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All right, Mariners, since the Sens are clearly too undermanned/lousy to do much of anything in the playoffs this time around, I'm leaning on you far earlier than I thought I'd have to during the offseason. Don't let me down. A man can only take so much failure before he turns into Grant, and we already have one of those.

So keep doing this. By all means, keep doing this. Because I need this more than you can imagine.

4_9_08_medium

Biggest Contribution: Jarrod Washburn, +27.4%
Biggest Suckfest: Yuniesky Betancourt, -4.3%
Most Important AB: Ichiro double, +14.2%
Most Important Pitch: Riggans groundout, +7.7%
Total Contribution by Pitcher(s): +28.6%
Total Contribution by Hitters: +16.2%
Total Contribution by Opposition: +5.2%
(What is this chart?)

You know what's most annoying about watching games on MLB.tv archive? The video has a set beginning and end point. You find out exactly how long the game took to complete when you first get it loaded, which invariably makes you start guessing in your head about how it ended up. And that kind of serves to spoil the game's progression, at least a little bit.

For example, yesterday when I saw that the game took more than three and a half hours, I assumed extra innings. Then in the bottom of the eighth with the M's up by one, I accidentally saw that there were only ~20 minutes remaining, so I began to fear a Tampa Bay rally and/or walk-off. I actually convinced myself it was going to happen, and my blood wouldn't slow down until ten minutes after RRS slammed the door. It was most unpleasant.

Today, after dejectedly rolling myself out of the living room following probably the worst playoff game I've ever seen the Senators play, I loaded up the archive and saw that this time the M's and Rays only went on for about two and a half hours. With this being well faster than average, I immediately figured that Andy Sonnanstine had taken my game thread to heart and shut us down, allowing the Rays to skip the bottom of the ninth. So right off the bat I found myself thinking that the Mariners probably lost.

It's kind of hard to explain why this is such a bother. I guess what it comes down to is that, when you watch a game live, you have absolutely no idea how it's going to end. You can make educated guesses based on how the teams match up, but for all you know it's just as likely to go fifteen innings as it is to wind up 10-1. The course of the game is unpredictable. By introducing a known duration, though, you limit the number of possible paths the game can take. And that, in turn, takes away from the excitement, because instead of responding emotionally to events both good and bad, you end up trying to figure out how they fit into what you already know. That's not the same experience. When I watch a game on archive, even though I don't know the final score, seeing how long it lasted takes away some of the mystery. And that makes the viewing less enjoyable.

This is why I'm glad I follow a team that plays most of its games at 7 o'clock.

I'm also glad I just wrote a few paragraphs on a drawback of MLB.tv archive, because the game itself didn't give me very much to talk about. Jarrod Washburn just isn't a compelling topic of conversation, and as much as I like to extol the many virtues of Andy Sonnanstine, this afternoon he wasn't at his best, so I'd feel like an idiot trying to do that again after the fact. (Although incidentally, Firefox spellcheck recommends replacing "Sonnanstine" with "Constantine". Coincidence?) I will say, though, that he continues to remind me an awful lot of Jered Weaver, both in repertoire and delivery. Both are more deceptive than overpowering, both are flyball righties with pretty good command, and both work off the fastball/slider/change, although Sonnanstine tends to screw around with his arm angle a little more (not unlike a certain other member of Jered's family). One of these pitchers is considered by many to be a developing young ace on a playoff contender. The other can't even seem to find much of a support base in Tampa Bay. Behold the influence of context.

Both pitchers got off to pretty good starts, each putting up a pair of scoreless innings with a hit and a strikeout. The Rays' hit was a grounder off the bat of Willy Aybar that got through the hole between short and third, and after watching it a few times, I think that's a play that Yuni makes in 2005, before he started bulking up. When Yuni first arrived in the Majors, he was flashing some impossible range. This might be why Jose Lopez started loafing in the first place, since he realized that Yuni could basically play both positions at the same time. But in the years since, it seems like Yuni's lost some of his lateral mobility. Don't get me wrong, he still strikes me as an above-average defensive shortstop, but an elite shortstop keeps Aybar's grounder in the infield. Yuni couldn't.

In the third, the Mariners jumped out to a 2-0 lead for reasons that weren't entirely Sonnanstine's fault. Jamie Burke led off with the same single he's been hitting for a year - a little shallow line drive the other way - and then both Betancourt and Ichiro sent grounders with eyes into right field, the latter plating a run and sending Ichiro to second. Lopez followed with a sac fly, and it was all Sonnanstine could do to get out of the inning with just the two runs. Not that Beltre made it real hard on him with another one of his freebie strikeouts, but he earned the third out by diving off the mound to snag an Ibanez swinging bunt. Were that Greg Maddux on the hill that play alone probably would've cemented another Gold Glove. Man, those voters are good. I respect them so much.

The Rays got a run back in the bottom half, but I don't want to talk about how, because doing so would require that I talk about Jarrod Washburn, and since it's past midnight I don't want to put myself to sleep. However, I will say that one of the TB announcers did a pretty good job of covering his bases somewhere around that point in the game.

TB Announcer #1: Are you surprised that Jonny Gomes is 0-10 against Washburn in his career?
TB Announcer #2: Yes and no.

I bet this guy's a whiz at true/false.

While a whole lot of nothing happened, the Tampa Bay broadcast talked to Joe Maddon in the dugout and later brought the injured (I know, I couldn't believe it either) Cliff Floyd into the booth. I mention these conversations not because they were particularly illuminating, but rather because both Maddon and Floyd seemed genuinely happy to talk for quite a while. They weren't the typical forced, awkward interviews where the announcer asks a question and the manager replies with a cliche and the announcer says thanks and the manager takes off his headset; these were legitimate two-way conversations, and what's more is that they actually happened during the game, rather than being taped between innings. I thought that was pretty cool, although I do have to wonder just how important a manager really is to the success of a ballclub when Tampa Bay's is more than happy to spend a half-inning shooting the breeze with a former reliever and a little weenie dude with curly hair and glasses. The Rays scored a run in that half-inning. The Rays scored zero runs in the other eight half-innings during which Maddon was presumably paying attention. Based on this I think it's pretty clear that Joe Maddon is costing his team hundreds of runs a season by having the gall to take an interest in the game. You can't argue with that. It's science.

In the top of the fifth, Adrian Beltre took Sonnanstine's biggest mistake of the day deep to left field to make it a 3-1 ballgame. The swing was perfect, and it came at a good time, not only because the Mariners needed a little insurance, but also because it'd been a little while since his last extra-base hit, and what with his ligament issue you just know that every little slump of his - no matter how small - is going to be magnified. Today's homer allows us to avoid such unpleasantries for at least another week or so.

More Washburn stuff happened, then we went to the top of the sixth, where the M's were able to further extend their lead courtesy of a Jose Vidro RBI single. This was a big day for Vidro; the single came on a perfect line drive swing, and at other points he drilled a ball over the clueless head of Justin Ruggiano and drew a walk. Definitely the best that Vidro's looked so far this season. I don't think he's any better a DH than you do, but I'd at least like him to not suck until help is ready, and today was a slow, ploddy step in the right direction.

The Rays' last gasp came in the bottom of the seventh, when they had Washburn around that fabled 90-100 pitch mark that always seems to make his pitches look so delicious to the opposition. Down 4-1, Willy Aybar led off with a double and tried to come around to score on a two-out single to left by Jason Bartlett, but Raul Ibanez uncorked the throw of a/his lifetime right to Jamie Burke in time to apply the tag. I won't say it came out of nowhere, since Raul's arm hasn't atrophied at anything close to the same rate as his legs, but it was definitely surprising, and you knew then and there that it was a backbreaker. Nothing shatters the fleeting remnants of hope quite like a failed play at the plate.

At this point, with the game firmly in hand, I started to concentrate on the right arrow button on my keyboard. It had come loose earlier in the afternoon and it was driving me crazy, so armed with a flashlight and a pair of tweezers I spent ages trying to snap the thing back in place. I was beginning to lose my patience and get pretty angry when I looked up in time to see Jamie Burke just punish a JP Howell inside fastball at the belt (86mph? Out of the bullpen? Seriously?). I think that pretty much seals it - Jamie Burke is officially the greatest backup catcher of all time. Does the man ever have a bad at bat? Burke isn't my favorite Mariner, but I easily get the most joy out of his home runs, and the way he seems to attack every plate appearance with a modest swing and solid idea of the strike zone is absolutely refreshing. You had your chance to win me over, Rene Rivera. You blew it. Have fun wrestling alligators for meal money or whatever it is they do for fun in Jacksonville.

Ahead 7-1, that was the final nail, and RRS and Sean Green came in to mop up. The M's had their fourth win, and with Beltre going deep I can finally look at the team leaderboard without doubting my sanity. Right back to work tomorrow morning at 9:40am, with Miguel Batista facing off against Edwin Jackson. I don't know where these teams rank in the AL in walks, but 12 hours from now they ought to be 1-2.