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23-26, Summary

This whole slide that the Mariners have gone into headfirst got me thinking about the future. I entertained some thoughts of making the playoffs back when they were playing well and leading the oddsboards, but once the slump hit, I was struck by how readily I conceded the season and turned my eye to 2010. One could argue that it was just a defense mechanism, that after past experiences I was protecting myself from disappointment, but realistically, their odds haven't been real good for a while, now, and given everything that's happened in May it's safe to call this team a longshot. And so it was that we came to this weekend with me fully expecting a few losses to trigger the sell-off.

As such, I wasn't really prepared for this. Not only did the Mariners win; they won somewhat comfortably, after having countered John Lackey with Jason Vargas. When I thought about the effects this weekend could have on the season, not once did I consider the possibility that the Mariners could sweep, and while that's obviously still a long ways away from happening...what if? It's something we should probably think about. Lose the next two and we're toast, but win the next two and all of a sudden the M's are even with the Angels, and Zduriencik will have a tough time pulling the trigger on anything that makes us worse in the here and now.

Thinking about a sweep is almost annoying. Only a Mariners fan would say that, but it's true, because I've eased the pain of the last few weeks by saying it's good for the big picture, and thinking about getting back in the race pushes that off to the side. I hate vacillating on stuff like that, and wins like tonight's aren't helping matters. This team needs to figure out what it is so that the rest of us can adjust our expectations accordingly.

I guess there's not much sense in talking about the effect of a sweep unless we actually sweep. For now, it's just one win. But it's a good win, a win that blows some air over the dying embers of the season. I suppose we'll just have to live with the inconvenience of a wishy-washy year for a little while longer.

This was a weird start for Jason Vargas. Statistically, it wasn't very good, as he neither missed many bats nor threw many strikes, but he never really felt like he was in any danger until the bottom of the seventh. I'd guess that's mainly a perception thing based on the fact that he was getting a lot of quick outs. Quick outs create the illusion that a pitcher's in control, and that's exactly how it felt for six innings tonight. The Angels were taking some good swings, but because Vargas only needed 74 pitches to get through six frames, the game just felt comfortable. I don't know that it should have, but there you go. It helps that two of the three line drives the Angels hit off Vargas over that span were caught, with Bobby Abreu's turning into a double play in the sixth. Put those runners on instead of calling them out and it might've been a different ballgame.

Nevertheless, Vargas instilled confidence in interested onlookers until a bit of a struggle in the seventh. Maybe he was tired - I'm still not used to thinking of Vargas as a guy capable of throwing 100 pitches a start - but three consecutive baserunners knocked him out of the game and forced him to rely on Sean White to protect the lead (which he did). Vargas probably wanted to put up another seven-inning start, as that would only boost his case for remaining in the rotation, but honestly, I have to think the team will look at his low ERA and leave him be. He hasn't pitched nearly as well as his run prevention would suggest, but he looks to be a better bet at this point than Olson or Jakubauskas, so he needn't worry. He's done his job, and he's done his job well. That Putz trade was a damn fleecing.

The offense, meanwhile, sprinkled just enough competence into the bowl of batter to finally come away with something other than the usual batch of retarded macaroons. For the record, though, I wouldn't be too proud of the three-run third. That inning was built off of the following events:

1) bloop single
2) bloop single
3) single on an 0-2 curve in the dirt
4) four-pitch walk where Lackey totally lost his command
5) 40-foot infield single
6) opposite field sac fly in an at bat where Griffey swung at three balls

It was a sustained rally, but it wasn't impressive, and I don't even know that it was all that fundamentally sound. It was just a string of chance occurrences with a handful of decent swings and one single that only Ichiro could hit.

Later on, though, the lineup looked better. The M's in the sixth inning used the right combination of Branyan power and smallball to push across an insurance run, and the eighth saw Branyan and Jose Lopez hit back-to-back homers to left to knock Lackey out of the game. Now, of course, they didn't each get credit for their homers. Only Lopez got credit in the box score. But they both hit the ball to the same exact place, so it seems silly to reward one player while penalizing the other. As far as I'm concerned, Russell Branyan has 12 God damn homers, and I don't much care what Juan Rivera has to say about it.

Seriously, though, I think this about captures my reaction during the whole sequence:

Me: YES! Branyan!
Me: wait
Me: no he didn't just
Me: whoa
Me: ahahahahahahahahahahahahahhaha
Me: What?!?
Me: baaaaaaaaahahahahahahahahahahaha

It was among the most improbable sequences of events I've ever seen in a baseball game. Maybe it even tops the list. And though on the one hand I think it's funny that Lopez's homer off of Rivera's glove left Angel fans unable to enjoy Rivera's amazing catch for even thirty seconds, a big part of me wishes that Rivera had been able to come up with the second one as well. Some things are just so historically significant that you find yourself having to root against your own team's best interests, and this was one of those things. Maybe not so much at the time, but definitely in retrospect, because the sheer odds of hitting two consecutive fly balls to the exact same place beyond the left field wall are so unthinkably slim that having the outfielder come back with them both in his glove would be the equivalent of Juan Rivera telling probability to go fuck itself sideways and then giving it a dismissive wanking motion as it turned around and left. This was Rivera's chance. This was his chance to carve his name into the stone tablet of baseball lore. But misjudging Lopez's fly by a couple inches means that he'll instead have to live with making the season-ending highlight package. Robbing one home run is awesome. Robbing two home runs back-to-back is the stuff of legends. Way to blow it, Juan. I'm sorry for him that he couldn't do it, and I'm sorry for me that I couldn't see it.

The five runs proved to be enough. Branyan took back two of the four bases he lost by catching consecutive line drives in the bottom of the eighth, and though Aardsma again made a lot of people dizzy and nervous, he was able to slam the door with an 0-2 fastball to Mike Napoli that was too high to crush. It was both the perfect pitch and a dangerous one, because while its location couldn't have been better, Aardsma isn't exactly known for his pinpoint command, and missing a few inches lower would've given Napoli a good shot at tying the game in an instant. But whatever. The pitch was good, and it ended the game. The Mariners limited their number of head-slapping fuck-ups, and in the end they had a shiny new win to show for it.

Tomorrow, things get interesting. The M's are still three games under .500 and two back of the Angels, but with Felix going up against the laughably nondescript Matt Palmer, there stands a real chance that come 9:30 we'll either be cursing at Felix for pitching like an idiot, or looking ahead to a chance of a sweep. Felix Day can be so dramatically hit-or-miss.