There were two points tonight at which I resigned myself to the fact that I'd have to write an angry, frustrated recap. On two occasions something happened on the field that just struck me as a thing that would happen on the way to a Mariner loss. And both times, the disappointment and instinctual fatalism were almost immediately wiped out.
The first came in the bottom of the second inning. With two on and one out, Ichiro grounded a single into left field that sent Yuniesky Betancourt racing around third base in an attempt to score. Scott Hairston had been playing Ichiro shallow and came up throwing, and his strike to home was on the mark, but Yuni slid in before the tag for the Mariners' first run. Only the umpire didn't quite see it that way. Yuni was called out, and though the play was close, replays showed he beat Alfonzo's glove. I couldn't help but think that, for the second consecutive night, I'd end up writing about how the M's got screwed by an incorrect call by Randy Marsh. This play was a lot more difficult to call than the controversial one the night before, but stealing a run and adding an out dropped the Mariners' Win Expectancy by 15.4%, and those kinds of things are tough to swallow. As I was busy contemplating the appropriate level of raging vituperation, Russell Branyan parked a 3-2 heater. Home runs have a funny way of slaying a temper.
The second one came in the top of the eighth. The inning started rather harmlessly. Sean White recorded a groundout and a line out, and Tony Gwynn Jr. was coming up with two out and none on. It looked like White would be able to end the inning without breaking a sweat. But after quickly falling behind 0-2, Gwynn took two balls and fouled off seven straight pitches before taking another two balls for a well-earned, 13-pitch walk. Those are the sorts of battles that just eat a pitcher up, and when David Eckstein followed with a line drive single into left, my heart dropped into my stomach. As White proceeded to throw a couple balls to Hairston, I could see it all coming - either Hairston would yank one into the gap, or he'd walk and we'd get blown up by Adrian Gonzalez for the third time in three games. Devastating innings are already bad enough when they take you by surprise, but they're so much worse when you can predict them ahead of time. It's not the needle that hurts. It's the anticipation. As I braced myself for the inevitable, Hairston popped out on a fastball out of the zone and three pitches later Franklin Gutierrez put the M's in the lead.
Back when we had JJ pitching at his peak, I used to blast Thunderstruck in the ninth inning and jump around like a crazy person after we won a tight game. I haven't really felt the same way very much so far this year. The team's been pretty good, but the adrenaline and excitement have often been lacking. It was there tonight. I don't care that this was a game against Josh Geer and the Padres - those were three fun hours of baseball, and as David Aardsma pumped heater after heater in the ninth, I had the windows shut and my speakers up high.