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Dear Ben,

Hey you. How's it going? How are things in Texas? I check to see how you're hitting almost every day. I hope the people down there come to like you. You deserve to be appreciated.

I hope this isn't weird. I know it's been a while since we spoke. I've thought about calling you a million times, but I always stop myself, because I never know what to say. You were such a big part of my life; I planned everything around you, and when you went away, you left a big gap. It hurt, and it took me longer than you'd believe to even summon up the courage to write this letter. It's been a long mending process for my heart.

Well, I think I've finally gotten over it. After so many miserable days and sleepless nights, I think I'm ready to be able to be friends with you again, because...there's no easy way to put this, so I'll just come out and say it - I've found someone new. His name is Ryan and we have lots of fun together. He's what I need right now, and he just gets me, you know? I didn't really get to see him that often at first, but lately it's like the more we hang out, the stronger our connection. It's really...it's really good. For the first time in a few months, I feel like I'm genuinely happy.

I hope you can be happy for me, and I hope that we're able to go back to how things were before the whole relationship. Remember how we laughed? I miss those times. Kick some ass down there. Ryan and I wish you the best of luck. If you're ever out here again maybe the three of us can go get a few drinks. I'd like it if you and Ryan got along.

Good luck again, and I hope to hear from you soon,

-Jeff

4_20_08_medium

Biggest Contribution: Miguel Batista, +35.6%
Biggest Suckfest: Jose Vidro, -8.7%
Most Important AB: Sexson homer, +17.7%
Most Important Pitch: Anderson strikeout, +17.5%
Total Contribution by Pitcher(s): +38.5%
Total Contribution by Hitters: +11.5%
Total Contribution by Opposition: 0.0%
(What is this chart?)

I needed a game like this. I needed a game that literally got me out of my chair. I work with a guy with whom baseball has fallen out of favor, and while over the past few weeks I've issued all the stock replies to his statements that baseball is boring, my heart hasn't been in it, because so far this year baseball has been boring. There haven't been too many moments that made my blood rush and my eyes widen, and while I'll admit that I've been splitting my focus between two sports, quietly I was becoming a little concerned that I just didn't have the same passion for baseball that I had in the past.

At 3:37pm PDT, those concerns were put to rest by one primal scream.

That was the most fun I've had watching a baseball game in a long, long time.

After last night, I don't think anyone really saw this level of excitement coming. The pitching matchup certainly didn't hold much intrigue. This wasn't a showdown of two aces to close out a series; this was a guy who hasn't thrown any strikes against a poorer, less-respected clone of Jon Garland. I'm not exaggerating, either. Aside from their ages, Moseley and Garland are basically one and the same. They're both righties with an 87-90 fastball, standard offspeed fare, reasonable control, zero ability to miss bats, and roughly neutral GB/FB tendencies. And you already know how much we rip on Jon Garland. This game looked like it would come down to the Mariners' ability to pound extra-base hits versus the Angels' ability to let Batista do their work for them.

And then the game started and, naturally, didn't at all go according to plan. Moseley made quick work of the M's in the top half of the first - albeit not quick enough to spare us from Rex Hudler's neverending lecture on sunglasses - and despite getting to a pair of three-ball counts, Batista survived without walking anyone in the bottom. From the beginning, this had all the feel of another game in which the hitters would let the pitchers off the hook time and time again.

The second inning, however, brought us better fortune. For whatever reason Moseley came after Adrian Beltre with six consecutive fastballs instead of things that move funny, and Beltre saw them well enough to work a walk. Then, two batters later, Moseley fell behind Richie Sexson 3-1 and served up an inside fastball that Sexson blasted over the left field fence to give the M's an early lead. The more I watch this replay, the more impressed I am, because it wasn't even a bad pitch; granted, Moseley doesn't put much spice on the ball, but this particular fastball came in on the hands, and Richie was still able to hit it 375 feet by pulling his arms in and shortening his swing. 98% of Major League baseball players are incapable of turning that pitch into a home run. I think it was even off the plate inside.

Early indications are that Richie's going to have one hell of a bounceback season. I know it's hard to believe considering it wasn't long ago that he was still getting booed at home, but just look at what he's done through the first 20 games. .231/.367/.508. Excellent patience. Five homers on 23 fly balls. The stretch he's had so far is unlike any he had all of 2007. He's not going to keep walking all the time since he's currently blowing his career-best BB% out of the water, but to the naked eye he appears light years ahead of where he was when we last saw him, and even if this is just his Old Player Skills death rattle before falling off the face of the earth, he only needs to last another five or six months. The lineup needs his power something terrible, and so far he's coming through (would be slugging .569 if not for Torii ):<  ).

Armed with a 2-0 lead, Batista set about coming right after the Angel hitters for once instead of dicking around. He had Casey Kotchman in particular all messed up. This game featured Miguel Batista at his absolute peak - he didn't really have his best command, but he had his control, and his stuff is good enough that when he throws it around the plate, the unpredictability makes his pitches difficult to punish. And that's rough for an Angel lineup that already wants to swing at everything. They swung themselves right out of countless at bats this afternoon, and credit has to go to Batista for rarely daring to come out over the plate. He did an effective job of staying around the corners of what felt like a pretty wide strike zone for much of the day, and the Angels couldn't do anything about it. 

Batista kept pitching well, even when it seemed like the Mariners might've lost some momentum in the third when they couldn't take advantage of some early baserunners. Ichiro and Jose Lopez led off with solid singles, but three groundouts and one don't-touch-me Ichiro rundown moment later, it was still 2-0 with the Angels coming to bat. And while this was probably Batista's worst inning, he still put another zero on the scoreboard thanks to a line drive double play and Garret Anderson's slow bat. I obviously don't really have ready means to quantify this, but, visually, it seems like Anderson's bat just drags through the strike zone. Put another way, he's one of the last players I'd expect to be able to homer on the pitch that Richie got in the second. His swing just seems long and deliberate, to the point at which I think he probably has to look fastball ahead of time if he wants to catch up. And that just makes it fun to toy with him by throwing offspeed stuff low and away. The pitch with which Batista struck him out in the third was exactly that, a changeup down. I think Anderson can still be moderately productive as a guess hitter, but he strikes me as being close to the end.

The fifth inning brought us the end of Dustin Moseley, courtesy of a four-batter string of hits that doubled the Mariner lead. With Matthews playing him way the fuck to left, Ichiro lined a changeup into a gigantic right-center gap for an RBI triple, and then Jose Lopez brought him home from third with an opposite-field blooper. Later on an eight-pitch walk to Richie Sexson proved enough reason to finally yank Moseley from the game, but with the bases loaded and two down, this was a big at bat for both sides, as a hit would blow things open while an out would keep the Angels in the game.

The Mariners sent Brad Wilkerson to the plate. The Angels countered with Darren O'Day.

Now, yes, O'Day got Wilkerson to ground out to end the threat. But I have to question the wisdom of going to a side-arming righty to try and get a left-handed Wilkerson in a big spot. Side-armers invariably get destroyed by opposite-handed hitters. They get a terrific look at the ball, and the pitches tend to come in and speed up the bat. I know it didn't end up being a big deal but this was a bad decision by Mike Scioscia, what with Darren Oliver and a bevy of non-side-arming righties available in the bullpen. You know how aggravated we get when McLaren lets Sean Green face lefties? This wasn't any better.

While it was frustrating not to get more out of the rally, the 4-0 lead held, and held, and kept holding. For whatever reason the Angels were incapable of doing anything to Batista until there were two outs, and that's a good way to lose yourself a lot of ballgames. In five of eight innings LAnaheim got a baserunner with none on and two out, and in each of those innings, the baserunner was stranded. Every LAnaheim baserunner against Batista was stranded. It was a combination of good pitching, bad hitting, and a little luck, and by the time Batista got pulled in the eighth, his final line looked like something you'd expect from Johan Santana. His eight strikeouts were his most in a game since April 6th, 2006, and it was the first time he'd kept himself to fewer than two walks in ten starts.

Miguel Batista cruised. The closest the Angels came to scoring against him was when Vlad Guerrero lifted a long fly ball to right in the eighth, but Willie settled on the track to make a routine catch. And I gotta tell you, Vlad just doesn't frighten me as much as he used to. He's still an astoundingly awesome natural talent, but he no longer packs the raw power that he did in his heydey. Observe:

2003: 21.4% HR/FB
2004: 19.1%
2005: 17.4%
2006: 16.3%
2007: 14.5%
2008: 10.0% (limited sample)

Now 32, with a history of nagging aches and pains, I suppose it probably shouldn't come as much of a surprise that Vlad's body is beginning to give out. He's retained his freakish ability to put pretty much any ball in play that he wants, but when it comes to changing games with one swing of the bat, he's dropped off. While I don't expect him to be bad for years and years, his peak appears to be a thing of the past.

Arthur Rhodes took us to the ninth with a strikeout of Kotchman that makes me think he might just be okay. The Mariners didn't do anything in their half, but I do want to bring something to your attention. In the ninth, Jose Lopez took the first pitch for the fifth time in five plate appearances. Sound unusual? That's because it is. The league average batter swings at the first pitch of an at bat 27% of the time. In 2007, Jose Lopez swung at the first pitch 25% of the time. So far in 2008, though, that's down to 13%. 13%. He's chopped his previous rate in half.

What does this tell me? Here's what I'm thinking. The Mariners have wanted Lopez to be a more selective hitter for a long time. However, Lopez isn't blessed with the most discerning eye, which made said selectivity more than a little troublesome. So I think over the offseason, the M's just told him to take more first pitches. Simple as that. It's the easiest way to learn to have longer at bats. It gives Lopez more experience telling strikes from balls, and more than 40% of the time it comes with the side benefit of getting him ahead in the count. It's like a compromise between leaving him how he is and trying to get him to be able to identify every pitch as it's thrown.

Lopez won't keep taking 87% of first pitches, because before long pitchers will catch on and put him behind 0-1 almost every time. It's at that point that we'll really see whether or not he's become a more selective hitter.

Anyway, ahead 4-0, we thought we were headed for a stress-free conclusion to the game. Mark Lowe was coming in, and through his first several appearances he'd been flashing some real good stuff. Nevermind his mid-90s fastball and show-me breaking ball; his changeup looked nothing short of spectacular. Between its movement and his ability to move it around in the zone, it had all the makings of being one of the best put-away pitches on the team.

Unfortunately, though, it doesn't matter how good your stuff looks if you don't know where you're putting it, and as Lowe was plagued by an inability to throw strikes, the Angels suddenly started having their first disciplined at bats of the game. Nine of Lowe's first ten pitches missed the zone, and a pair of walks brought the Angels life where at no point earlier did it seem like they had any at all. An overpowering strikeout of Mike Napoli and a good sequence to Erick Aybar created the impression that everything was back under control again, but then once more Lowe lost his shit, walking Chone Figgins to bring up a guy who a year ago torched us with five home runs and an OPS over 1. Lowe left a changeup over the plate and a sharply-hit single cut the deficit in half and brought the winning run to the plate in the person of Vladimir Guerrero.

Despite everything I said earlier about Vlad losing his power, that was pretty much the last thing on my mind in the ninth, as by that point your brain gives up trying to flood your cerebrum with rational thoughts. While John McLaren tried to put an end to the walks by ironically calling on Brandon Morrow to finish things off, all I could think was that this would be the perfect time for Vlad to take my criticism and cram it into every hole of my body.

He tried, too. God bless him, he tried, on that 3-1 fastball at the letters. But Morrow didn't give him enough in the zone, and instead of winning the game on his own, Vlad had no choice but to defer his opportunity to Garret Anderson, which would also be horribly appropriate.

Desperate, McLaren went back to the bullpen and came out with a lefty.

With Torii Hunter on the bench, Mike Scioscia sat still.

I didn't think anything of it at the time, because I was far too worried about the Mariners to worry about the Angels, but Scioscia was doing us an unthinkable favor by leaving Anderson in there instead of pinch-hitting with the righty. Were this an Angels blog, I'm certain we'd be showing Scioscia no mercy.

But RRS still had to do his job, else it wouldn't matter.

A slider away got him ahead in the count 0-1. And, deciding he liked that part of the plate, RRS kept trying to go back to the same spot. He pounded Anderson away with offspeed stuff, getting to 1-2, but a foul and two misses outside later, the count was full, and with the runners in motion a base hit, at the very least, would tie things up. The leverage index of the at bat stood at an unbelievable 6.98 and nary a fan drew a breath.

Rrsanderson_medium
Frozen. With the right-handed Torii Hunter looking on from the bench, GA flinched at a pitch that he thought was inside and watched the best slider RRS has ever thrown cross the plate at the knees. The game was over, and while the Angels still won the series, it sure as hell didn't feel like it.

Off day tomorrow.