Biggest Contribution: King Felix, +50.8%
Biggest Suckfest: JJ Putz, -64.5%
Most Important AB: Betancourt single, +23.4%
Most Important Pitch: Hamilton homer, -65.4%
Total Contribution by Pitcher(s): -48.0%
Total Contribution by Hitters: -70.4%
Total Contribution by Opposition: +68.4%
(What is this chart?)
You know what's my favorite part of Felix Day? The part before the game. The buildup. Life affords few pleasures quite like the anticipation of Felix Day. "This could be the day he finally throws that no-hitter," we keep telling ourselves from sunup to sundown. It's an exercise in fantasy and fully-blown optimism, the likes of which no other Seattle-area athlete could ever hope to beget. Felix Day is enough to make us punt our concerns with the promise that, by nightfall, we could be witnessing something extraordinary.
Then the game starts and too often it's a colossal disappointment. Not even necessarily because Felix was struggling, but because when you allow the breeze of hope to unlatch the gates and free your imagination, your standards become almost unrealistic. Few humans - even humans led by Felix - can consistently meet the level of expectations set by the Felix Day hype. It just isn't possible.
Today was no exception, although it took us all game to find this out. In fact, for the first little while, this looked like something pulled from our daydreams. Through three innings, Felix had three strikeouts, a walk, and eight groundballs. The Rangers weren't putting anything in the air or getting great swings, and Felix had the tempo and efficiency of someone who wanted to go all nine. This wasn't quite on par with Opening Day 2007 - that performance was truly exceptional - but this was still absurdly terrific, and Felix was even doing a reasonable job of mixing his pitches for good measure. The lone blemish was that a Felix throwing error wound up leading to a Ranger run, but speaking as a pitcher who has a lot of experience darting off the mound and fielding bunts, those throws to first are never as easy as you'd think they'd be. For one thing, you invariably feel more rushed than you actually are, and for another, it's tough to make an accurate throw on a flat surface when you've spent the whole game working on the mound.
So while Texas was on the board, after three innings I was feeling pretty confident. Felix wasn't taking guff from nobody, and you had to figure that even our sorry pack of losers called a lineup would eventually be able to scrape together a second run against Vicente Padilla. The odds were absolutely in our favor, no matter what the scoreboard would suggest.
Then Felix went south. It sounds silly to say that considering he ripped off four consecutive scoreless innings before calling it a night, but somewhere between the third and the fourth he decided to get lazy. Felix started allowing fly balls, and while I wasn't watching closely enough to pinpoint exactly why, that's a symptom. People getting air under the ball against Felix is a sign that he isn't on top of his game. Over his final four innings, Felix's line read as follows:
5 fly balls
5 line drives
That's not Felix. That's not even Carlos Silva. The King wasn't in a groove anymore, and while we managed to escape unscathed thanks to some timely grounders and Felix helping his own cause with wacky acrobatics (wackrobatics), I looked to the horizon and saw the familiar cloud of negativity approaching with haste. This game wasn't in the bag. Not anymore. Not with our offense standing around lighting its own farts on fire while Padilla weaseled his way to a quality start and Eddie Guardado made his triumphant return to a place where he'll forever be remembered more for what he did for somebody else than for what he did on the field.
Still knotted at one, we got to the eighth in time for what we can only hope was an homage on Eric O'Flaherty's part to Guardado's enduring memory. O'Flaherty faced five Rangers in the inning - three of them left-handed - and only retired the two righties, putting the Mariners in a 3-1 hole that felt entirely too deep. Watching from home, George Sherrill chuckled to himself before turning the TV off, crawling under his team-issued Oriole bedspread, and weeping into his pillow. I like O'Flaherty's potential in the lefty setup role, but he is a substantial downgrade, and this is one of the drawbacks of the Bedard trade that we'll just have to deal with. I'll miss those slurves.
Just as we prepared to surrender all hope against the underrated Joaquin Benoit, though, we were reminded of a big reason why no one's picking the Rangers to win anything in 2008: their team defense is bad. Sure, Hamilton had already made some dazzling catches in center, but he's only one guy, and the rest of the group looked more uncomfortable than Michael J Fox in a paint-by-numbers competition. The inning got started when the defensively pathetic Michael Young short-hopped the defensively pathetic Ben Broussard, putting Jose Vidro on second base. Then three batters later - with a run in and men on the corners - Ichiro hit a roller to second that Ian Kinsler fumbled on the transfer, leaving everyone safe and the ballgame tied. Improbably, not only had the Rangers let the Mariners back into the game, but the Mariners suddenly found themselves in position to actually take the lead. Having seen the first seven innings of attempted offense, this was beyond anyone's wildest dreams.
Then came the sequence that I think pretty much convinced everyone watching that each team was trying its damndest to make the other team win. Following a Lopez sac bunt and Ibanez intentional walk, Richie Sexson came up with the bases loaded, needing only a fly ball to drive in the go-ahead run. Benoit promptly uncorked five consecutive balls, but Sexson somehow willed his way into a full count. Thwarted, Benoit tried again to give the game away, but on a 3-2 low and away fastball that I swear traveled in slow motion, Sexson lunged for an off-balance swing and a miss. I swear to god, every one of these at bat just tickles my spine in all the wrong ways. Richie and Beltre swapped places, with Beltre giving him a quick glance of disgust.
Undeterred, Benoit took things into his own hands and bounced a wild pitch. Almost before we could express to Richie our innermost desires to experience the rush of vehicular homicide, the game did a 180 and the Mariners had the lead courtesy of three runs that were for all intents and purposes handed to them on a dish. Armed with a 4-3 lead that the team didn't deserve, I sat here laughing to myself and clapping in a reserved fashion so as not to wake the neighbors. Wilkerson made an out to end the inning, but so what? With JJ, a lead in the ninth is a win in the standings. The Texas Rangers had given us this game.
Then, like assholes, they took it back.
On the one hand, you could kind of see it coming. JJ had neither his usual command nor his usual velocity, and as soon as the pitch to Hamilton left his hand you knew it was going straight to Hamilton's wheelhouse. But on the other, this is JJ Putz, and even though I say I could see it coming, based on my dumbfounded reaction, I couldn't really see it coming. I honestly don't remember anything that happened between that swing and Yuni's double in the bottom of the ninth. It's just a gap in my memory, a gap left unfilled because while the rest of the game was taking place, I was sitting here blankly staring ahead wondering how I was ever going to come to terms with this.
The answer is: I'm not sure yet. I mean, it's early, and we had no right to so much as even be in the game. But it's not the fact that they lost; it's the way that they lost. I hate it when JJ blows a save because every single bad outing of his rattles my core and makes me think that he could revert to what he used to be just as quickly as he ascended to awesomeness. It's stupid, because he's a different pitcher now than he ever was before the splitter, but it's a feeling I can't shake, and it's incredibly unpleasant. This will not be a comfortable sleep.
But I'll get over it, and so will JJ. If Texas has to be the team that has his number, better them than the Angels, I guess. Tomorrow's a new day. And while Carlos Silva and his ocean of grease may not be quite as exciting as Bedard or King Felix, he's a hell of a lot better than the nothing we've seen for six months.