It's the damndest thing. Every year, leading up to Opening Day, I start to question myself. Should I really be excited? Am I ready for the rigorous daily grind? Is this team actually worth all the time and effort I devote to it? The last week of March is always one of soul-searching and anxiety, and as I brush my teeth on the final night of the offseason, I invariably find myself apprehensive about how I'm going to feel the next day.
Then I crawl into bed, close my eyes, and stay awake. I stay awake for hours. Not because I want to, but because i can't help it. It's the same as when I was a kid the night before Easter, knowing that when I woke up in the morning there'd be a candy trail in the living room. My body wants to shut down, but my brain's working in overdrive, running through all the possible bounties the next day might have in store.
When the alarm goes off I roll out of the sheets like I was shot out of a rocket. In that split-second - the moment between when my eyes whip open and my feet hit the floor - I remember.
I put on some jeans, throw on my jersey, kill a few glasses of deliciously awesome cranberry juice, and fly. I fly through the day until at last it comes time for me to settle in front of my computer and watch the Mariners for the first time in six months. All the anxiety and apprehension is swept away in a tide of silly distant memories.
For this is Opening Day. The greatest day of them all.
Biggest Contribution: Erik Bedard, +23.7%
Biggest Suckfest: Jose Vidro, -18.0%
Most Important AB: Ibanez single, +20.0%
Most Important Pitch: Young homer, -10.3%
Total Contribution by Pitcher(s): +36.4%
Total Contribution by Hitters: -7.3%
Total Contribution by Opposition: +20.9%
(What is this chart?)
I couldn't stop thinking about this game from the instant I woke up. I went into work early in the morning like a responsible person, but once I got there I was anything but, and it's a good thing I didn't really have anything on the agenda since I just watched the Royals and Tigers the whole time before taking off at 2:30. So not only did the Mariners get going this afternoon, but they also gave me an excuse to start the week with a half-day. I defy you to find someone who had a better Monday than I did. The only thing that went poorly was doing an iPod search on the drive home for energy music and accidentally landing on Rufus Wainwright. An earnest rendition of Hallelujah doesn't get the blood flowing like you'd think it does.
I got home pretty quick - turns out the rest of San Diego wasn't in quite as big a hurry to leave work and watch the Mariners - and, in one fluid motion, settled into the old familiar position with my feet up on the desk and MLB.tv on the monitor. It's a wonder my brain doesn't take this as a sign that it should fall asleep considering it's how I spend a third of my life. It would've been great if MLB.com got the Mariners feed up and running sometime before like two seconds prior to the opening pitch since the absolutely insane game thread informed me that they were staging a ceremony for Dave Niehaus's induction to the Hall of Fame, but while I couldn't see it, or hear it, or know anything about it, no one ever said anything about Dave's pants accidentally slipping to his ankles, so I guess it probably went pretty well.
Before too long the game got started. Rather sexily, I might add, as Erik Bedard devoured Ian Kinsler with a three-pitch strikeout. I'd issue a complaint about how we the MLB.tv users were without sound for the first half-inning of the game, but considering all the problems the program was having not an hour earlier, I think we were pretty happy to take what we could get. Besides, lacking auditory input, our visual senses were enhanced, which made Bedard's 0-2 curveball look something like bendy nirvana. We couldn't have asked for a better start. The curve looked completely and utterly unhittable. Unhittable.
Then Michael Young took a 3-1 fastball and dropped it into the right field seats. Before I could overreact, though, force of habit reminded me that spring training stats don't matter, and that this was probably a coincidence. I give Young a bunch of shit all the time, because he's not a very good batter, and he's not a very good fielder, and he doesn't have a very good contract, but this home run was just a great piece of hitting. It's not like Bedard threw a Felix Mystery Pitch and hung something over the inner half; he put a good fastball on the outer black, and Young just went out and drove it the other way. There's nothing you can do about that but tip your cap and realize that if you keep making that pitch on 3-1, you'll be all right in the long run.
Other stuff happened, including Bedard getting squeezed by Jim Joyce's Reconstruction mustache, but after 30 pitches we'd get through the top of the first without suffering any more damage. On to the bottom half we went.
The second brought us another Texas Rangers watchathon, as their lineup again displayed the kind of patience for which I don't even have a proper adjective since I pretty much never get to see it. But despite throwing 24 more pitches, Bedard survived. Already we were getting the impression that even his off days are light years ahead of the average pitcher in a groove. He wasn't showing much command, but the Rangers weren't getting very good hacks. If Bedard could get back into the zone on a consistent basis, you got the feeling like he'd be in total control of the game. Anyway, on to the bottom half we went.
Bedard's struggles/awesomeness continued into the third, as it became a game of strikeouts, groundballs, and irregular command. With one on and two out, Bedard hung onto a 2-2 curveball a little too long, and it dove in and hit Milton Bradley on the foot. This set into motion what was, at the time, my favorite sequence of events in the young season. Bradley started walking down the baseline, but calmly turned around at Joyce's behest, and limped back into the batter's box with such exaggeration that the crowd started to boo. What struck me as so delightful was how every single person involved in the play was totally wrong. Bedard was wrong for throwing a bad pitch. Bradley was wrong for turning around when he knew he got beaned. Joyce was wrong for telling Bradley that the ball missed his foot. And the crowd was wrong for booing a guy who had a legitimate reason to favor his foot. Ben Broussard started chirping from the Texas dugout since he was the only motherfucker in the ballpark smart enough to know what happened, but Joyce yelled back, as being right is no substitute for gut feelings and outright douchebaggery.
Marlon Byrd fouled a ball off his own foot in the next at bat.
Following the top of the third (which Bedard escaped without allowing a run), a whole bunch of stuff happened which I feel is most appropriately summarized by this picture:
The only happening of note between the third and the sixth was Bedard coming out after five innings. His final line wasn't the best, and the inefficiency killed his ability to get deep in the ballgame, but if you were watching, it was pretty easy to see why I think he's probably the best pitcher in the American League. His curveball was untouchable. Nobody had a chance. The only thing that did him in was the fact that he couldn't really control it very well today, but given that (A) it's Opening Day, (B) it was startlingly cold (I apologize for everything I said about Cleveland and snow last April), and (C) he threw it for strikes 65% of the time a year ago, I'm not concerned. The curveball command will come, and when it does, Bedard'll take a 2 from today's BB column and move it over to the IP. I think I have a new favorite Mariner pitch.
Jim Joyce's strike zone wasn't helping matters, either. But this is the take-home message: on an off-day during which he struggled with his command, Erik Bedard allowed one run on five innings. He got a bunch of swinging strikes, kept the ball on the ground, and wasn't letting the hitters get good swings. This was an off-day. If for whatever reason you're still kind of skeptical about what Erik Bedard's going to bring to the team, get over it and hop on the wagon.
The Mariners finally broke through against Kevin Millwood in the bottom of the sixth, thanks in large part to another magnificent display of dexterity by The Best Player In The AL West. Young's error put Ichiro on base to lead off, and on an ensuing hit-and-run, Jose Lopez had the divisive at bat. The at bat where the coaching staff squeals with glee and we place our head in our hands. With Ichiro breaking to second, Lopez got a 1-0 fastball in on the wrists and somehow fisted it the other way into the hole, and Kinsler couldn't close the gap in time to get anyone out. This was the definition of hitting behind the runner. While the pitch was a ball inside, and probably should've been turned on if Lopez absolutely had to swing, we couldn't bring ourselves to complain, not with the makings of an actual rally. So we set aside that argument for another day and took what we could get.
Ibanez followed with the best swing a Mariner had taken all day and tied things up with a single to right. Then, two batters later, with one down and men on the corners, Adrian Beltre hit a grounder to third and hustled down the line quick enough to beat out the throw and let Lopez score the go-ahead run. It wasn't the most awe-inspiring of RBIs, but Beltre's faster than a lot of people give him credit for, and the fact that he busted down the line as fast as he did is a pretty good example of why he's so easy to like. The second he hit that ball he knew that beating it to first meant a Mariner lead. King Awesome isn't the sort of guy who takes days off.
Sean Green - who'd relieved Bedard in the sixth - kept doing awesome things before giving way to Eric O'Flaherty, who finished off the seventh by getting Josh Hamilton to foul out on a nasty slider. And that set up the big Insurance Inning, as the Mariners put the game out of reach in the bottom half. Kazuo Fukumori was wild in his debut and, taking a page out of what must've been someone else's playbook (first two-walk game in Kenji's Major League career), the M's actually made him pay for it. A wild pitch with the bases loaded scored the first insurance run, and a double down the line by Jose Lopez drove in the next two. It was nothing spectacular - just a groundball that eluded a diving Hank Blalock - but any ball that Lopez pulls hard enough to get through the infield is something to celebrate. God only knows when we'll see the next.
At 5-1, the game occupied that gray area between nail-biter and blowout. It wasn't a rout, but it was definitely comfortable, and not even David Murphy's RBI single in the eighth could rattle my confidence. Mark Lowe came in touching the mid-90s to squelch the developing rally and, only a few minutes later, it was time to be thunderstruck. I guess not really in the proper dictionary sense of the word - I don't think "overcome with consternation" really touches on any Mariner fan's reaction to JJ Putz - but for us it's kind of taken on a different meaning. A more enjoyable meaning. JJ saw four batters and closed things off with a splitter. (You'll recall that it wasn't until April 23rd that JJ picked up his first save of 2007.) With the Mariners in first place, who feels like taking this thing wire to wire?
It wasn't a perfect Opening Day. Even with Bedard missing bats, the M's winning, and the Angels losing, it'd be almost impossible to top what Felix did a year ago. But with that said, when I stopped to reflect on what I watched this afternoon, I realized something - the Mariners won a game in which their hitters were almost asleep. This is the support from the pitching staff that we didn't have in 2007. Last year, if the M's weren't hitting, you could just as well shut off the TV and do something else with the game a lost cause. But this time around, we'll be able to win some of those 1-0's and 3-1's. Felix and Bedard will allow us to take some of those shitty games that once left us questioning our loyalties. I don't know how much that's worth, but it's worth something. Something we haven't had for a long long time.
Going from Bedard today to Felix tomorrow doesn't seem fair. I feel like I should be paying some kind of tax.