Since you only need to win the Wild Card by one game to make the playoffs, the Mariners came into the day with a little wiggle room to allow for forgettable efforts. I think I'm going to write this one off as one of those and try to move on. You never like to lose ground, especially when you drop a winnable game against a last-place team in the process, but I suppose at this point it isn't so much about the size of the lead as it is about having the luxury of a lead itself, so for the first time in a while I'm going to try my best not to overreact today.
Holy crap that was annoying.
Biggest Contribution: Jose Guillen, +11.0%
Biggest Suckfest: Adrian Beltre, -31.9%
Most Important At Bat: Beltre double play, -16.3%
Most Important Pitch: Kinsler homer, -29.2%
Total Contribution by Pitcher(s): +9.3%
Total Contribution by Position Players: -49.3%
Total Contribution by Opposition: -10.0%
I feel like every recap of a Horacio Ramirez start should begin with "well it's not like we expected to win anyway." Because, really, why would we? Generally speaking, I find myself far less irritated after a loss in which he pitched than after a loss in which he didn't - not because the loss is any less meaningful, but because I've been preparing myself for it for so long that if and when it finally comes, it's practically old news. It's like getting a flu that's been developing for days versus waking up one morning with a gonorrhea outbreak. In the case of the former, you'll be annoyed but you'll deal with it, whereas in the case of the latter, you're way more likely to flip out and repeat "WHAT THE FUCK WHAT THE FLYING FUCK WHAT THE FUCK" a million times over before calming down and going to the clinic. Obviously, a competent front office doesn't still have Horacio in the rotation, but here we are, and as long as he's around there's really no sense in getting all worked up when he sucks.
Here's the problem, though - today we had unusual circumstances. Today we had Horacio Ramirez going up against a AAAA lineup and a pitcher who might be worse than Horacio Ramirez.
Okay, so Wright still looks better, but it's close, and with the difference in lineups, the Mariners had to be considered favorites coming into this thing. The "Ho = loss" rationalization didn't apply today, which might be why this one stings a little more than his other uninspiring losses.
For four and a half innings, I was feeling entirely too comfortable. Even without Ichiro and a Major League pitcher, the Mariners had built up a 3-0 lead over a team for whom not even The Best Position Player In The American League West could supply a hit against the Ho. Horacio didn't look like anything special, since to pull that off one must have special qualities, but to his credit he was doing a good job of keeping the ball on the ground in a ballpark where doing so is an absolute must. Of the 12 balls in play he allowed through four innings, nine stayed out of the air. If your only vulnerability is walks and singles, then most of the time you'll come out smelling like roses when you face the kind of lineup he saw tonight. I'm pretty sure this is the closest I've come to complimenting Ho all season long.
Meanwhile, despite wasting some glorious opportunities to pile on, the offense had at least put up three runs against Wright through five. Jose Vidro's RBI double in the third stands out as the highlight by virtue of its improbability, what with the unlikely events of Vidro knocking an extra-base hit and Adam Jones playing before the ninth. King Awesome also smacked a run-scoring single in the fifth, but sadly, King Awesome's night would only get monumentally worse from there. Not that we knew that at the time. Instead, we expelled most of our hostility when Richie Sexson struck out with one down and two men in scoring position. Richie Sexson is not a good player. If this is what it looks like when Richie's swinging a hot bat, then what more reason does McLaren need to have before we see some Ben Broussard? No, there aren't any guarantees that he'll come through more often, but a manager who's constantly looking to maximize the odds of success is always going to end up looking better than a manager who sticks with the track records. It just boggles the mind that McLaren so swiftly abandoned the platoon idea when Richie still hasn't come anything close to catching fire.
Anyway, as frustrated as we were with the offense's inability to put the game away, we just about got through the fifth with the lead intact. With a man on and two down, Travis Metcalf hit a routine grounder to Beltre, who always looks a little perplexed when he fields a ball and still has plenty of time to throw out the runner. There's a little pause there between receiving and releasing, where you know Beltre's brain is trying to remember how to make a throw that isn't on the run. Today his brain let him down, and his throw pulled Sexson off the bag at first. Richie swept around and might've tagged Metcalf on the back in time, but the call was safe and replays were inconclusive, so there wasn't anyone to blame but Beltre himself.
The mature, professional thing for any pitcher to do in that situation is brush it off and work on getting the next guy, but Ho instead flipped Beltre the biggest middle finger in the history of ever by throwing Ian Kinsler a pitch that even Ian Kinsler could destroy.
The expression "worst pitch of all time" gets thrown around by fans of every team every day, but it's usually just stated for dramatic effect, and rarely is there any supporting thought involved. But let's think about this for a second. How about a checklist? What would be the characteristics of the actual worst pitch of all time?
(3) Over the middle of the plate
(4) Between the belt and the letters
(5) Thrown by a righty to a lefty or by a lefty to a righty
Horacio Ramirez's alleged "changeup" to Kinsler meets each of the specifications. File this one away. The next time you want to call something the worst pitch of all time, compare it to this. Chances are you'll be overreacting, because this was a doozy, and way more deserving of the title than any other mistake we've seen all year. This really and truly might have been The Worst Pitch Of All Time.
In a flash the score was tied, and if that didn't make us feel bad enough, imagine our anguish when Adam Jones stranded Jose Lopez on third base with one out in the next inning. While Beltre's going to get all the attention, this was an absolutely awful night at the plate for a guy most of us have wanted to see play more often. Jones saw 23 pitches over five plate appearances in the game, with Enhanced Gameday saying that 16 of them missed the strike zone. The result was an 0-4 + HBP, with the beaning coming after Jones had fallen behind 0-2. The reason for the ugly line was that Jones chased eight of the 16 pitches out of the zone, displaying the kind of miserable discipline we thought he'd gotten over. Throw in the fact that none of the balls he touched were hit well and you've got a pretty lousy spot start.
Adam Jones hadn't started for ten days, and collected all of one at bat from the bench. This is a role he's never had before in his life, and struggles are perfectly understandable. The problem, though, is that if Jones is someone who needs regular playing time in order to succeed, then we can't really expect much of anything from him the rest of the way, since regular playing time is something he just isn't going to get with this ballclub. Obviously I still think he ought to be playing most nights - pretty much whenever Felix isn't on the mound - but McLaren doesn't see it that way, and since this is a horse I've already beaten with every stick I could find, I won't repeat the same argument again. Here's the bottom line: if McLaren sees Jones as a spot-starter right now, and if Jones needs to play every day to do well, then we're in for a handful of ugly at bats when a regular needs a rest. They won't be indicative of Jones' true talent level, but spot starts rarely are.
Oh, Jose Vidro also hung Lopez out to dry by grounding out on a ball after Jones struck out, but Vidro's sort of earned himself immunity from criticism for a little while.
Rick White made his obese and thickly-bearded Mariner debut in the bottom of the sixth, relieving Horacio with two on and two out. Because clearly the best time to use the worst reliever in your bullpen is a tie game with a runner in scoring position. White got Cruz to pop out to end the inning, but a good result doesn't justify a bad decision. I know he pitched well tonight - for 2.1 innings, at that - but we have mountains of evidence that Rick White isn't a good pitcher, and he really shouldn't have been inserted into the game when he was. That move was just asking for trouble, albeit trouble of a different sort than what we'd witness in the seventh.
The bottom of the fifth was annoying. The top of the sixth was disappointing. The top of the seventh was infuriating. With the go-ahead run on second base, Adrian Beltre put together a sloppy at bat against Wes Littleton, and when Kenji Johjima later singled to left field with two outs, Jason Botts - who earlier made a pathetic attempt to gun down Raul Ibanez on a Sexson sac fly - launched an absolutely perfect strike to home plate to nail Jose Guillen for the third out. It was one of those things that just leaves you dumbfounded, where you sit back in your chair motionless for a little while and realize that you don't have any scapegoat to blame. Kenji hit a single. Guillen ran as hard as he could and made a good slide into home. Carlos Garcia recognized the opportunity and the fielder and waved the runner around. According to Win Expectancy, in order to justify sending the runner in that situation, you ought to have a 50% chance of success (12.0% potential WE gain, -12.1% potential WE loss). The odds of Botts making such a terrific throw were clearly less than 50%, so there's no reason to second-guess Garcia's decision. It was just a perfect defensive play.
The perfect defensive plays wouldn't last much longer. With Rick White still pitching and a man on first with one out, Ian Kinsler hit a slow roller to third, the sort of swinging bunt on which Adrian Beltre always manages to spoil us by getting the out. Only this time, the ball was hit too slowly, and when Beltre rushed his off-balance throw it wound up well wide of Sexson at first. Metcalf scored and Kinsler advanced to third, scoring moments later when Gerald Laird squeeze-bunted a fastball headed straight for his impossibly fat face. Just like that we were facing a two-run deficit, and even the worst teams in baseball are capable of protecting the majority of their late leads.
The eighth came and went. Rick White likes groundballs. The ninth became interesting when Vidro led off with a walk and Guillen grounded a single past The Best Position Player In The American League West, who protects left field from grounders like the Colossus protects modern-day Rhodes. Unfortunately that brought us to Raul Ibanez against a lefty, a lefty who's allowed left-handed batters to collect nine hits and 34 strikeouts in 84 at bats on the year. The painfully obvious solution would've been to pinch-hit Ichiro, but McLaren demonstrated his commitment to giving his star player a full day of rest by watching Ibanez nearly ground into a double play. Adrian Beltre then put the court martial on his My Lai of a day by picking up where Raul left off, and that was the end of it. It sucked.
I know the Yankees won, but if there's any consolation here (aside from the Angels getting clobbered), I think it's that I'd much rather lose because of a few anomalies than because of something more permanent. The Mariners put 16 men on base today and only scored three of them. Jason Botts made a perfect throw home where nine out of ten times Jose Guillen scores and gives us the lead. Adrian Beltre committed a pair of throwing errors on plays that he usually makes without too much difficulty. Ichiro sat on the bench. It's never fun to lose, but when you look at the season as a whole, this was a fluke, and not the kind of loss we should worry about having longer-term implications. Or, to put it another way, this wasn't the other shoe finally dropping. We'll know if that happens. For now, we're still two up and one back. Win tomorrow and no one's going to remember this. Except for AJ, since he won't have anything else to think about for the next two or three weeks.