It is a testament to the level of indifference forced upon me by this team that I watched on with calm eyes as Wlad's fly ball neared the fence. And as Hunter tracked it all the way back until he ran out of room, that image from April flashed through my head like Gwyneth Paltrow's face at the climax of Se7en, and at once I knew not only that Hunter would make a leaping catch, but that I would also get over it and move on with my life as if nothing had ever happened. This is the state of our existence. We've been so thoroughly beaten down by a steady, relentless stream of disappointment that when opportunities present themselves, we instinctively both anticipate dejection and make peace with it ahead of time so that, should a given negative event take place as expected, it packs less of a punch. Cushioning blows before you're even sure whether or not they'll ever happen may be the pinnacle of defeatist surrender-monkeying, but when you're dealt the hand that we've been dealt, it's the only way to cope. At least, it's the only way that won't kill you.
So I watched Hunter retreat, I watched Hunter leap, and I watched Hunter make a futile swipe at the air before falling back down to the field of play with an empty glove. And only when the camera cut to a shot of Wlad casually rounding the bases did it dawn on me what I'd just seen, and what it meant. All the preparation had been for naught. All the blow-cushioning went right out the window. For there was no blow to be endured. For one of what's felt like only a handful of times all season long, Lady Devastation was giving the Mariners a break.
It's an unbelievable rush when you feel you've been spared certain doom. Even if the prospect of doom in and of itself no longer fazes you, the sudden, unlikely deviation from the expected course of events is enough to send fresh new lifeblood sprinting through your veins and, if only temporarily, rejuvenating your spirit. As Wlad's fly ball cleared the fence and Roy Corcoran in turn set the Angels down 1-2-3 to seal a meaningless victory, I found myself in a good mood. A genuinely warm, contented, good mood. The sort of seldom-experienced good mood during which there is nothing else but your mood, nothing else but your complete and undivided happiness. For the five or ten minutes immediately following the end of the game, I loved the Mariners like I've rarely been able to love them since I really started paying attention. I loved the Mariners and I loved every single player who'd had a hand in delivering a win that, psychologically, I so badly needed.
The burden of a season like this on a blogger is such that I have trouble conveying just how much of a struggle it really is. Once the emotional investment is gone a month or two into the year, the writing becomes increasingly difficult, and you end up bearing arms in a hard-fought daily battle against your own mind to see if you can hang on until the end of September. It's a battle of resolve, a battle of persistence, a battle of self-doubt and self-affirmation. A thousand times a week you tell yourself you can't do this anymore, and a thousand times a week you convince yourself otherwise, saying it'll all be worth it in the end if you can just stick it out.
A game like today helps make it worth it. Because a game like today serves as an indelible reminder of what the good times can feel like, and how enjoyable things can be when they're not all doom and gloom. When I've been in some ruts in the past I've had concerns over whether or not I even have it in me to write about a team that actually wins for a change, because the demand would be so high, and a season like this in which nobody cares is already sufficiently taxing. But as it turns out, this winning thing can be kind of fun. Even when you have to write about it afterwards. So I guess it's just up to the Mariners to give me that chance.
The 45-74 Mariners played twelve innings against the obscenely division-leading Angels today, and I rather enjoyed it. I think that speaks volumes as to what kind of game it really was. This has been a hell of a night.
Biggest Contribution: Raul Ibanez, +68.8%
Biggest Suckfest: Ichiro, -45.2%
Most Important AB: Balentien homer, +46.3%
Most Important Pitch: Teixera homer #2, -43.5%
Total Contribution by Pitcher(s): -38.6%
Total Contribution by Lineup: +49.0%
Total Contribution by Opposition: +39.6%
(What is this chart?)
A few things:
- All Raul Ibanez has done since the All Star Break is bat .363 with 18 extra-base hits and 27 RBI in 25 games. For the Mariners' sake, the front office should probably keep telling him for as long as it can that it's trying to work out a way to trade him to another team, because right now he's playing like a guy who wants to get the hell out of here. Obviously this is completely unsustainable, but simply in terms of visual observation, these past two weeks he's looked like one of the hottest hitters I've ever seen.
- When I was a kid, sometimes I used to pretend that I was an athlete (generally MLB or NHL) being thrust into the most critical situation of the most critical game of the season. And, this being my own personal game of make-believe, I'd always come through for my team and celebrate excessively by flailing all over the place and pumping my arms. So maybe it's out of some sort of self-loathing that I hate Francisco Rodriguez for doing the exact same kind of thing every time he locks down a save. That unreasonably over-the-top little dance of death he does on the mound makes my hate transcend the boundaries of being a spectator and leads to my being able to say honestly and truthfully that I hate Francisco Rodriguez the person. It is with utter contempt that I watch him get credit for a save like the one he picked up yesterday on his way towards shattering Thigpen's record. But then on the flip side, it is with utter delight that I watch him fail as spectacularly as he did tonight. Having inherited a 6-4 lead, Rodriguez faced five batters and allowed a walk, two singles, a double, and a line drive before getting yanked from a 7-6 game to a chorus of heartwarming boos. And on his way out he decided to yell at (and subsequently get ejected by) Gerry Davis for calling a zone that PITCHf/x shows to have been decidedly just. I know the Angels don't whine any more than any other team in the league, but it furthers my personal narrative to pretend that they do, so Rodriguez's tantrum greatly increased my level of glee. That was an awesome half inning.
- The bottom half was not. JJ got absolutely throttled. You talk about your major steps back. All four hitters were clearly sitting fastball, and it was a minor miracle that we so much as got to the tenth.
- I am in love with the surname "Arredondo". It's fun to say. Arredondo. On this basis alone I am selecting him as one of the few Angels for whom I can actually root. (The group now consists of Jose Arredondo, Howie Kendrick, Juan Rivera, and Tim Salmon if he ever decides to make a comeback for some reason.)
- This obviously wasn't the best start Felix has ever had, but that had a lot more to do with the Angels than with Felix doing something poorly. While that first-inning single by Vlad on the pitch at the toes stands out as the most conspicuous demonstration of freakish ability on their lineup's part to hit balls out of the zone, Teixeira's home run came on a pitch off the plate outside. It was a lot more good hitting than bad pitching tonight. At least Felix still got his eight strikeouts.
- When you stay up to watch a meteor shower during the workweek, the recovery process can take quite a bit longer than you anticipated.
- I'm beginning to suspect that Jeff Clement sucks at catching.
- Jeremy Reed in Angel Stadium: .367/.425/.582
Jeremy Reed everywhere else: .249/.304/.351
The hot hitting to impress his family and friends continues.
- A lot has been made over how the Angels are currently nine wins over their Pythagorean record, by far the biggest difference in the league. It's even been suggested that there's something systemic about the Angels as an organization that allows them to beat their Pythagorean record, as over the past five years they've beaten their run differential record by 21 games. To me, this is nothing more than the finely-tuned human brain trying to identify a pattern where there most likely isn't one. For one thing, what could the Angels possibly be doing that other teams haven't noticed? Out of all the research that's been done on this phenomenon, precious little has been learned. No one in the public domain has discovered a sustainable way for a team to comfortably beat its Pythagorean W/L, and even if the Angels were working on this behind the scenes with great success (and I don't think that's up their alley), you'd imagine someone else would've found out the same thing. I guess you could try to point to the manager as being responsible, but then why did the Angels underachieve by seven games under Scioscia between 2001-2003? What would he be doing differently now that he wasn't doing six years ago?
For another thing, why are people treating this like it's so exceptional? This year, the Angels are +9 games. That's a lot. But then last year's Diamondbacks were +11. Last year's Mariners were +9. There's nothing special about either of those two organizations. And while the Angels were +4 in 2007 and +5 in 2006, those are both well within the margin of error. There's just...I mean, let's look at it this way. The Angels have beaten their Pythagorean W/L five years in a row. If, for the sake of simplicity, you assume a 50% chance of doing that in any given season, you'd put the odds of doing what the Angels have done at 1/2^5, or 1/32. 1/32 is nothing. For the sake of comparison, Jose Lopez's established odds of hitting a home run in any given plate appearance in 2008 are 1/51, and if he were to go deep in his first at bat tomorrow no one would be treating it like some kind of miracle. It would just be a home run. Statistically, the odds of doing what the Angels have done are not the least bit improbable.
Patterns. The human mind tries to find them everywhere, and while this approach has its advantages, it also runs into trouble when it starts to identify things that aren't really there. I'm not saying it's 100% impossible that the Angels are beating their Pythagorean record due to reasons other than luck, but it's just far more likely this this is an unsustainable fluke, a matter of happenstance that in the grander scheme of things is absolutely meaningless. It's the same sort of thing with the Mariner farm system. If you look at the position players we've graduated over the past few years, a lot of the higher-profile guys have come up and really struggled at first. Clement. Balentien. Lopez. Betancourt. Jones. Choo. If you just take that for what it is, it's tempting to suggest that there must be something wrong with the organization. But again, given what we know about each player, it's far more likely that this doesn't really mean anything. Chances are there's nothing about the Mariners that makes them incapable of graduating a succesful hitting prospect. That's kind of how things have gone lately, but the take-home message from all this is that just because something happened doesn't mean there's an interesting reason behind it happening. Luck and small sample sizes have almost universal application. Remember this. You'll be better off because of it.