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In three games, the Mariners just steamrolled the Orioles with 31 runs and a .374/.450/.580 batting line. In 13 starts, opponents have steamrolled Horacio Ramirez with a Safeco-aided 57 runs and a .337/403/.507 batting line (.410/.485/.675 on the road). Just in case you were wondering why tonight's game almost turned into a save situation. That the Mariners are 8-5 in this assclown's starts so far has to be one of the more remarkable stats of the season, and the sort of thing that leaves Matt Cain lying at home in a pool of his own tears as he begs God to tell him why life is worth living.  

Biggest Contribution: Yuniesky Betancourt, +24.9%
Biggest Suckfest: Ho, -31.1%
Most Important At Bat: Betancourt single, +17.2%
Most Important Pitch: Tejada grand slam, -35.5%
Total Contribution by Pitcher(s): -22.9%
Total Contribution by Position Players: +60.2%
Total Contribution by Opposition: +12.7%

(What is this chart?)

During the game thread, I remarked that each Ho Ramirez start is a lot like A Very Special Blossom. But the more I think about it, the more I realize there's a significant difference - in Blossom, those solemn issues were dealt with quickly and never heard from again. Drinking, sex, cancer, lying...these topics would arise and be resolved in the course of 30 minutes. Ho, though, keeps being trotted back out there for new episodes. It's like A Very Special Season, where the topic at hand is blatant incompetence, and the scriptwriters still haven't come up with a fitting conclusion. So, as a loyal viewer of this particular program, I offer the following advice to the team of Mariner scenarists: kill the character off. It's been 13 shows and he still hasn't learned his lesson, so it's time to take this opportunity to teach the kids that you only get so many chances to shape up. Some people just aren't cut out for rehabilitation, and those people tend to fall swiftly out of the spotlight until they're barely hanging on to the frayed edges of society. It's an important lesson for children to learn. Stop putting this guy in the script and you'll make a strong point while simultaneously getting way better ratings. It's win-win for everyone but the loser protagonist, and who cares about that guy? He's blatantly incompetent.

As a litmus test of whether or not this offense really does fall apart at the first sign of wild pitchers, Daniel Cabrera has thus far offered unexpected results - in two previous starts we kicked him around pretty well for 23 baserunners and nine runs in 13 innings. I still found the prospect of facing him absolutely terrifying, though, and it wasn't made any better by sending Ho to the mound. It's difficult for me to satisfactorily explain just what goes through my head when I watch him pitch, but if I had to try, I'd call it a blend of awe and disgust, where I'm amazed that someone that bad has been able to make it that far while I'm repulsed that, like whoever wrote Lean Like A Cholo, someone who clearly got the short end of the mental stick is able to make more money than I'll ever see in my life. While this is a fairly positive community, Ho always manages to bring out the anger and cynicism in all of us, and that's the kind of thing we shouldn't have to say about a player on the team we love with all our hearts. For our part, every fifth day brings about a bewildering but necessary display of cognitive dissonance that I'd just as soon do without, wherein we try to root for the Mariners to do well while also hoping for Ho's season to come to a sudden end. Honestly, I just don't know how much longer I can keep this up.

I didn't have a choice today, as Ho took the mound as planned in the bottom of the first. Fortunately we'd given him three runs of support with a productive albeit wholly unimpressive top half, but even that had some of the shine taken off by the fact that it almost certainly wasn't going to be enough. A three-run inning is a solid accomplishment, the kind of thing that ought to be celebrated. You aren't supposed to get to the third out and immediately think "we should've done more with that." But this is the life we live with Ho getting the start, a life where no lead is too large and no opposing rally too improbable. Given Ho's run support so far this year, you wonder if the same thing is through through the hitters' heads the whole time - "we need to be at our best, because we've got a total shitbag out there." It's got to be disheartening to watch a decent lead slip away in the blink of an eye, so I wouldn't put it past these guys to conserve a little energy in the days leading up so they can go nuts trying to keep their heads afloat whenever Ho goes to work.

Miraculously, Ho managed to keep the Orioles from causing any damage through two innings, and as we went to the third I became enveloped by the warm silky curtain of unfamiliar comfort. Jose Guillen's solo bomb made me feel even better, since it extended the lead to 4-0 and showed that he was no worse for wear after getting drilled in the hand by a fastball in the first. The Mariners hadn't hit Cabrera real hard, as the three-run rally was an assortment of wildness and seeing-eye singles, but in the end four runs is four runs, and that's a nice lead to have, especially when there are dark gray rainclouds threatening to cut the game short.

That was just about the time that game thread criticism dove into uncharted waters. With weather forecasts predicting imminent doom and gloom, everyone was in a hurry to try and get through five innings. Everyone, that is, but the Mariners. After Guillen went deep, Raul Ibanez drew a seven-pitch walk and Adrian Beltre went six for a strikeout, prompting several people to demand that they hack more and make quicker outs. Of all the possible times for this team to learn how to take a few pitches, they'd chosen the worst. Thankfully Ben Broussard went down on three pitches to end the inning, earning him even more accolades from an already loyal fan base. That Ben always knows what's in the best interests of his team.

Unfortunately, Ho refused to cooperate with our pleas for rapid, harmless efficiency. A leadoff base hit was the first sign of trouble, and after two fairly quick outs, the wheels came off, when Brian Roberts and Corey Patterson both singled to make it a 4-1 game. He was still only a pitch away from getting us to the fourth, but it wasn't that easy; it's never that easy, not for this guy. After failing to get a call on a pretty clear check-swing third strike against Nick Markakis, Ho proceeded to walk him, loading the bases for Miguel Tejada. Tejada then lined a 1-1 meatball over the left field fence for a grand slam that put Baltimore ahead and capped off another agonizing two-out rally. While Ho should've been out of the inning with the strikeout, it's his own fault for going on to issue the walk and home run. His own stupid, no-talent fault.

The home run predictably caused an immediate reversal in fan desire, as the people who wanted the Mariners to hack their way into quick outs started rooting for longer at bats and thicker rain. It looked like we might've gotten our wish between the third and fourth when the tarp came out and the game was delayed - at best the whole thing would be called off, sparing us another Ho disaster, while a few tiers below that was the possibility that the delay would last long enough to force the bullpen into early work. As rain delays go, this one was pretty fortuitous.

23 minutes later, anyone who was rooting for a cancellation was disappointed, but the Mariners managed to ease some of our concerns by tying it up on an Adam Jones double and a Yuniesky Betancourt base hit. At 5-5 after three and a half, you had to consider us to be in the driver's seat, now that Ho was out of the g-

...only, no, Ho hadn't gone anywhere. Much to our collective dismay, he went right back out there for the bottom of the fourth, delay and all. But that's when possibly the most improbable series of events all season took place:

Bottom 4th: Baltimore
A. Huff struck out looking
R. Hernandez struck out looking
J. Gibbons struck out swinging

Horacio Ramirez struck out the side on 12 pitches. With a 9.3% strikeout rate, the odds of Ho whiffing three guys in a row are a miniscule 0.08%, or once every 1257 three-batter sequences. For the sake of comparison, those odds are twice as bad as the odds CoolStandings gives Oakland of winning the division this year. By all rights, it's something that never should've happened, and something about which the Orioles should feel shame for the rest of the season.

The weird and somewhat alarming thing about Ho this year is that, not only does he only have 29 strikeouts in 313 plate appearance, but 13 (45%) of those were called. The league average called strikeout rate is 26%, and Ho's career average is 29%, suggesting that it's not a skill of his. If you want to make the argument that he's just been really deceptive, I'll counter with two points - (1) no, that's wrong, he sucks, and (2) Greg Maddux's career rate is 38%. Horacio Ramirez's called strikeout rate is going to regress, meaning his overall strikeout rate is going to regress, meaning he could conceivably get even worse than he already is. This is a guy we traded for on purpose.

Anyway, a whole bunch of nothing happened until the sixth, when a Miguel Tejada error on a should-be inning-ending double play proved to be the straw that broke the unusually straw-carrying Orioles' back. Seven consecutive Mariners reached base - and it really should've been eight, since Ben Broussard was safe at first running out a groundball to lead off, but somehow in a game we won 13-8 Baltimore managed to get pretty much all the borderline calls. After Cabrera departed with the score 6-5, Jamie Walker came in with one job and failed four times over, nearly allowing another Jose Vidro funk blast as part of a five-run Mariner rally. When Jose Vidro is almost taking you deep and Raul Ibanez is hitting your lefties, you know it just isn't your time. Baltimore tried, God bless 'em, but like a gnat on the freeway, all the resistance and determination in the world isn't going to stop it from becoming a windshield pancake.

Ho Ramirez stayed in just long enough to run his game WHIP back up to 2.00 before getting yanked with two on and none out. Ho has now allowed at least twice as many baserunners as he has innings pitched in six of his starts, with two more coming one runner shy. Ryan Rowland-Smith inherited the mess and tried his damndest to make it worse, hitting a guy, walking another, and allowing a pair of long sac flies, but in the end he got out with a three-run lead intact, which jumped back up to four when Yuni doubled home Adam Jones in the top of the seventh.

The Mariners offense was trying its hardest to keep JJ out of the horrible weather, while the Mariner bullpen was trying its hardest to put JJ's brilliance back on display. Nick Markakis led off the bottom half with a long drive to center that nicked off Ichiro's glove and rolled to the wall, giving Markakis a triple. The play was initially ruled an error on Ichiro, a testament to how unbelievably amazing he is since it means a scorekeeper expected him to make the following play:

Markakis would eventually come around to score, but that would be it, and we headed to the 8th with the Mariners on top 11-8. The Orioles would threaten one more time in the bottom half, putting two on with two out against Sean Green and George Sherrill, but a brutal looping slurve in the dirt against Corey Patterson put them away without any harm done, and we went to the ninth with what was - given that JJ was available - essentially a guaranteed win.

We wouldn't need JJ. The Orioles brought in Brandon Fahey as a defensive replacement in left field and he was almost knocked all the way back to the wall by the force of a Ben Broussard leadoff single. A Jones single, Burke HBP, and Ichiro single later, it was 13-8, and JJ could sit his sweet ass back down after a few minutes of getting loose in anticipation of a three-out formality save. That's how the score would remain, as Sherrill finished off the ninth for a 1.2-inning, seven-batter save of his own (the first that didn't go to JJ all year long).

The sweep was complete, and as close as some of the games were for a little while, it really didn't feel like much of a challenge, as no one had to step up and be a hero. In our previous sweeps against San Diego, Boston, and Toronto, we outscored the opponent by an average of 5.6-3.6, with seven of the nine wins coming by one or two runs. The average score against Baltimore was 10.3-5, with the wins coming by seven, four, and five. This is what contenders are supposed to do against bad teams. This is what we were supposed to do against Texas a few weeks ago, and against Chicago and Houston before that. The baseball season is supposed to have its easy moments, and I can't tell you how pleased I am that the Mariners have finally come to realize this before it got to be too late.

One last thing I want to say that I couldn't really fit in anywhere else - Adam Jones looked fantastic tonight. His throwing arm was on display early when he nailed Brian Roberts off first from left field, but that wasn't the highlight, nor would you expect it to be for a guy who went 3-4 with a double and a walk. In the batter's box, Jones just looks poised and comfortable in a way that he definitely didn't a year ago when he was first called up. Last year he went up there just trying to make contact and hit the ball the other way without getting embarrassed. This year he looks like he's ready to drive the ball. I know it's only one game, and that's the obvious caveat here, but for five at bats he had a plan and laid off the bad pitches he would've chased last summer. In five plate appearances tonight, Jones faced 18 pitches, and Gameday has ten of them out of the strike zone. Jones only chased one of them, a fastball at the letters that he swung through in the sixth. The other nine balls he watched go right by, including a 1-2 breaking ball in the dirt in the first that probably would've fooled most every other hitter in the lineup. This Adam Jones showed a much better eye than he did in 2006, and against a collection of decent pitchers (instead of, say, Steve Trachsel). He's ready to contribute, and he's ready to contribute right the fuck now. Make room, McLaren. You'll regret it if you don't.

On to Chicago tomorrow, for Washburn/Vazquez and the worst offense in the league at 5:11pm PDT. Meanwhile the Angels get the Twins, the Tigers get the A's, and the Yankees get the Indians, so if the M's can do what they're supposed to do in a series they ought to win, they've got a terrific opportunity to gain some more ground on their competition. Don't blow it. There're only so many of these chances remaining.