Watching all the horror unfold, I could feel the angry rant brewing in my bones. A bad Miguel Batista gets 104 pitches, an average Jarrod Washburn gets 103, a surprising Carlos Silva gets a career-high 116, and a cruising Felix only gets 97? No sir, that didn't sit too well with me. Why take him out and replace him with a bullpen that, to date, has been anything but steady? Why not at least give him a chance to finish what he started before calling on relief? God knows that's what Felix would've wanted. As I witnessed Eric O'Flaherty and Mark Lowe throw the game away, I couldn't shake the familiar feeling that, once again, John McLaren had played a pivotal role in a Mariner loss.
...well, I'm glad I decided to step away and take a breather before writing this up, because according to Baker, Felix actually asked his way out after eight. Wasn't McLaren's decision at all. Seems that, having lost a day of preparation (thanks Erik >:( ), Felix found himself running out of steam sooner than he would've liked. He wasn't necessarily showing signs of fatigue, as his velocity was the same as it was in the early innings, but if a typically stubborn pitcher tells you that he's not 100%, it's out of your hands. So my apologies to John McLaren for jumping the gun. I guess he wasn't as responsible for this as I initially thought.
Funny how this doesn't make me feel any better.
What a catastrophe.
Biggest Contribution: King Felix, +57.3%
Biggest Suckfest: Mark Lowe, -89.7%
Most Important AB: Ibanez homer, +11.7%
Most Important Pitch: Lowe wild pitch/walk, -41.5%
Total Contribution by Pitcher(s): -32.6%
Total Contribution by Hitters: -17.4%
Total Contribution by Opposition: 0.0%
(What is this chart?)
I love Sunday matinées. I look forward to being able to watch some early baseball, and then going on to have a rare normal, sports-free evening. It's a treat for those of us who often don't get to end up eating dinner until 11 o'clock during the week. Sunday matinées allow me to experience some hours in the afternoon that aren't overshadowed by a baseball game looming later that night.
So I wonder if this would've felt different had it happened on a weekday, where regardless of the outcome I'd just write it up and go straight to bed. I don't get to do that today. Today I have to deal with agony and try to come to terms with this for the better part of my waking hours. It's a lot worse. It's great when you win these games, because then you get to walk around with a smile on your face for the rest of the day, but when you lose them - and especially when in so doing you embarrass yourself - it has a tendency to own you. Thanks to the retarded heroics of an impossibly bad Luis Hernandez, all the sweet little things that happen to me for the rest of the day are going to taste that much more bitter.
On the plus side, I did have a good breakfast with King Felix. I had the french toast, and Felix prepared himself some scrambled eggs. While the Mariners weren't doing much against Jeremy Guthrie in the early going, Felix was tossing another dominant first few innings. Thanks in large part to an uncharacteristically solid changeup, the first ended with two grounders and two swinging strikeouts, and the second - while tainted by a line drive single - had another strikeout and two potential DP balls (one of which was turned). The game plan looked to be use the power fastball against righties while establish offspeed stuff against lefties, and early on Felix was executing to near perfection.
The third inning saw the Mariners break through for a run despite the best efforts of Raul Ibanez. Once again - and already I'm getting mighty sick of this - Raul tried to pull an outside fastball, and he rolled over on it, sending a slow roller to second for a double play. But with a runner on third, Richie Sexson picked up the spare by pulling the first pitch he saw into left field for a double. Richie seems to be alternating his good days and his bad ones, as today it looked like he'd gone clue shopping before the game. I encourage more of this.
Armed with a slim lead, Felix went back out there and kept dealing. A lot of fastballs to righties, and a lot of offspeed stuff to lefties. The third in particular was impressive, as the King needed only seven pitches to record a strikeout and two grounders. The only question was how much longer he'd be able to keep this up. In his first start, the dominance lasted three innings. Today I was hoping he'd stretch it out to five or six. Not that it'd be easy to tell when Felix started to lose it, since the Orioles' lineup is bad, but all I wanted was an improvement. If Felix can warm up in April and settle into a groove by May, then that'd be peachy.
(Note: Felix has not yet settled into a groove. He's also allowed one run in two starts. Freaky.)
The game got into a pretty quick pace, as after Sexson's double, no one was hitting. Guthrie made an unforgivable mistake in the sixth when he served up an 0-2 home run to Raul Ibanez, but as quickly as it happened, everyone seemed to forget about it. It was almost as if the teams were just playing out the string after agreeing that the early 1-0 lead was more than enough for Felix. There was no excitement - just outs. It wasn't long before the monotony drove Jim Palmer insane.
By the middle of the sixth, Palmer was wearing the expression of a man who'd lost touch with reality and just gone completely nuts. Not stabby-nuts like Hendu or perverted-nuts like Rizzs, but dissociated-nuts, like at any moment he was going to start massaging Jim Hunter's tie and accuse the door jamb of malice. I can't imagine that the Orioles are going to be that much fun to watch over the rest of the season, but unless Palmer's able to recover from this breakdown, the broadcast just got more interesting.
The bottom half of the sixth is when Felix started to show signs of wearing down. While he was still pitching in the mid-90s, he lost his command, throwing first-pitch balls to all five of the batters and walking two of them. The two-out walk to Markakis wasn't the worst possible outcome with a righty on deck, but after falling behind Millar, Felix left a fastball up at the belt that Millar fortunately lined right at Betancourt's glove to end the inning. The shutout was intact, but it didn't look like Felix had that much left in the tank.
The shutout then almost disappeared in the seventh, when Felix continued to fight himself. Aubrey Huff flew out to lead off, but then Felix hung an absolutely awful, awful curveball to Luke Scott that a better hitter would've sent over the fence, instead of off of it. That pitch was by far Felix's biggest mistake of the day, a sign that while he is improving, he's still susceptible to ugly fuck-ups. That pitch is exactly why I hope Felix can make his changeup about 5-10% better.
He regained my trust with a nasty 1-2 slider to Scott Moore to end the inning, though, and then in the eighth Felix threw first-pitch strikes to all three batters, needing only nine pitches in total to sit them down. Where an inning earlier I thought he was just about finished, now I thought it'd be worth sending him back out there for the ninth to try and wrap things up. Not only would Felix appreciate the gesture, but it could also spare us the unpleasantness of watching a non-JJ reliever try to save the game.
But, as it turns out, Felix was done. And this meant that we had to call on someone out of the bullpen to preserve a lead that was still only two runs due to the efforts of Guthrie, Dennis Sarfate, and Randor Bierd, who sounds less like a pitcher and more like the ship that Leif Ericson and his crew of fellow Norsemen sailed to Canada.
With three of Baltimore's 3-6 hitters being left-handed, McLaren went with southpaw Eric O'Flaherty, who'd thrown 29 pitches the night before. At the time I didn't like this for two reasons: (1) I thought Felix had more left in the tank, and (2) if McLaren had to go to the bullpen, Ryan Rowland-Smith is better. Obviously #1 turned out to be wrong, but I stand by #2, and I don't like that we've given four appearances to O'Flaherty and just one to a guy who last year struck out more than a batter an inning. I don't get it. It'd be one thing if O'Flaherty had loads of experience; that would at least serve as an explanation, albeit a bad one. But he doesn't. As a young arm with limited time on the roster, O'Flaherty and RRS are pretty much in the same boat. So why does McLaren seem to like the former so much more? This strikes me as another example of McLaren getting too tied up in his labels and roles. O'Flaherty's his designated high-leverage lefty, so he becomes the fallback plan when JJ's out, even though he isn't the best choice. It's annoying, but there you go.
McLaren also didn't bother making any defensive substitutions in the bottom of the ninth. I'd love to know why we have a five-man bench if we aren't ever going to use it.
Anyway, O'Flaherty quickly got himself in trouble by allowing a leadoff double to Markakis. He worked his way through the next two batters, allowing a run but getting both out, but then Luke Scott grounded a ball into the hole between first and second to keep the rally alive and force McLaren to go back to the bullpen for a righty. In came Mark Lowe, who didn't look the least bit sharp. That whole showdown against Ramon Hernandez with men on the corners, it just felt like the only thing going through Lowe's head was "don't throw a wild pitch," and then behind 3-1 he threw one anyway to let Jones score the tying run.
Miserable. The wild pitch felt so much like a loss that I barely even noticed the execrable Luis Hernandez lining a 2-2 fastball into the gap to win the game. Seriously, Luis Hernandez is bad. Really really bad. The man hit .242 in AA last season. He's probably the worst offensive position player in the Major Leagues right now. And he's the guy who drove in the final nail.
And so somehow, some way, we've found ourselves desperate to avoid a four-game sweep against the Baltimore Orioles. This is what I get to have running through my head for the rest of the day until I go to sleep. Dinner's gonna taste like poop.