It's funny what dismantling Roger Clemens and the Yankees on their own turf behind King Felix can do for a guy's mindset. 24 hours ago, I was done. I had completely written off the Mariners' chances of contending this year, and was just feeling thankful that they'd given me five months of interesting baseball, instead of three or four. The grave was dug; all that was left was for the Mariners to climb in and lie down.
But now? All that's changed is one game in the standings, but I've got that playoff bug again, like this team might actually end up playing for something. That's what happens when you see yours guys near their best and the other guys near their worst, I guess. Felix took to a big stage and, just as he had before in Boston and in Seattle on Opening Day, took control of the game, while the lineup came in and smacked the crap out of one of the best pitchers in the history of baseball. There wasn't a nervous moment after Ichiro went deep for a 2-1 lead. This was a classic case of a team taking a stranglehold on a game they had to win, and while we all would've preferred that the Mariners start playing like this a week ago, they showed up today, and in so doing gave us renewed hope that maybe - just maybe - this'll be a fun September after all.
Biggest Contribution: Ichiro, +18.9%
Biggest Suckfest: Kenji Johjima, -10.8%
Most Important Hit: Betancourt double, +18.2%
Most Important Pitch: Cano DP, +10.4%
Total Contribution by Pitcher(s): +19.9%
Total Contribution by Hitters: +27.4%
Total Contribution by Opposition: +2.7%
Once again it's blisteringly hot and uncomfortable down here, and once again I find myself unable to concentrate on anything. So you guys go enjoy your Labor Days while I participate in my own unfilmed episode of Survivorman: San Diego. For your convenience, here's a short list of things you have to know:
(1) Jose Guillen finally got called for one of his blatantly illegal slides at second base. That Guillen didn't argue the decision should tell you something.
(2) Don't mind the four walks; in his first ever appearance at Yankee Stadium, this was Felix near the top of his game. He was working with a small and inconsistent strike zone, which you can see in this Gameday diagram of a four-pitch walk to Derek Jeter...
...but he managed to stick to his gameplan without getting too frustrated. Save for one or two mistakes, he kept the ball down (11 groundball outs), missed some bats (five strikeouts), and avoided sharp contact (five hits, all singles) against the best offense in baseball. Yes, his command could've been better, but his location, velocity, and movement were good enough to give us one of the biggest starts of the year. Just when you think he doesn't deserve the nickname...
(3) With the score 1-1 in the bottom of the second, the Yankees put their first two batters on base for Robinson Cano, who has a career .871 OPS against right-handed pitchers. Cano got a first-pitch inside fastball and hit it hard up the middle, but Betancourt dove to his left to cut it off, and flipped it from his stomach to Jose Lopez to start what Geoff Baker called maybe "the double play of the year" for the Mariners. Instead of a run-scoring single to seize back momentum, the Yankees were instead looking at two down and a man on third for their nine-hole hitter. After getting so many bad breaks in Toronto, this was an absolutely huge play that the Mariners had to have. If that ball gets through the infield, we're talking about a completely different game.
(4) Ichiro is a showman. Not only did he drive his first home run in three months for hit #200, but he also got into a rundown. If you've never seen Ichiro in a rundown before, it's a sight to behold.
(5) Five of the Mariners' seven runs were driven in by Lopez and Betancourt at the bottom of the order. Lopez finally turned on a pitch with a double down the line in the eighth, but more important was Betancourt's double in the fourth to pick up Kenji Johjima, who'd struck out with a runner on third. I normally don't condone swinging at first-pitch splitters near your ankles, but when a pitch is 84mph and low, Yuni's able to get his arms extended and still get around on the ball (as opposed to those first-pitch high fastballs that he either fouls back or misses completely). That was another of several critical moments in the game.
(6) Ben Broussard is 5-14 with two walks as Richie's replacement. I sure can't wait until our big bat is healthy again.
(7) I know he's a pretty popular guy to hate, but I'll admit it - I'm a Michael Kay fan. Having lived in Connecticut for four years, I've had a lot of YES Network experience, and somehow despite his voice, Kay really is one of the better broadcasters in the league. He's professional, he isn't a homer, he pays attention to the action, he doesn't spout off worthless cliches, he engages in meaningful dialog with his color guy, and perhaps most importantly, he gives his audience the benefit of the doubt and doesn't treat viewers and listeners like they're stupid. I'll stop short of calling him one of my favorites, since Matt Vasgersian kind of occupies that level by himself, but the world could use more Michael Kays and 100% fewer Josh Lewins.
(8) Mike Mussina looks so finished. And Roger Clemens is getting an MRI on his elbow.
Ho vs. Wang tomorrow night in a sexual innuendo matchup for the ages. Wang killed us when we saw him a few months ago, but where this seems like a colossal disadvantage, Ho turned in his best start of the season against the Yankees back on May 13th, when he allowed one run in 6.1 innings and kept 17 of the 23 balls in play on the ground. Strikes and groundballs. Strikes and groundballs. As long as the Yankees have to get two or three guys on base for every run they score, we'll have a fighting chance.