When you think about everything that happened, tonight's loss probably shouldn't have made me as upset as it did. The Mariners came in as significant underdogs. They were never in the lead. They didn't make Joba work as much as they could have. They didn't hit a lot of balls hard. They didn't get good pitching. They didn't play great defense. As valiant as their effort was, all game long it just felt like they were barely hanging in there, like their plan was to stay close long enough to get lucky. And in those sorts of games, it's hard to really build up your expectations. By all rights, I should've seen this loss coming a mile away. Hell, I did see this loss coming a mile away. But even given that certain degree of predictability, Cabrera's double off White in the eighth still made me get up and leave the room, and it's been a while since a Mariners game really got that deep under my skin.
I'm not sure why it did. Maybe it's because, as much as the Yankees are the superior team, this game was still winnable. Maybe it's because I feel like we could've made a better effort than we did. Maybe it's because I feel like we could've fielded a better team than we did. Maybe it's because I just hate losing to the Yankees. But if anything, I'm guessing it's because this felt like the sort of game people could point to months down the road when they talk about where it all went wrong. Negative turning points are an irrational and frequent fear of mine, but while I'm aware of their irrationality, it's the Mariners who've made me like this, and you're probably all in the same boat. The last few innings saw us get slapped in the face by regression, and regression is what we've been afraid of since this team got back in the mix.
Everybody knows what we're up against. Everybody recognized that, even with the series win in LA, this trip still had the potential to deal our chances a serious blow. And this just felt like a miserable way to kick off a stretch of six arduous games. My objective brain reminds me that this is only one loss, and that the M's were tied as late as the bottom of the eighth, but sometimes you just want to pick something up and smash it, objectivity be damned. One of the side effects of meaningful baseball is emotion. Tonight we got the bad ones.
- In the top of the third, third base umpire Mike DiMuro rang up Russell Branyan on a check swing third strike with a simple raise of his fist. I haven't been able to get video yet, but compare it to this. I hope Angel Hernandez wakes up bleeding tomorrow and doesn't know why or where it's coming from.
- I don't want to be too harsh on Brandon Morrow. He doesn't deserve it. I know he threw 98 pitches and walked five while failing to get through five innings, but pitching in Yankee Stadium against a patient, powerful, and predominantly left-handed lineup, this was as bad a matchup as Morrow's likely to see in his entire career, and he held them in check. You know what his ball-in-play profile looked like? 12 grounders, 1 outfield fly, 1 pop up, 1 liner. He took an interesting and inefficient route to his destination, but he got there, and had it not been for Woodward's misplay of Matsui's groundball, who knows how things might've gone. Morrow did as well tonight as anyone could have realistically hoped.
The problem is that starts like this really serve to highlight Morrow's shortcomings - namely, his command and his lack of consistent secondary stuff. He wasn't hitting his spots all game long, and while he was by and large able to keep his fastball within the zone, he only threw 20 of his 40 offspeed pitches for strikes, generating only two swings and misses. He didn't have any sort of feel for his changeup or breaking balls, which puts him in a severely disadvantageous position against left-handed hitters, and a pitcher who doesn't have a good weapon to use against left-handed hitters isn't going to last very long in New York. It's a testament to the quality of Morrow's stuff that he was able to do what he did tonight without having any idea of where he was throwing the ball, but it was made evident today that there's a whole lot of room for improvement.
I'm happy that, despite (or perhaps because of) the conditions, Morrow threw so many offspeed pitches tonight. You can't improve a pitch unless you throw it, and Morrow gave the Yankees a good amount of sliders, changeups, and curves. That makes me feel a little better about the prospect of him continuing his development in the Major Leagues in front of a big league coaching staff. But tonight it still felt like I was watching a guy who needs some minor league conditioning. I'm not saying they ought to send him to AA or AAA for a year and a half. They could just demote him long enough to work out a kink or three and then bring him back as soon as he shows some progress. But right now, as long as Morrow's throwing 20 pitches per inning and struggling to find the catcher's glove, I'm not sure he's really helping us. Does he have that potential? Of course he does. There's no question about it. But the version of Brandon Morrow that we've seen take the hill these last few turns is a promising but nevertheless ineffective pitcher. He could very well become an asset to the team down the stretch, but that's not going to happen unless he figures something out. Here's hoping he does.
- A lot of things came out of the media's seemingly nonstop Joba coverage in 2007 and 2008, but not least among them is the perception that people still have of Joba that he's some sort of unhittable, flamethrowing phenom. Let me tell you a little about Joba Chamberlain: his average fastball this year is down to 92.4mph (as opposed to 97.0mph as a rookie reliever), his 58.7% strike rate is one of the worst in the league, and his swinging strike rate of 7.8% is right on the league average and ties him with guys like Dallas Braden and Kevin Correia. Joba was amazing as a rookie, and he's been awesome out of the bullpen. Absolutely. But through 15 starts and 81 innings in 2009, he hasn't been good. While Joba may very well stick as a long-term starting pitcher, make no mistake - he's nothing special now, and he needs to take several steps foward if he wants to become something special later on. A talented pitcher can't have the start he did against the Mariners tonight and then go home and look at himself in the mirror.
- Tonight's obligatory mentions of missed calls: Ichiro didn't go around in the first, and Cedeno was safe in the sixth. I wonder if it's possible to point out that the umpires screwed up without other people automatically thinking that you're blaming them for a loss. I'm not blaming the umpires for our loss. I'm just noting that they got at least two calls wrong, and those two calls cost us two outs. When you keep a mental log book of all the calls that they get wrong, it's remarkable how quickly you begin to wish ill upon the entire profession. Robots robots robots!
- I guess I'm as guilty as anyone when it comes to taking to heart all the cries over Yankee Stadium being a crazy hitter's park. Given all the mass hysteria we've heard over the past few months, I couldn't help it; I just came in expecting to see everything carry and at least five fly balls leave the yard. Guess what? There were only two homers today, and both were hit to left field. It's important to remember that even the most extreme ballpark environments these days don't really alter the game as much as you think they do. Yeah, balls that die in San Diego and Seattle take off in Texas and New York, but it's not like the Mariners came in tonight expecting to play a different sport. It's all still baseball. It's just baseball with a slightly higher rate of home runs. I psyched myself out.
- For those of you keeping score at home, it took seven batters' worth of defense before we missed Adrian Beltre. Beltre makes that play where he charges in and barehands a chopper look so easy that you forget how difficult it really is, and today Chris Woodward made the dual mistake of both bobbling such a chopper and then throwing the ball away to first base, costing the M's an out and a run. Then, a few batters later, Jeter hit a grounder to third that bounced off of Woodward directly to Ronny Cedeno, who salvaged the play. Defense is one of those things that's hard to notice until it's gone, and had we played with Beltre and Langerhans (or Endy) today instead of Woodward and Griffey, the bottom of the second looks different, and Damon's double in the seventh is probably caught. On the plus side, Gutierrez played as well as he ever has in center. I maintain that it isn't possible to watch Franklin Gutierrez play ever day and still insist that bloggers care too much about range. Anyone who's watched this team so far and thinks we need more Griffey in left to help the offense is someone you shouldn't take seriously.
- How about the bullpen regression? Watching Jakubauskas go to work against A-Rod in the seventh, he got away with a couple called strikes on inside fastballs, but that pitch made me afraid. The whole time A-Rod just looked like he was timing it and getting ready to pounce. Sure enough, Jak tried one too many inside fastballs, and Alex hit as long a home run as any I think new Yankee Stadium has seen. It's a shame, too, because up until that point Jak had worked some excellent relief, but he just doesn't have the repertoire to be dependable against a good lineup in high-leverage situations.
Then the eighth saw everything catch up with Sean White. I don't think I need to explain this one. Innings like that are why we could really use a lefty in the bullpen. You just can't expect a righty with more walks than strikeouts and no changeup to speak of to get the job done in that sort of situation. White got hit - finally - and that was the game. I am very thankful for the contribution that White has made to this team so far, but the fact of the matter is that he isn't very good. His improved velocity has made him better than he was the first time he came around, but that's kind of damning with faint praise.
- Franklin Gutierrez has better offensive numbers on the season than Ken Griffey Jr. In each of his first two at bats, Griffey flew out to center on thigh-high fastballs over the outer half that he used to destroy. Those two swings he took are all the evidence you need that he isn't the hitter he used to be (and he was visibly and audibly upset after the second one). They were absolute meatballs, and Ken Griffey Jr. - one of the best left-handed hitters the game has ever seen - missed them.
- How much better does the lineup look with Kenji in there instead of Rob Johnson or Jamie Burke? That's gross but it's true.
- With the bases loaded and one out in the top of the eighth, Branyan lifted a 3-2 fly ball into left field that Dave Sims deemed plenty deep enough to score the tying run. Why? Because, according to Sims, Damon "can't throw a lick." Mike Blowers then chimed in in agreement: "Damon won't throw anyone out." It's funny - that sort of talk is nothing new to you or me, but announcers tend not to be so openly critical of the players on the field. Even when a guy has lousy footspeed, they'll still try to put a positive spin on it by saying something like "he's a cautious baserunner" or "he runs well for a catcher." I wonder, then, what makes poor throwing arms the exception. I literally can't think of any other player attribute that announcers are so willing to tear to shreds. You won't hear anyone in the broadcast booth cracking up when they watch Daniel Cabrera try to throw strikes, but every fly ball hit to Johnny Damon with a runner on base comes complete with its own Friars Club roast.