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I was wondering how my brain would respond to this game. As you may have noticed, I have a bit of a soft spot for Tampa Bay, a team whose window is only just now beginning to open and a team that, of the remaining contenders, I want to win the Series more than everyone else combined. They are the first bandwagon I've jumped in several years, and I'm not the least bit ashamed to admit it.

However, you've probably also noticed that I have a bit of a soft spot for Felix as well. And the team he plays for is okay too. So I knew from the get-go that I'd likely be feeling conflicted. On the one hand, I want the Rays to win as many games as possible to force at least one of Boston and New York to stay home, but on the other, I hate to lose on Felix Day, not only because it makes me feel bad, but also because it makes Felix feel bad, and Felix is not a man this organization can afford to upset. Felix is a man you want to keep happy, and as meaningless as they are to the rest of us, nothing lifts a pitcher's spirits quite like a win.

I was thusly torn between pulling for mutually exclusive events. I love Felix and I love the Mariners, but I also like Andy Sonnanstine and I like the Rays, and I love the idea of the Sox or Yankees watching October from home. I tried to talk my way through it. I tried to convince myself to pull for a narrow loss in which the winning run wasn't Felix's fault. Then I tried to convince myself to pull for a narrow win in which the winning run wasn't Sonnanstine's fault. My mind ran through a thousand variations on the same two ideas as I tried my hardest to select the one that would leave me most satisfied, but as game time approached, I couldn't get it sorted out. The rational part of my brain was unable to determine for which scenario I should root.

And so I sat and I watched somewhat dispassionately, cheering for both teams while cheering for neither. The low score kept me happy as both pitchers were throwing incredibly well, but even when the Mariners tied things up in the eighth, I still couldn't choose. This wasn't a solution I'd be able to calculate.

When logic fails, however, there is emotion. And while for eight innings I couldn't figure out which team I wanted to win, it became abundantly clear upon JJ's strikeout of Cliff Floyd what I really wanted in my heart of hearts. The Rays could feel free to do whatever they desire over the rest of the series, but tonight, I wanted nothing more than for Felix and the home team to walk off all smiles. JJ's strikeout had tapped into a chamber of feelings I'd previously been unable to open, and each of those feelings agreed that tonight should belong to the M's.

I can't remember the last time I blasted ACDC and danced around like a white idiot after a win. It must've been Opening Day. That's more than four months between celebrations that a year ago seemed to come up a few times a week. That's incredibly depressing when you think about it, but the fact that, if only for a night, each and every one of us was reminded of what the good times can feel like...I tell you what, in the words of Jonny Gomes - it doesn't suck. I like this high. I miss this high.

This game was awesome.


Biggest Contribution: Felix, +35.1%
Biggest Suckfest: Jeff Clement, -16.3%
Most Important AB: Ibanez funk blast, +36.5%
Most Important Pitch: Floyd strikeout, +18.9%
Total Contribution by Pitcher(s): +48.6%
Total Contribution by Lineup: -1.1%
Total Contribution by Opposition: +2.5%
(What is this chart?)

  • I don't have any complaints about how Felix pitched today. For the 95th time in his 95-start career, he could've located the ball a little better than he did, but the Rays threw out a starting lineup with seven lefties, and Felix did a hell of a job in making the best of a tough situation. Not only was he able to throw eight innings, he was able to throw eight efficient innings, going 105 pitches and generating 15 grounders on 22 balls in play (68%). Tampa couldn't get much air under the ball and only hit three line drives, which served to minimize whatever harm Felix was doing himself by missing some of his spots. The only run he allowed came on a ball that Clement probably should've blocked. All in all, a solid effort.

    It was pretty clear throughout the game that Felix's plan was to stay away from lefties and try to avoid giving them anything middle-in to yank down the line. Check out his location scatterplot:


    Look at how often he pitched lefties away. 37% of his pitches to lefties were over the outer half and another 42% were off of the outer half, with only a handful ending up in the middle-in wheelhouse (such as the changeup that Navarro stung for a double). Seems like a pretty smart approach to me, even if it isn't anything all that unusual. And Felix was pretty determined to stick to it, to the point of occasionally being a little stubborn:


    ...but whatever works. I'd rather Felix walk a guy than come over the middle of the plate because he doesn't have perfect command. They may not make for the sexiest line score, but you can get away with your fair share of imperfections when you're keeping the ball on the ground. Sometimes you end up in a situation in which walking a guy is among the better things you can do, and realizing that is and will continue to be a big part of Felix's development.

  • Andy Sonnanstine is the strike-thrower the Mariners thought Carlos Silva was going to be. He also has a broad enough array of pitches to make it work without being entirely at the mercy of his defense, and when you put those things together, you end up with a guy who's not only good, but fast, as Sonnanstine plowed his way through 7.1 innings on only 85 pitches. There's a reason this game barely took two hours - Felix was getting grounder after grounder, and Sonnanstine was pounding the zone and letting our lineup get itself out as it's been doing all summer long. Miguel Batista could throw a perfect game in which he strikes out every batter he faces and it still wouldn't be as much fun to watch as the game tonight, because like few other things I love a pitcher with a quick tempo. You're cool, Andy. I like you. May you go on to earn the respect you so rightly deserve.

  • JJ got five fastballs up past 97mph tonight. All of them strikes. This was the best he's looked in a while (not that he's really made that many appearances in a while), and his strikeout of Navarro to end the inning was completely unfair. After getting him started with one of those lefty strikes just off the outer black, he came back with an outside fastball above the belt, then an outside fastball at the letters, and followed that up with a low-away splitter for the 0-2 swinging strikeout. That's the kind of thing that JJ gained by learning the splitter in the first place. Years ago he would've kept trying to put Navarro away with a high fastball, but since adding the pitch, he's been able to change a guy's eye level to look for the high fastball before dropping in a brutal split. That's what elevated him from middle reliever to relief ace, and that's why I'm still holding out hope that he can return to being what he was for two years. He's not there yet, but tonight was a giant step in the right direction. The Longoria HBP was just an 0-2 splitter that got away, and even the Pena single was but a bit of good hitting on a fastball off the plate. A good night for JJ, and a great night for the Mariners. May the progress continue.