And so we're to that point in the year where it becomes less about wanting to see these guys win at all costs and more about wanting to see them be happy. It's a transition that, I think, makes you more forgiving, and it's with that in mind that I'd like to congratulate Miguel Batista on a job well done. He made that ninth inning look easy.
We've flipped Batista a lot of crap for a long time. It'd be hard to say he didn't deserve it. From his poor performance to his laborious pace to his seeming aloofness and detachment from his teammates, he didn't do a whole lot to win anyone over. He just never really looked like he cared very much, and as a professional athlete, that's a bad attitude to convey. He never endeared himself to the fan base, and the list of people counting down the days until his contract expires would take longer to read off than the time between any two of Miguel's pitches.
But fanhood changes as the summer winds down and you realize you're not playing for anything. When you root for a competiting team, it's all about performance. It has to be. You're cutthroat about it, because you know you need the best performance to bring home a title. When you root for a team that's faded out of it, though, it becomes less about the numbers and more about the actual players. More about finding enjoyment in the fact that the players are still enjoying themselves despite being out of the race. It's a different sort of satisfaction, but a fulfilling one. Smiles and celebrations give us glimpses of personality, and nothing draws us closer to the players than when they come across as people.
After Miguel Batista struck out Taylor Teagarden to end the game, he leapt in the air and pumped his fists in a rare display of emotion. And where a few months ago I might've joked about it, tonight I just feel genuinely happy for him. Miguel Batista is a person. We have no reason to believe that he's a bad person, and a handful of reasons to believe he's a good one. There are any number of explanations for why he's done things the way he's done them, and just because he works slowly or doesn't participate in the bullpen hijinks is no reason to wish him ill. People are different. And Miguel Batista is a 38 year old reliever coming off a couple rough years. This very well could have been the final appearance of his career, and so for him to nail down a save in such dominating fashion...Miguel was able to close out a difficult chapter and perhaps a whole book with a fairytale ending, and no matter how frustrating he's been in the past, you have to feel good that he feels good. Every author knows the power of a strong conclusion.
Tomorrow afternoon, we're going to say goodbye to Ken Griffey Jr. Even if he's not actually going away. He's going to receive a rousing, thunderous ovation twenty years in the making. But while Griffey's will get all the press, there are dozens of stories in that clubhouse, stories at different stages, some building up and some winding down, but all of them changing. Though they're not all best-sellers, every single one of them means the world. Take a moment to recognize as many as you can, if only because every story in there has in some way affected your own.
- A strong way for Ryan Rowland-Smith to cap off a year that wound up way better than anyone would've imagined back in May. RRS breezed through the better part of the first six innings, and though he got himself into trouble there in the seventh with the Elvis Andrus ground-rule double, he pitched himself two-thirds of the way out of the jam before letting Shawn Kelley finish the job. I've said it a million times before, but while pitcher wins don't mean much of anything to us, they mean a ton to the pitchers themselves, and so after losing his win late against Toronto the last time out, tonight RRS is probably one part relieved and two parts ecstatic that he was able to come away with win #5. I'm sure he would've rather taken care of the seventh inning himself, but realistically, this is just about how every pitcher wants to close out his season.
In twelve starts a year ago, RRS posted a walk rate of 8.7%. This year he trimmed it to 6.7% while slightly raising his strikeouts. Once the injuries were behind him, he answered every question.
- RRS also happened to turn one of the more unusually impressive double plays I've ever seen. With men on the corners and one down in the top of the sixth, Marlon Byrd hit a comebacker on the ground that RRS fielded in midair, behind his back, and between his legs, before firing to second. It was a powerful reminder of the effectiveness of instant human reaction, which, when considered in conjunction with Jose Lopez's error problem on slower groundballs, causes me to entertain the unexpected possibility that Lopez's problem is that he thinks too much.
- Before the game, David Aardsma and Mark Lowe apologized to Jason Vargas for costing him a win last night. Inspired, Alan Cockrell left notes in every pitcher's locker.
- Sometime in the early going, Dave Sims mentioned the
' positive record and negative run differential in the same sentence. I know sometimes it doesn't seem like it, but between things like this and all the previous on-air talk about UZR and OOZ and so forth, we have to have one of the more statistically-advanced broadcasts in baseball. I like Sims for always being so genuine and enthusiastic, but I think what I love about our broadcast the most is that it so rarely says anything stupid. Godspeed, Hendu.
- Weed used to bother me. It used to bother me a lot, and even though, in my head, I knew that it wasn't meaningfully different from drinking, it still took ages to get over whatever obstacle it was and let my brain's reaction be my body's. With that said, one of my greatest regrets is that, even after five years, I still haven't come to terms with the fact that chasing after bad pitches is just part of Adrian Beltre's overall package. Intellectually, I know it's not a big deal. Every player has flaws, and it's not fair to ask them to be perfect. But for some reason, though I'm perfectly willing to accept, say, RRS' fly balls or Russell Branyan's strikeouts, I still respond to Beltre's fishing exploits the same way I did in 2005. "STOP! JUST STOP AND DON'T DO THAT!!" I don't know what it is about certain players that makes us always want them to be better, but I'm afraid that's a burden that Beltre's going to have to shoulder as long as he plays. Unless he maybe stops swinging at those God damn unhittable pitches.
- Andruw Jones was once the premier defensive outfielder in baseball. Now he's a fat DH with the occasional spell at first base. He's 32. The way he bluffed towards third on his fifth inning double looked just like how Yuni used to bluff towards any groundball hit to his left.
- Kelley got the job done in the top of the seventh, but realistically, Franklin Gutierrez is the reason Michael Young didn't pick up a three-run double. Young smoked a pitch to deep center field that kept slicing to the right, but Guti read it off the bat immediately, set off in a dead sprint, and arrived so quickly that he actually had to slow down before making the catch. This isn't a play I can do justice with words. There wasn't anything visually spectacular about it. He didn't have to dive or leave his feet or crash into the wall. It was just a display of how perfect instincts and awesome range can make a nigh-impossible play look almost easy. When Gutierrez ran it down, I thought "well I guess that wasn't as difficult a play as I thought," but the more I reflected on it, the more I realized that there aren't many other outfielders in the league who track that ball down. Gutierrez is just that much better than pretty much everyone else. And he has a bad knee.
- Griffey's line drive home run just barely had enough to squeak out. Hopefully that means he saved up enough strength to hit another one tomorrow. If I have to watch another Mariner legend end his career with a double play I'm going to be mad as a wet hen.