They said it was impossible. They said it couldn't be done, and that the Mariners were only wasting their time by trying. Undeterred by the skeptics, however, the Mariners persevered, and with a little hard work and creative innovation, were able to achieve a feat previously thought preposterous. For the Mariners managed to undo two games of progress in as few as four innings.
It's tempting to rationalize something like this by pointing to last night and calling it even. And in a way, it's true - the Angels at one point had a win expectancy of 97% yesterday, while the M's topped out at 98% today. Each team won a game they should've lost, and if you forget about the jarring heartbreak, the M's still came away on top in the series.
But while that may be the calm way to approach a loss like today's, I don't know that it's the best one, because it doesn't matter what happens in the rest of your games; any time you blow a late seven-run lead, you know something went dreadfully wrong. Yesterday was an independent event. It didn't mean anything as soon as Santana threw his first pitch. The M's built a massive advantage and gave it away, and though such accidents happen every now and again - that's why their win expectancy was never 100% - they feel devastatingly bad, and are always the fault of at least one or two goats. We should be mad. Yeah, the M's ripped the hearts out of 40,000 people last night. But today they blew a lead they shouldn't have blown, and at the end of a series that could've breathed some life into a dying hope to stay in the race, that's just about the most deflating thing they possibly could've done.
It's interesting to me to see how many different people have been getting blamed for this collapse. Aside from the obvious David Aardsma, there have been barbs volleyed in the direction of Yuniesky Betancourt, Don Wakamatsu, Bruce Hines, Adrian Beltre, Franklin Gutierrez, Garrett Olson, and Endy Chavez. Had these players done a better job in certain crucial situations, people say, the game would've ended differently.
And in some ways, they're right. Who's to say what happens if Yuni makes a play on Abreu's grounder in the sixth? If Wakamatsu doesn't intentionally walk Torii Hunter? If Hines doesn't wave in Beltre from third? If Beltre doesn't force Ichiro at home? If Gutierrez doesn't strand four guys? If Olson doesn't bean Erick Aybar? If Chavez gets Lopez home from third? All of these things could've changed the result, and if even just one of them goes differently, maybe the Mariners walk off the field celebrating a sweep.
The problem, though, is that in cases like this, win expectancy is king, and win expectancy doesn't think any of these things were nearly as significant as David Aardsma falling apart when the game mattered most.
The Mariners' odds of winning after Abreu's single were 92.2%. If Yuni somehow converts that grounder into a double play, they would've been 98.0%. That's a difference of 5.8%. The Hunter walk lowered our WE by 3.6%. 3.2% for the Hines decision. 4.9% for the Beltre FC. -5.7% for Gutierrez on the game. -0.7% for the bean ball. -2.7% for Chavez stranding Lopez.
-90.6% for David Aardsma.
In hindsight, yes, any number of things would've been nice had they gone differently than they did. But none of the things that people have pointed to really mattered that much at the time, and I can't get behind that sort of thinking. Yeah, I know I called Wakamatsu out for that intentional walk, but that decision obviously wasn't anywhere near as big as Aardsma's decision to stop throwing strikes ever, so it's not like I blame this loss on the manager. I blame it on Aardsma, because he's the one who actually blew it. And that's how I think it ought to be.
Lost in all of the late-inning drama is just how good Garrett Olson looked through the first five frames. Olson needed just 58 pitches to record 15 outs, and of those 58 pitches, 43 (74%) were strikes, and 8 (14%) were swinging strikes. The Angels hit one home run and one line drive, but weren't otherwise making real solid contact. Olson was cruising in a way that many envisioned he would back when he was one of Baltimore's top prospects. He was missing bats with his fastball and locating his secondary stuff, and against a lineup with eight righty hitters. Those were the best five innings that Olson has thrown as a Mariner, and while he's probably not long for the rotation given his sixth inning and with RRS on the way back, I should hope that he opened some eyes and convinced at least a handful of people that he should be taken seriously as an option down the road. That slurve that he threw to get Hunter in the first was a sight to behold.
While Olson was dealing his handsome heart out, the Mariner offense was giving Ervin Santana a second consecutive thrashing. Santana somehow lasted into the sixth inning, but it wasn't because of anything he was doing well; he wasn't fooling anyone, he wasn't throwing many strikes, and the fastball that helped him take a marked step foward a year ago was once again nowhere to be found. The first pitch of the game was an 89mph heater that Ichiro hit for a double, and that pretty much set the tone for Santana's entire start. The Mariners didn't let up, and Santana had to live with the damage.
In all, Santana threw 56 fastballs, ranging from 86.3-93.3mph and averaging 90.2. Four starts into his season and the velocity isn't showing any signs of picking up. What's more is that, of the 56, the Mariners only missed one, and they put 15 of them in play, racking up two homers, three doubles, and three line drive singles. The fastball that put Ervin Santana on the map currently looks like a terrible pitch, and I don't care what they say about it still being early in his season - the Angels have to be worried. They were counting on Santana being a rock in their rotation, and so far he's looked awful. Being slapped around by the Mariners should be grounds for termination.
Unfortunately the Mariners' productivity came to a halt just about the instant Santana got yanked, and while that isn't in and of itself a bad thing when you're leading 8-1, it becomes a bad thing when your starting pitcher decides that blowouts are boring. Out of nowhere Garrett Olson beaned Aybar to lead off the sixth, and that set off a sequence of the Angels hitting four consecutive first-pitch fastballs and putting four runs on the board. Neither the Figgins nor the Abreu singles were hit particularly well, so I can't hold Olson responsible for the entire mess, but the Hunter home run came as a striking reminder that there was still a lot of baseball yet to be played. The Mariners had a WE of 86.4% after Hunter went deep, but I defy anyone to come forth and say they still felt comfortable. Just like when Terry Francona brought in Pedro in relief to pitch in Game 7 against the Yankees back in 2004, the lead felt a lot more unstable than it was at the time.
Miguel Batista came in and settled things down, but just as we thought things might get relaxing again after a Jose Lopez leadoff double in the seventh, Endy and Gutierrez stranded him at third and the Angels pushed another run across in the bottom half. What's funny is that it was in that bottom half that Sean White and Vladimir Guerrero teamed up to provide one of several soothing moments that I took to be indicators that the trouble was done. White's humiliating strikeout of Guerrero in the seventh, Batista getting Napoli to fly out in the sixth, Ichiro doubling in the eighth, Napoli striking out in the eighth, Aybar flying out in the ninth - when each of these things happened, I exhaled and leaned back in my chair, confident that the worst was already over. Turns out I'm a moron.
For a scoreless inning, the eighth packed quite the punch. It came complete with frustration for everybody. First, Adrian Beltre came up with Ichiro on third and bounced into a fielder's choice on a 2-2 breaking ball way down and out. Then Griffey yanked a double into right and Bruce Hines decided to wave Beltre home even though Kendrick had the ball before Beltre even rounded third. Next, Sean White induced Mike Napoli into an inning-ending foul pop-out, but Russell Branyan failed to call off Jose Lopez and as they came together the ball bounced off of Lopez's chest. Finally, the tables turned on the Angels and Napoli blew his chance at redemption by striking out on an inside fastball. (That strikeout, by the way, being White's 11th, against 12 walks.) We headed to the ninth with the M's in good shape. Worse shape than we would've liked, but good shape nevertheless.
After the top half passed with little incident, we came to a bottom half of Aardsma against Izturis/Aybar/Figgins. It was imperative that Aardsma put himself in good position before the Angels got to the meat of their order, but with his having worked on three of the past four days, Aardsma didn't fill me with a whole lot of confidence. The walk to Izturis certainly didn't help, and following Aybar's fly out with a walk to Figgins put us in a world of trouble. Now, the pitch on which Figgins actually walked was a strike according to Gameday, but that aside, Aardsma clearly didn't have whatever level of command it is that he usually has, and that made for a nasty situation with the 3-4-5 coming up to bat.
Over the next two at bats, Aardsma did his job. Now, granted, a right-handed pitcher with little control generally doesn't want to fall behind a talented lefty 3-1, but Aardsma got Abreu to fly to left on an outside fastball in what felt like a stay of execution, and then he jammed Vlad with an inside heater and induced an opposite-field pop up, that, based on the contact, should've ended the game. It just so happened that Vlad placed the ball perfectly down the line and wound up with maybe the girliest double of his life. The Angels were still kicking, and they were sending a rejuvenated Torii Hunter to the plate with the winning run 180 feet away.
At this point, Aardsma had thrown 9 strikes out of 20 pitches, so I didn't much care for Wakamatsu's decision to put Hunter on and load the bases for Juan Rivera. Pitch to Hunter and you're worried about his ability to get a hit. Pitch to Rivera with nowhere to put him and you're worried about his ability to get on base. It's not like there was any platoon issue to take into consideration. Wakamatsu was just scared off by Hunter's terrific start to the year and wanted to pitch to someone worse, and though I get why he felt that way, I can't understand loading the bases with a one-pitch pitcher who couldn't locate. Even if you are afraid of Hunter's bat, at the very least why not just try to pitch around him instead of walking him outright? He's not the most disciplined hitter in the world, and you might be able to get some weak contact. I suppose Wakamatsu might've been scared of Aardsma piping a fastball that was supposed to be off the plate, but then if you're worried about your closer missing by that much, maybe he shouldn't be closing the game.
Anyway, Hunter jogged to first and Juan Rivera came up with the bases loaded. This happened.
David Aardsma threw a good first-pitch slider in the zone that got called a ball, then followed that with a borderline high fastball that also got called a ball. After two pitches, Aardsma should've either been ahead 0-2 or even 1-1, but instead he found himself in a terrible mess and couldn't recover. Rivera drew a four-pitch walk, and the tying run came in from third base.
I could sit here and complain for hours about the injustice of inconsistent umpires. Gameday and PITCHf/x have only served to elevate my level of dissatisfaction with umpire strike zones, and a case could be made that Bill Miller put David Aardsma in a bad situation he didn't deserve with the game on the line. But realistically, this is something we have to live with, and it's not like I can pretend that Aardsma obviously would've come back with better pitches to save the game had he gotten a call or two. He wasn't putting the ball where he wanted to, and who's to say that things wouldn't have gone just the same after going 0-1?
Rivera's walk took all the wind out of my sails, and lacking the stomach to go to extra innings, Morales' game-winning single that followed almost came as a relief. Ironically, Morales' hit came on maybe the one pitch that Aardsma located perfectly all inning long. Aardsma put a 2-2 fastball right on the low-away corner of the zone, but Morales got his bat on it and stung a grounder the other way to drive home Gary Matthews. The game was over, and everything the Mariners had accomplished through the first two games felt like it had gone for naught. That isn't true, of course - the Mariners did manage to gain a game on the Angels - but this was as crushing as a defeat ever comes, and I'd call it a statement game if we hadn't already established that that's a bullshit expression.
So we begin June at 24-27, two back of the Angels and 6.5 back of the Rangers. I don't think we're going to sell. Not yet. The two wins in Anaheim gave the team a little life, and the next 21 games come against teams with a combined record of 115-138. There is an opportunity here for the M's to go on a bit of a run, and with the Rangers drawing a much tougher schedule, Zduriencik might want to wait and see where we stand in three weeks. But just because that's the situation now doesn't mean that'll be the situation later, and if the Orioles roll through Safeco and deal a beatdown, then everything changes in a hurry. This team is hanging from the cliff by its fingers, and it's in a race to pull itself up before something tickly comes along.