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9:03pm, Jeff (to Matthew): We're so losing this game.

9:04pm, Matthew (to Jeff): Only question is will it be a stomach punch loss or a predictable see it a mile away loss?

9:06pm, Jeff (to Matthew): We'll know that answer when we see whether Mac goes to RRS after Mora.

9:08pm, McLaren (to Green): Good job kid, now it’s time for the lefty.

9:09pm, Jeff (to Matthew): Stomach punch.

9:11pm, Markakis (to RRS): owned

9:12pm, Jeff (to Matthew): That was quicker than I expected.

9:12pm, Matthew (to Jeff): Whores. What a stupid game to lose.

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Biggest Contribution: Raul Ibanez, +25.8%
Biggest Suckfest: RRS, -23.1%
Most Important AB: Ibanez single, +13.4%
Most Important Pitch: Markakis homer, -27.6%
Total Contribution by Pitcher(s): -18.8%
Total Contribution by Hitters: -31.2%
Total Contribution by Opposition: 0.0%
(What is this chart?)

While each is unpleasant, the stomach punch can come in a few different varieties. The first – the clothesline stomach punch – is when you’re going full speed ahead and don’t see the fist going full speed in the opposite direction, applying maximum force to your gut and sending you hurtling backwards, gasping for air. The second – the spontaneous stomach punch - is when you’re just kind of sitting around, minding your own business, when suddenly out of nowhere some dude gets up and punishes your diaphragm. The third – the downtrodden stomach punch – is when you’re already hurting, possibly from a previous stomach punch, but someone keeps punching you in the stomach anyway just to rub it in. And the fourth – the indifferent stomach punch – is when you’re bored, and someone punches you in the stomach, and while it really hurts a part of you is thankful that at least the pain takes your mind off how bored you are.

This game felt a lot like #4. I can cheer for the Mariners as hard as I want, but at the end of the day, if it’s an April game against the Orioles and the offense has fallen asleep, it’s difficult for me to keep myself anything more than mildly interested. I just can’t pretend to care about something more than I actually do. I suppose I could talk to Rick Rizzs about that, but in the meantime, the highs and lows simply won’t have the same kinds of amplitudes that they would in a game against the Angels or Red Sox. So when Markakis sent that bomb to right, my unhappy reaction was far more subdued than many of my other unhappy reactions have been in the past. As stomach punches go, I guess that means I got off easy.

The game did start off fairly promising. Carlos Silva was celebrating the 29th anniversary of his birth and the 1st anniversary of his age exceeding his percent body fat, so as a thoughtful homage home plate umpire Brian Runge gave Silva the gift of an appropriately wide strike zone. Silva took advantage in the first by striking out Brian Roberts looking with a fastball outside off the plate, then striking out Nick Markakis looking with a fastball inside off the plate. Markakis took exception to the called third strike and the Baltimore dugout started chirping, but upon remembering who he had taking the hill, Dave Trembley thought better of getting in Runge’s face and instead remained on the bench blowing little bubbles with his spit. Daniel Cabrera looked on at the strike zone he’d presumably also have to work with and drooled, all manly-like, because Daniel Cabrera doesn’t look like the kind of guy who drools like a little girl, whatever that means.

After the third out Cabrera took the hill and promptly made use of the huge strike zone by falling behind Ichiro 2-0. The next pitch caught too much of the plate, and Ichiro smacked a line drive single into right field to get things started. What happened next is the stuff that Mike Scioscia probably writes in his little pink diary about. In a span of five pitches, Ichiro stole second, advanced to third on a Lopez grounder, and scored on an Ibanez sac fly. Tom Emanski himself would’ve been blown away. Generally speaking you’d like a little more than the basic fundamentals from the 1-2-3 guys in your batting order, but given my expectations for this offense I was happy enough to take the run and walk away smiling.

Down 0-2 in the count, the swing Lopez took to ground that pitch to second was clearly the kind of swing intended exclusively to move Ichiro over and nothing more. I only bring this up because I don’t think McLaren could possibly be more pleased with the way Lopez has turned into the kind of #2 hitter the team’s always wanted. Not only has he been hitting behind the baserunner, but he also has nine combined sacrifice bunts and flies, putting him on a 66 SH+SF pace. The single-season leader in the modern era is 1990 Jay Bell, with 45. I’m usually not a fan of batters making outs, but given what Lopez looked like a year ago, at least he’s learning something, I guess. This at bat, by the way, marked the 19th in a row that Lopez took the first pitch.

Anyway, to the second we went, at which point Dave Valle informed us that Silva “isn’t afraid to throw strikes.” Not to pick on Valle again, but it seems to me that not having a fear of throwing strikes would kind of be a necessary prerequisite of being a pitcher. As far as positive attributes are concerned, I think that’s setting the bar a little low. Pitchers who’re afraid of throwing strikes stop being pitchers. It’s not like guys make it to the Major Leagues despite a crippling affliction of zoneophobia. If you’re a pitcher who’s afraid to throw strikes, it’ll be Little League, and you’ll be pitching your first game, and you’ll keep walking everyone, and your coach will say “throw strikes!” and you’ll say “it’s scary!” and your coach will say “play right field!” and you’ll play right field and never pitch again. Complimenting Carlos Silva for the courage he displays in throwing strikes is like praising someone’s garden for being really good at photosynthesis. 

Powered by a big zone and bad hitters, each pitcher got into a groove that actually kind of lasted for as long as they stayed in the game. After Ichiro’s leadoff single, Cabrera retired the next nine batters he faced, and Silva only allowed two baserunners through the first four innings. The Mariners threatened to blow the game open in the bottom of the fourth when they loaded the bases with none out courtesy of two line drives and a bloop into no-man’s land, but all they could manage was an RBI groundout, as none of Vidro, Sexson, or Johjima could get the ball out of the infield. I’ll forgive Vidro because he can’t help being bad, and I’ll forgive Sexson because he had a huge series in LAnaheim, but Johjima’s really having some lousy at bats, and here he got himself behind 0-2 by fouling off two fastballs out of the zone. Here’s a guy who needs a home run in the worst way. Lopez, by the way, went his 20th consecutive at bat without swinging at the first pitch.

You could kind of tell at the time that, since the Mariners had squandered a big opportunity, the Orioles were going to take some measures to get back in the game. And they certainly tried in the fifth when they got their first two men on and Ramon Hernandez lifted a fly ball over the head of Raul Ibanez, but because no one was sure whether the ball would be caught (sidenote: ha!) everyone froze, and when Aubrey Huff ran through a stop sign to try and score from second, he was dead meat on the relay from Betancourt. Instead of at most tying the game and at least loading the bases with none out, the Orioles went to great lengths to run themselves out of the inning, and six pitches later the unthinkably pathetic Luis Hernandez bounced into a 4-6-3 double play to drive a final stake into the heart of the threat’s shivering, hobbled body.

In the bottom half Jose Lopez responded to Baltimore’s hilarity by taking the first pitch of an at bat for the 21st time in a row.

The O’s finally broke through in the sixth and had the game tied within 11 pitches. With a man on first, Melvin Mora drove a low fastball into the right-center gap beyond the outstretched glove of Willie Ballgame for an RBI triple. As much as I like to pick on our corner defense in the outfield, I’m pretty sure this one was legit. Maybe Willie could’ve done a better job of playing the ball once it bounced, but that ball probably drops against nearly every right fielder in the league, so whatever. Mora scored from third on the ensuing groundout by Markakis. In a flash the lead had evaporated, and with the way Daniel Cabrera was exerting control over the Mariner offense, this game suddenly felt eminently loseable. A nine-pitch 1-2-3 bottom half certainly didn’t do anything to quell our concerns.

Silva started the seventh looking uneasy, and after a five-pitch leadoff walk to Aubrey Huff, everyone from Rick Griffin to Brian Runge gathered around the mound. Griffin expressed disgust at how fat Silva had gotten and averted his eyes, but in the interest of furthering things along without getting bogged down in a swamp of criticism and insults, McLaren changed the subject by asking Silva how he was feeling and then taking him out of the game. My first worry was that Silva had hurt his shoulder, since the fastballs he’d thrown to Huff were 87-88 instead of his usual 90-92, but instead of going to the trainer’s room, Silva stayed in the dugout and occasionally massaged his leg, assuaging my concern that he was seriously injured. Sean Green came in and took care of the inning by striking out two righties and struggling to find the zone against two lefties, a relief appearance you can pretty much set your watch to.

More inept Mariner offense took us to the eighth, where Sean Green retired the first guy he saw (righty) before giving way to RRS to face Baltimore’s left/right/left/left 4-7. And with his first pitch, RRS might as well have slapped his picture right back onto those missing posters, because his thigh-high fastball over the inner half to Markakis got absolutely blasted. He recovered nicely to get out of the inning, upping his rhythm as if trying to make people forget the home run had ever happened, but as the teams switched sides I think every Mariner fan on the planet had his mouth open as if the fly ball were only just then clearing the fence. The whole thing happened so fast that it took a few minutes to work out exactly what it meant for our chances. Slowly it began to set in. This was bad. So was the Mariners going 1-2-3 again in the bottom half. 11 in a row set down by Cabrera, who had clearly taken complete control. This was beginning to feel like certain doom.

Jose Lopez took his 22nd consecutive first pitch.

The top of the ninth brought us the Mariner highlight of the night. With one down and none on, Brandon Morrow came out of the bullpen in relief of RRS and had what I believe was the greatest Major League appearance of his career. He made Adam Jones look silly with two heaters and a dynamite changeup, and then against Ramon Hernandez he quickly got ahead 0-2 with two breaking balls before mixing it up a little bit and eventually getting him to ground out weakly on a low change that had Hernandez lunging. Ten pitches, nine strikes, five solid offspeed pitches, and a fastball that touched 98. The Brandon Morrow we saw tonight was as unhittable as he’s ever looked. It’s a lot easier for a reliever to start pitching at a higher level than it is for a starter to do the same, and if what we saw tonight is any indication of what Morrow’s going to look like going forward, then he’s got a shot at being one of the best setup men in baseball. We know the stuff is real. If the control is real too, then look out. He just looked spectacular.

Unfortunately that’s where the highlights ended. Sherrill came in and allowed a leadoff single to Ibanez of all people to give us some hope, but Beltre hit a ball on the screws right into Jay Payton’s glove, and then Vidro and Sexson had a pair of awful at bats to close things out and give us our fifth loss to Baltimore in six games. So that happened.

You can point the finger at RRS for making a bad pitch to Markakis, or at Silva for making a bad pitch to Mora, but what it comes down to is that the offense lost this game. Daniel Cabrera isn’t a good pitcher, and only managing two runs and six baserunners is inexcusable. The team’s batting line so far through 22 games is .248/.314/.385, which by my calculations translates to an OPS+ of 93. 93! The Twins had an OPS+ of 93 last year and only scored 718 runs. Adjust that for Safeco and you’re looking at an awful lot of 2-1 and 4-2 losses. It’s obviously too early to hold any one particular player most responsible, but there are a lot of guys who ought to be on really short leashes, and if Bavasi isn’t actively searching everywhere for improvements, then he’s not doing his job. Somehow, some way, this offense needs to get a lot better. Because we’re screwed if it doesn’t.

Jarrod Washburn takes the hill tomorzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz