely idiot-proof, but it shouldn't come at that cost.
I hope Richie goes to bed thinking long and hard about how he can be more like his backup, because with the Angels coming to town for what could end up a make-or-break series, we're going to need him. Today went a long way towards helping us forget about that seven-game skid, but tomorrow's when we really get the opportunity to put it behind us once and for all. Beluga Tits, mankind is on the line, and they're asking that you do the world a favor and shut down the Angels. Won't you answer the call?