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15-10, Recap

Over the course of the season, some games just blur into one another. After all, there are 162 of them, and it's crazy to get worked up over just one, no matter how important. Most games are eminently forgettable. And some games are like this. Actually, that's selling it short. No games are like this. If by some stroke of providence, we make the postseason by one game, this was the game. We stole a game we had no right to win against a team which could have drawn some serious momentum from taking a series away from us at Safeco Field. Baseball doesn't get any better than this.

The top of the first did not go well for Chris Jakubauskas, coming off what will doubtless hold up as the best start of his career in Chicago. Two grounders made their way up the middle for hits, with Yuni(!) almost making a superb diving play and flip to second off the second. With two on and nobody out, Jak managed to coax a groundball out of Jason Giambi, which moved the runners over, and then one more from Matt Holliday to allow the first run of the game. Still, the damage was limited and there was only one more out to get in the inning. Jak then followed the sensible strategy of attempting to confound Jack Cust with bendy things, but as it turns out, if you throw three straight slow curves in the strike zone, even Cust can figure it out. 1-0 with two outs turned quickly into 3-0, with Wladimir Balentien (who Wakamatsu had wisely decided to start over Chavez against left-hander Josh Outman) scaling the wall in a futile attempt to get within 20 feet of the ball.  Another groundout soon followed, but the game felt unwinnable from the second the ball came off Cust's bat. It's probably worth noting that Jakubauskas really didn't have a bad first inning. He got 5 ground balls, and the only ball hit in the air against him goes over the fence. Curse at him for giving up those runs all you like, but that was bad luck, plain and simple. It could just as easily have been 1-2-3.

Ichiro led off the bottom of the inning with an infield hit which was inexplicably ruled an out by the first base umpire. It was a pretty shocking decision, and it wasn't particularly close, either. Lopez struck out on an 8 pitch at bat featuring four pitches well out of the zone, and Sweeney Sweenied all over himself for an easy groundout. Fortunately the A's decided to match our offensive efforts for a while and the game stayed 3-0 going into the bottom of the fourth, with the only plays of note a Wlad double down the left field line in the second and a nifty little pickoff of Kurt Suzuki at third to end the top half of the fourth.

A leadoff line drive single by Jose Lopez raised some hopes of a Mariner comeback, and then Josh Outman threw a first pitch changeup to Mike Sweeney, who absolutely annihilated the ball into deep left field. As the ball flew over the out of town scoreboard, Sweeney pointed southeast, a moment reminiscent of Ben Broussard's epic home run two years ago. The official explanation is that the bench coach had let Mike know to sit on a first pitch change up and the point was a gesture of thanks, but I think we all know what he was actually pointing at. A lot of folks think Sweeney is washed up, but he's been consistently good this year and seems to be heating up. I'm more than happy to have him platoon at DH with Junior, especially with Shelton scuffling in Tacoma. A couple of strikeouts, a walk (by Balentien!), and a groundout closed the innings without the threat of any more runs coming in, but we were on the board, and for the first time there was hope.

Jakubauskas made a good attempt at ruining that hoping pretty much immediately, with Mariner-killer Gregorio Petit leading off the fifth with a double, a single putting him in scoring position, and a sacrifice fly putting the game two runs away. The sac fly signaled the end of the day for Jak, who put together a decent start, which not even bad luck could totally ruin. Sean White was called into the pen, and bracketed a walk to Jason Giambi with easy popups. The Mariners responded quickly, going 1-2-3 on 14 pitches. It still felt like a loss, and the 6th featured two line drives and two fly balls for Oakland hitting. White was looking extremely dicey out there, but no harm was done. In the bottom half of the inning, Beltre deigned to hit the ball hard with a man on, but in typical Beltre fashion the ball decided to snuggle up to Matt Holiday's glove rather than going to the wall for a double. At this point we had about a 22% chance of pulling out a win.

Denny Stark made his first appearance in the top of the 7th, and didn't exactly pitch brilliantly, leaving two men on base with two outs for Mark Lowe to mop up with a strikeout of Matt Holliday. Wlad, who had a fantastic day at the plate, led off the bottom half of the inning with a line drive back through the middle, and the equally impressive Franklin Gutierrez walked him to second base (one of three free passes on the day drawn by Guti). Yuni was Yuni, and then suddenly there were two outs with Ichiro at the plate and a man in scoring position. Ichiro took a pitch before punching a ground ball off the mound and into centre field for the third run of the game, plating Guti. Rather predictably, as it wasn't a 7-7 tie with the bases loaded, Loafie decided flying out to Ryan Sweeney would be a grand idea, and the game went on.

Lowe and Kelley both had pretty easy innings in the 8th and 9th respectively, but things weren't looking good going into the bottom of the 9th. Rajai Davis had replaced Jack Cust and Hannahan was subbed in for Giambi, meaning the A's had a pretty good defence, and Springer managed to get Wlad out courtesy of a great diving play by Orlando Cabrera. Our win expectancy stood at 11.8% with one out in the bottom of the 9th. The Mariners had not come back from being down after the 5th inning all season long. Edit: Apart from the one time they did and I forgot. 'Fuck this game,' I said to myself, and not for the first time today.

One pitch later, it was 58.8%. Kenji Johjima, whose offensive production to date had come exclusively in the form of singles, took a high fastball down the pipe and hit the ball about as hard as he ever has in a Mariner jersey, absolutely cranking it off the back of the bullpen wall. Dave Sims, making the call on television, seemed stunned by Kenji actually making use of a Kenji power pitch, not really noticing that the ball had a shot to leave the yard until it cleared the left field fence. Holliday barely even flinched.

Russ Springer was flustered, as evidenced by a bunt single laid down by Gutierrez and a line drive into left courtesy of Yuni. Suddenly, the game was winnable. Winning run in scoring position for Ichiro? With one out? For a game that just a few minutes ago seemed like it was ready to make a massive dent in our playoff aspirations, it was almost perverse to think we could steal it, and yet it was there for the taking. We just so happened to screw it up. A strikeout and a groundball later, and we were heading to extras, in a game that we couldn't possibly win, because we never win when this sort of thing happens.

Aardsma had an easy 10th, an inning notable only for an irredeemably bad call on strike three to Rajai Davis:

If that at-bat hadn't resulted in a swinging strikeout on the next pitch, we'd be up in arms about it. Seriously, how do you ever call that pitch a ball? Ever?

Still, no real harm was done, and left-hander Gio Gonzalez (whom you might remember from the Nick Swisher trade last year) was brought in to face the heart of the order, who went down pretty easily, with only Beltre offering any real resistance when he rolled one into centre field after an 11 pitch battle, of which there were two pitches thrown in the strike zone.

Aardsma was one and done as ex-starter Miguel Batista came in to try to shut the A's down in the 11th. He actually did a reasonable job, despite allowing a leadoff single to erstwhile designated hitter Kurt Suzuki, inducing a groundout and a popup after a sacrifice bunt by Bobby Crosby moved Suzuki to second. Kenji tried to repeat his 9th inning heroics to leadoff our half of the frame, but hit a pretty easy flyout to right-centre instead, which was followed up by an eight-pitch walk to Gutierrez. Yuni finally saw a pitch he could handle on an 0-2 count and smashed it down the left field line, but the A's were playing a no-doubles defence and instead of putting the winning run at third with one out, the at-bat turned into a double play.

The top of the 12th was quick and easy; the one blemish a two-out walk to Jack Hannahan which Matt Holliday failed to capitalise on, and Ichiro decided to jack one out on the second pitch he saw. Unfortunately, he just missed, and the ball came down in Ryan Sweeney's glove, to the relief of Gonazalez, who refused to watch the play, turning away as soon as the ball came off the bat. After a Lopez flyout, Cabrera turned a slick play on a Sweeney ground ball, and to the top of the 13th we went.

In his defence, Miguel Batista got squeezed:

In the umpire's defence, it was Rajai Davis and who the fuck walks Rajai Davis even with three called strikes magically transformed into balls? Once Davis, who's always a major threat to steal, got aboard, the game ground to a halt, as Tits spent more effort trying to keep him on first than he did actually pitching to Kurt Suzuki. Naturally, despite Batsita trying to lure him into a coma by taking five minutes between each pitch, Davis stole second, and thanks to an errant throw by Johjima that skipped under Lopez's glove and into centre field, we found ourselves with the go-ahead run at third and no outs. Batsita managed to get Suzuki to whiff on a nasty slider, before plunking Crosby to bring up Petit, who'd absolutely mangled us all weekend. This was a huge at-bat. Getting an out without a run scoring meant we could wriggle out of a huge jam without coughing up to the lead, because everyone watching knew damn well that we weren't going to come back in one inning twice in one game.

Called strike. Foul (on a pitch miles inside). Swinging strike. Hope! We hadn't fucked up! Now all it'd take is an out, no matter how you got it, and we'd have a shot at winning the game in the bottom half of the inning. Batista, no stranger to destroying the hopes of M's fans around the world, decided to spice things up by throwing a full count fastball right down the middle to Landon Powell, who hammered a two-run double down the right field line. 'Fuck this game,' I said to myself. Our win expectancy was 8.3%. Loafie then bobbled a play at second, which really hurt when Cabrera punched a ball through the right side of the infield to pick up Powell. Down three in the 13th, we can be forgiven for barely noticing Jason Vargas's Mariner debut when he came in to strike out Hannahan.

There was no way we could hope to come back against Gio Gonzalez, who had cruised through our lineup for three innings. Even a leadoff hit by Beltre didn't do a whole lot for our hopes, especially when Branyan followed that up with an easy fly ball for Davis. Wlad smacked a line drive to centre, and suddenly the tying run was at the plate. Still, I reasoned, there was no way in hell lightning would strike twice in one game. Then Johjima drew his first walk of the year on five pitches to load the bases with no outs. We are all hoping for a Guti grand slam, but what we got says a lot about the mindset of our new centrefielder. He was absolutely not going to swing unless forced to after that walk to Johjima, and it paid off as he too drew a free pass on five pitches to bring the score to 7-5.

The Lopez error was looking catstrophic at this point, as without it the tying run would have been at third with just one down. Yuni did his best to force a battle, finally grounding out after eight pitches while driving in a run, putting us to two outs, down 7-6, with the game on the line for Ichiro. Suddenly it felt winnable again. I don't know about the rest of you, but I still have absolute faith in Ichiro, especially in critical situations like this. Six pitches later, the count was full, and we were fuming about Ichiro chasing pitches out of the zone on a three-ball count. The next pitch was stung past Orlando Cabrera to score Endy Chavez, who'd pinch run for Johjima and suddenly the game was tied - a game we'd deserved to lose not once but twice. Seriously, after the Branyan out we had a slightly worse than 1/20 chance of winning, on top of the fact that we'd already had to come back in the 9th. We had to win then, with all the momentum going our way, before Oakland remembered that they were actually beating the living crap out of us all game. Lopez then popped to third on a 2-0 count. Andrew Bailey, who probably would have shut us down, started warming up and sat down no less than three times in this inning. I have no idea why Geren left Gonzalez out there to suck it up in a save situation if Bailey was able to throw. At this point, I was just hoping that we'd manage to get around to Ichiro again, as I was convinced that if we were going to win the game, he'd be the hero.

Vargas was impressive, striking out the first two he faced in the top of the 14th before a walk to Suzuki ruined his streak. An easy groundout soon followed, though, and we moved on to the bottom half of the inning. Sweeney and Beltre were easy outs, but things got interesting when Holliday Raul'd a line drive single by Russ Branyan (who'd been 0-6 until then) into a double, leaving Balentien an opportunity to drive in a run to win the game. The A's wanted nothing to do with any of that, so they walked Wlad to get to Rob Johnson, who predictably lofted a weak fly ball into right field that was easily run down by Ryan Sweeney. On the second pitch. Call it personal bias but I'm glad he didn't win the game for us then.

Things got dicey in the top of the 15th, with singles by Petit and Sweeney bracketing a strikeout of Landon Powell. Fortunately, Sweeney's single only took Petit to second, and two easy outs followed. Vargas was looking calm and composed, locating pitches well and extracting himself effectively from any messes. It's pretty nice to have a lefty in the pen, especially one with the stamina of a starting pitcher. I'm sure that having Jason Vargas throw 45 pitches in his debut wasn't exactly what Zduriencik has in mind when he was brought up, but it seemed to work out ok.

Dana Eveland, who started against us on Friday, came in to relieve Gio Gonzalez. Gutierrez took two pitches before hitting a line drive to right-centre, but stopped at first when he had a decent chance at second. A sac bunt was called for, and Yuni obliged, laying down one of the worst bunts that Safeco Field has ever witnessed straight back to the pitcher. Eveland had Guti dead to rights at second, and a shot at a double play, but his throw tailed on him and flew past Orlando Cabrera and into left field (what is it with Yuni bunting and pitcher throwing errors? That's two crucial, pretty much game-ending mistakes by opposing pitchers on Yuni bunts already this year). Gutierrez ended up at third, and Yuni turned on the jets and ended up at second. Suddenly we looked like winning the game, and for the first time all afternoon I felt completely comfortable. After Ichiro had stung them in the 13th, the A's naturally declined to pitch to him, giving him a free pass to bring up Jose Lopez with the score tied 7-7 and the bases loaded.

Deja vu, anyone?

It was actually an abysmal at-bat. In that situation, you're fine with anything but a strikeout or a popup, and on the fifth pitch, on a 1-2 count, Loafie skied a weak pop fly to centre field. I was about ready to hurl myself out of the window in shame when Dave's voice rose on the radio, and I saw Rajai Davis waddling around like a befuddled duck in centre field. The ball dropped, and Gutierrez pranced on home. The ball dropped! A game we never deserved to win was ended on a routine pop fly to shallow centre field, and somehow the Mariners had pulled a series against the A's out of their asses, turning a nasty defeat at home into a massive triumph.

There's absolutely no doubt that this was the biggest win of the season so far, and even Ichiro got in the festivities, jumping all over Lopez as one of the first on scene to congratulate him. The entire team was beside themselves with joy, and Oakland looked like they'd just taken a sledgehammer to the scrotum. This is the sort of game that defines seasons, and this year is looking a lot more special than it did after 12.5 innings of play.

Other notes:

  • Chris Jakubauskas has an Ichiro! bobblehead in his locker.
  • Five Mariners were responsible for a total of 1.5 wins. Lopez was the least useful player on the day, despite his walkoff single, as the game was essentially won at that point anyway, and he'd screwed up a lot in previous high-leverage at-bats.
  • Sweeney's HR was his 200th of his career.
  • This game lasted longer than the doubleheader last Tuesday.
  • Thank god Brad Ziegler had the flu.
  • We're at 24.6% of our win total from 2008. It's May 3rd.
  • No minor league recap today, I'll incorporate this week's talking points into next week's. But Michael Saunders is back and awesome.
  • Gio Gonzalez has amazing hair.
  • This is our first victory of the season in which we've never held a lead going into an at-bat.
  • WE WON WE WON WE WON WE WON WE dklhfewklbjqwkjlebqwe;ouiwefb23ih23ouewfdjbqkw3r4;oi2h3