Looking back on it, there were a lot of firsts for me at the ballpark tonight.
It was my first time seeing someone hit a ball into those planters beyond the home bullpen. Petco isn't an easy place to hit. It doesn't allow many no-doubters. Leaving aside the fly balls that Khalil Greene used to pull directly down the line towards the Western Metal building, I've only ever witnessed two no-doubter home runs at Petco Park - Rene Rivera into the upper deck a few years ago, and Franklin Gutierrez into the planters tonight. That ball was hit so hard it'll be telling its friends and teachers that it fell down the stairs for months. Recently I'd noticed that Franklin wasn't hitting for as much power as I expected. Hopefully his blast off Correia is a sign of things to come. That was easily the best contact he's made all year.
It was my first time seeing Franklin make an incredible play in center field. I mean, I watched him make that catch in Minnesota on my computer, but until today I hadn't seen him go to work in person. It's every bit as breathtaking as I'd hoped it would be. Headley stung that ball in the seventh, and line drives over an outfielder's shoulder are the most difficult balls of any to catch, but Franklin seemed to take off before Headley even started to swing and he tracked it down with remarkable ease, preserving what was a narrow lead. Before the season I kind of laughed at myself when I tried to imagine what a +15 or +20 center fielder even looked like, but now I get it. It looks like Franklin Gutierrez. The man catches balls Jacoby Ellsbury wouldn't catch on a cheetah.
It was my first time going to Petco and not seeing the breakdancing groundskeeper. Ms. Jeff suggested that perhaps he was sick. But it's only like a thirty second routine. You'd have to be pretty sick to bail on a thirty second routine. I hope he's okay. Drop me a line, breakdancing groundskeeper.
It was my first time hearing the name Mike Ekstrom. I know a lot about baseball. I should know a lot. God knows I spend enough time reading about it. So seldom do I find myself watching a game and finding out about a player I've never heard of before. I take great pride in my knowledge, and coming across an unfamiliar Major League player name makes me feel inadequate. Between Ekstrom and Greg Burke, the have two of them.
It was my first time seeing Kevin Correia last an entire start without throwing from the stretch.
It was my first time watching David Eckstein warm up in the on deck circle. None of his stretches or techniques would be unusual if a normal-sized person were performing them, but the first thing Eckstein does every time is swing the bat around with his right arm so hard that I could've sworn he was going to lift off.
It was my first time seeing Felix run all of the bases. He barely made it halfway down the line to first on his two earlier groundouts, but the ninth inning saw him draw an incredible nine-pitch walk, advance to second on another walk, advance to third on a fumble by Eckstein, and jog home on a Griffey single with such delicacy that it looked like he was stepping on coals. Felix clearly didn't have any interest in expelling much energy while he was gunning for a complete game. The walk almost seemed like it was by accident. Felix has drawn a walk and hit a grand slam by accident.
It was my first time seeing Adrian Beltre go deep in Petco while swinging off-balance. This year.
It was my first time walking around in ajersey and having people everywhere yell in support. It's not that having people say "go Mariners" to me is anything new. For whatever reason, they've always been one of those teams that draws pretty well in San Diego. But today - and I'm not entirely sure why - the M's fans I bumped into seemed uncommonly enthusiastic. It wasn't "go Mariners." It was "go Mariners!" There were high-fives. There were Seahawk chants. There was...pride? I dunno. The whole thing was weird. If you didn't know the first thing about how the season was going and you showed up to Petco tonight, you'd think the Mariners were good.
As many firsts as there were for me, though, ultimately, tonight wound up feeling like a pretty standard Mariners-in-San Diego experience. Because Felix was good, the Padres were bad, and for the ninth time in a row, the M's walked off the Petco field a winner. It's funny - from where we were sitting, I didn't even think Felix looked all that sharp. He was getting himself into a lot of deep counts, and it seemed to me like he was allowing quite a bit of solid contact. There were some drives into right-center field that made me concerned, and even Kevin Correia smacked a grounder pretty hard to third base. But before I knew it (literally; this game just flew by), I found myself looking at the scoreboard and seeing that Felix had thrown eight innings of one-hit baseball. I guess that means I'm spoiled. In my defense, one-hitters don't quite feel the same when the one hit leads off the bottom of the second, but while I got frustrated with Felix a few times, he threw pretty well against a predominantly left-handed lineup and came up with some great pitches when he had to. The slider he used to freeze Headley in the fifth was terrific, and I've heard nothing but glowing reviews of his curveball tonight.
This was a good start, and it was a good start that accomplished an awful lot. It saved the bullpen, it put Felix in a wonderful mood, and most importantly, it gave the Mariners a comfortable win to erase the memories of last weekend. No, the team wasn't perfect, but who is? If the M's want to make a run out of this, they just need to be the least flawed out of four flawed teams. There's a lot of baseball yet to be played.
Garrett Olson and Chad Gaudin's face carpet tomorrow night. Honest to God, I've forgotten what it feels like to see the Mariners lose down here. I'm not trying to jinx anything. It's just - I mean, people aren't supposed to feel this confident about Garrett Olson.