This unlikeliest of games as a Demetri Martin joke:
I was on the street and I saw a friend of a mine, all of a sudden, I hadn't seen in years. Guy named Dean. We went to high school together. Last time I saw him was like five years earlier when Dean and I were doing a roofing job together on top of a forty-story building. He started talking crazy that day, and he goes, "I can't take it, man," and he got up on the ledge, and he jumped. Just after he jumped I looked down, and I noticed that Trampoline Emporium was having a sidewalk sale that day. Dean landed right on one of the trampolines, and bounced back up forty stories to where I was standing. And just as he floated up he said to me, "You know, I think a lot of your joke premises are contrived and hard to believe."
There's no way this game actually happened the way that it happened. There's just no way.
Biggest Contribution: Willie Ballgame, +26.9%
Biggest Suckfest: Jose Lopez, -32.9%
Most Important AB: Sexson funk blast, +30.7%
Most Important Pitch: Wells double, -15.5%
Total Contribution by Pitcher(s): +4.1%
Total Contribution by Lineup: +33.4%
Total Contribution by Opposition: +12.5%
(What is this chart?)
I wasn't kidding around in the game thread post. While nothing will ever top Felix Day in terms of overall excitement and anticipation, RRS is one of the few players on the roster I actually have an interest in watching succeed, and so despite the team's standing as a three-legged mouse in a cobra farm, I still flipped over after the Rays game with my eyes wide, my blood pumping, and my enthusiasm set to "fierce". This was to be another exception to my daily routine of pulling for doom.
And you know what? The Jays fans made it easy. Where midweek Safeco usually sounds like a huddle by the Gallaudet University football team, both yesterday and today several thousand Blue Jay fans descended upon the stadium and made the kind of noise you generally only hear when the Red Sox come to town. The difference being that the Red Sox attract a giant flaming bandwagon while the Blue Jays for the most part retain only loyalists who know what it feels like to be dragged through the mud. And so, where a typical Boston series inspires in me a whole host of nasty personal threats, these last couple days I've been glad to have the Jays fans around, because they forced the Mariner fans to respond, and baseball's a hell of a lot more fun when it's played in raucous environment.
Undeterred by the divided support and unfamiliar role, RRS came flying out of the gate and pitched about as well as we could've expected him to in the early going, sandwiching a long fly out with a pair of infield pop-ups that made me glad the Rays won in time for me to catch the first. Marco Scutaro did yank a changeup deep into left, but Raul banana'd the ball by the track, and my rule of thumb is that if you hit a ball that hangs up long enough for Raul to cover more than 20 feet, you don't have any right to complain if it ends up finding glove, because putting that much air under a ball hit to left field and trying to leg it out is just being greedy. Don't be greedy, Marco. Just take what Raul gives you like everybody else.
Jose Vidro spoiled a rally in the bottom of the first with a double play, because, of course he did.
To the second we went, and this inning was even better than the first - RRS needed just 13 pitches to set the side down in order with a grounder, a strikeout, and another infield popup. Through two he'd thrown but five balls, and where initially he was only expected to last three or four frames, for a little while there you had to wonder if he'd find a way to qualify for a win. That's how efficiently he was working. Stottlemyre had to be thrilled, and when RRS needed only nine more pitches to get through the third, it was beginning to feel like he'd been a natural fit for the rotation all along. It's unusual for any Mariner to so successfully acquit himself to a new role, but for the first hour or so, RRS was passing the test with flying colors. I couldn't stop grinning.
In between RRS ownings, Richie Sexson stole a base, thereby completing his transformation into a taller, clumsy Delino DeShields.
The fourth, unfortunately, proved to be RRS' undoing. An 0-2 mistake to Scutaro set the tone, and five of the seven Blue Jays Ryan faced in the inning reached base before he was pulled at 62 pitches in favor of Roy Corcoran. He came out having thrown 74% strikes and inducing an unbelievable six infield pop-ups, but he'd also allowed three runs and four hits in 3.2 innings, spoiling a promising rotation debut and sending him to the dugout on the hook for the loss. Corcoran was able to record the final out, but the damage had been done, and there was little confidence that the Mariners would be able to fight their way back.
My big key for RRS coming into the day was his fastball velocity. I was curious to see how he'd respond to getting stretched out with so little warning, and while this wasn't really a "start" in the traditional sense of the word, considering his limited pitch count, it was still an adjustment from his usual middle relief, so you'd expect him to approach the job a little differently. What would he do? Would he burn himself out early by throwing too hard? Would he conserve his stamina? Would he conserve too much of his stamina? How would his fastball compare to the one he's thrown in shorter assignments? The following graph shows the average velocity of RRS' five most recent fastballs through the game in an attempt to answer exactly that:
Perhaps more telling is this: RRS threw 35 fastballs tonight. The average velocity of the first 18 was 88.8mph. The average velocity of the last 17 was 89.4. Keep in mind that his season average to date was 89.0. He threw seven fastballs at 90 or above. In this particular start, RRS didn't really lose anything off of his fastball at all, and while the results weren't there in the fourth inning, the fact of the matter is that his final six heaters read 90, 89.8, 92, 91.3, 88.7, and 91.3. Even as he approached a Major League high 60 pitches, he still had a little bit left in the tank. That's encouraging - better than I expected - and something that I think warrants further investigation. I really hope the Mariners give him another start, and I really hope he's able to last an additional dozen pitches or so, because getting an idea of whether RRS can survive in a Major League rotation would give this team a clearer picture of what it has to do over the offseason in order to build a contender.
With RRS out of the game, my interest waned, and not even a throwing error by Jesse Litsch or an RBI single by Yuniesky Betancourt could really wake me up. It was nice to finally get the other half of the crowd involved, as the deficit had been trimmed to 3-2, but as cool as it is that we're able to salvage nobody relievers from the scrap heap, Roy Corcoran just doesn't hold RRS' appeal. He doesn't hold anything close. He's just an average guy with Gil Meche's command of Sean Green's stuff, and his appearances make a great time to take ten minutes to prepare yourself some dinner.
Into the sixth inning we went, where the Blue Jays did their best to pull away with a little help from one of the most unpredictable middle infielders in the league. With a man on first and nobody out, Lyle Overbay bounced a routine 4-6-3 straight to Jose Lopez, but the ball snuck under his glove and rolled to the outfield, allowing Vernon Wells to take third. Instead of two outs and none on, suddenly Toronto had none down and men on the corners, and the next three hitters took advantage of the situation by turning a 3-2 perhaps into a 6-2 certainty. Corcoran got pulled having retired just one man in the inning, and even despite Cesar Jimenez's minor heroics, the result of the game still felt like a foregone conclusion. The Mariners hadn't demonstrated any ability to rally all season long. Mostly because they also hadn't demonstrated any ability to hit.
The grounder to Lopez was one of those plays that detractors will be talking about for weeks and weeks. And while I personally think that all the loafing and headcase criticisms are a pile of shit, I have to concede that Lopez doesn't really do himself any favors when he does stuff like this. There are moments at which it seems like he's not concentrating. He does have a track record of doing some wacky things in the field and on the basepaths. He makes up for his gaffes by covering a fair bit of ground and hitting the ball hard often enough to maintain some semblance of offensive value, but he's just one of those players who makes it easy for people to harp on his mistakes, and unfortunately for Lopez, a lazy reputation can be an awfully difficult label to shed. He's going to have to do something really extraordinary if he wants to change the way he's perceived.
Little did we know when Betancourt hit another run-scoring single in the bottom half of the inning that it would be the beginning of a comeback. The Blue Jay fans were still overwhelming the Mariner faithful with their chants and applause, and with just three innings left for a bad offense to rally against a bullpen that's been terrific all year, odds were long. At 6-3 after six, this had the feel of the 52nd Strasburg Christmas of the season.
A few minutes later, the game changed course on one of the worst home runs I've ever seen in my life.
Lopez and Ibanez made quick outs to kick off the seventh, but a Vidro single prolongued the inning and got us to the best bat in the lineup. Said bat immediately fell behind 0-2 on a pair of good sliders, though, and when Gregg Zaun rose to his feet and Jesse Carlson aimed a fastball at the backstop, everyone knew how the inning would end. Beltre would swing through a ball at his eyes, remove his helmet, and look perplexed, and the Mariners would jog out on the field having come to the realization that their best hitter swings like a God damn retard.
Beltre swung at the pitch like a God damn retard. And he stood there and looked around like a God damn retard. Then he found the ball, bolted for first, and almost immediately began to trot around the bases, because Adrian Beltre had just hit a neck-high outside fastball over the right field fence for a two-run bomb.
My brain and the dugout simultaneously came to life, and as I stared at the screen trying to make sense of what had happened, all I could see were a bunch of people laughing. Laughing at Beltre, because with a wildly inappropriate swing of the bat, he'd just hit a two-run homer on what was for all intents and purposes a throwaway pitch. A few years ago Miguel Cabrera made news when he hit an intentional ball into center field for an RBI single. Adrian Beltre basically got an intentional ball of his own and he sent it flying 340 feet. I didn't think he'd ever be able to top hitting a home run from his knee as he did in Petco on Sunday, but here I sit, humbled. The man is just unthinkably strong. If you don't get why so many of us love Adrian Beltre, you're really missing out.
Almost at once there was renewed interest in the game both here in my house and there in the stadium. A big strikeout of Scutaro in the eighth was met with wild applause as Arthur Rhodes worked his way out of a jam, and then on Scott Downs' sixth pitch in the bottom half, Richie Sexson hit a ball harder than he had in 25 games. Richie got the bat head out in front of a 3-2 fastball that tailed back over the plate, sending a line drive into the left field bleachers that knotted things up at six. As he jogged his way around the bases, I couldn't help but think that, in terms of personal redemption, this had to be up there with the walk-off against Minnesota last August. Richie's been on the verge of release for weeks, now - for good reason - so to shove all that aside and help the team out in a big spot speaks to thick skin and some impressive focus on his part. He's trying. Despite what its record might suggest, the whole team is trying, just like John McLaren told the media after getting cut loose. And for those who might be skeptical, moments like this provide some rather compelling proof. Richie earned that home run, and if only for a fleeting moment, Safeco was able to forget all the bad and embrace his most recent act in a cresting wave of euphoria.
To the ninth we went, and where you might think the team would have a tough time following Richie's act with anything good, they still had Brandon Morrow, and in he came to try and keep the Jays where they were. And keep them where they were he did with remarkable poise. Alex Rios went away. Vernon Wells went away. And after a temporary hiccup, Scott Rolen went away. Morrow's overpowering dominance was so electrifying that the Safeco crowd repeatedly came to its feet with two strikes, something people in Seattle haven't done with any regularity since the days of Randy Johnson. I love the anticipatory two-strike ovation. It might be my favorite coordinated fan gesture in baseball. I love it because it's only done for a select handful of pitchers for whom strikeouts aren't so much desired as expected, an elite class of arms capable of on any given night making the cost of admission worth every last penny. And this is a group to which Brandon Morrow now belongs. What he's been doing since the start of the year is right up there with JJ's 2006 in terms of being completely and utterly untouchable, and any time he's warming up you just know the other team's afraid that things are about to get silly. In short, while Morrow's been one of the only bright spots on the team, he's a bright spot that shines with the intensity of a thousand Algerian suns. Watch him. Enjoy him. There are few people on the planet capable of doing what he seems to do with such ease.
With the Safeco stands still buzzing, we went to the bottom of the ninth, whereupon the left-handed Scott Downs made the unforgivable mistake of walking Raul Ibanez to lead off. Ibanez then advanced to scoring position on a bunt by our cleanup-hitting DH, and following an intentional walk to Adrian Beltre, we were all set up for a showdown between Shawn Camp and Willie Ballgame with the game on the line.
A cynic would say that Willie's streak of eschewing the extra-base hit is alive and well.
Willie lined a first-pitch curve into the left-center gap, plating Ibanez before he could ever set foot on second base and therefore officially sealing it with a single. The Mariners came pouring out of the dugout and did quite possibly the only thing they do well - beat the living crap out of a guy who just won a game. Yuni got out there first, but everyone from Lopez to Sexson joined into the pile, and while in the end it was nothing but a meaningless win against a team going nowhere, the scene on the field was one of jubiliation, as every last Mariner was all smiles for the first time in months. This was a big win, if not in the standings. This was a win that'll make everyone want to come back and play again tomorrow. And this isn't a team that's had very many of those.
The Mariners just won in dramatic fashion on the backs of Willie Ballgame, Richie Sexson, a God damn retarded Adrian Beltre, and a cast of relievers. I wouldn't blame them if they're still smiling when they wake up. Except for Willie. Because boy is he ever going to get shit about this in the clubhouse.