For two hours, this felt even worse than yesterday. Through no fault of the King, the Mariners looked set to lose on the most sacred of days, coming out helpless against a bad pitcher and giving no support to their ace. Down 1-0 and doing little to suggest an imminent change, the M's looked weary, and for the thousandth time in the past few months I found myself thinking the same old thought to which each of us seem all too eager to return - perhaps this is the day that we tuck in our dreams. When Hannahan got tagged out at third on Ichiro's grounder, I about lost whatever hope still remained. That was it. That was the play that sealed the deal.
And, this time, it was Russell Branyan who provided the heroics. Branyan put his patented uppercut on a 1-0 Bobby Seay slider and launched an off-the-bat bomb beyond Guti's Graveyard in right-center, a towering blast that caught Dave Sims by surprise and caused Detroit's color guy to chuckle in resignation. For the second time in three starts, offensive theatrics made Felix eligible for a win after coming out of the game, and after a comfortable inning by Mark Lowe and David Aardsma's easiest save of the year, we were left to reflect on just the latest Mariner effort to stave off what has so often felt inevitable. Sure, the Royals did us no favors by blowing a big late lead, but somehow, at least as far as I'm concerned, that doesn't harsh my buzz, because as Hendu would say, the M's just pulled one out of the ol' magician's basket. I don't know how many times this season I've prepared myself to wave the white flag, but this team just won't let me.
Is this a team of destiny? Not in the least. But this is a team that's good, fun, and stubbornly staying in the race. While I'm sure at some point we'll go back to feeling nervous again tomorrow, every night we're still in it is a night I go to bed happy, and for each and every one of these I've learned to be thankful. Being on the edge isn't all bad. Here's to taking this one game at a time. Focus on every individual step and you might be surprised how far you can go.
Or, hey, Washburn could suck tomorrow and we could give up by noon. What am I, psychic?
- When I got home from work and saw Felix's pitch count through four, I thought he'd be lucky to get deep into the sixth. A 28-pitch third did a number on his line, and I was concerned that, not only would we have to come back, but we'd also have to rely on the bullpen to keep things close. That's a big part of what made the middle innings feel so lousy. But then Felix switched on his internal efficiency machine, put his head down, and barreled through another three frames. In the fifth, sixth, and seventh innings, Felix threw a combined 34 pitches, facing ten batters and allowing only a double by Miguel Cabrera. What once looked like a potential brief effort turned into Felix's ninth consecutive start of 7+ innings. No sweat.
It really is incredible to me just how well Felix has come together. Let's set aside the fact that he still throws too many fastballs to left-handed hitters. Whatever. He's not perfect. But he's learned to control his heater, he misses bats, he throws all of his pitches, he keeps the ball on the ground, and he's a workhorse. On that last point, today was the 13th consecutive start in which Felix exceeded 100 pitches. Over those 13 starts, he's allowed 23 runs in 95.2 innings, walking 25 and striking out 90. He's just so damn good, and he's so damn good at everything. All the frustration, all the complaints, all the bad words - it's all been worth it to see Felix take his game to this level. This is what we wanted. And it's every bit as heavenly as we thought.
Another 16 swinging strikes today, by the way. It's always funny to me when lineups do pitchers the inconvenience of missing too often to allow for efficiency. 16 swinging strikes and two-thirds strikes overall. I really and truly don't know how I'm going to respond if and when the King eventually loses again. Tim Lincecum allowed four runs in five innings and lost tonight to Atlanta, and the damndest thing is that I can't even imagine that happening to Felix.
- We had two hits.
- After Branyan's home run, the camera cut to the Mariner dugout, where we saw Felix take a water cup and stomp it on the ground. I'd love to know what that was all about, because the whole thing seemed somewhat symbolic.
- So I think most of us supported the Endy Chavez acquisition and the decision to give him a lot of playing time. Still, remember how often people used to complain about his bat? Notice how there haven't been many bat-related complaints about Ryan Langerhans? Through 62 plate appearances, Langerhans has hit .235/.349/.412, and - in case this was flying under your radar - he's drawn ten walks. Ten walks ties him with Yuniesky Betancourt in one-fourth the playing time. When you have a guy who can do that with the stick and then also do an admirable job playing center or a corner...Langerhans was never sold as a long-term addition, and even now no one's really talking about him as part of anything but the 2009 stretch run, but with a couple years left of team control, he's as good an option as anyone to keep around as a fourth OF behind Michael Saunders. To this day I can't believe we got him for nothing. No matter how much I say about Langerhans, I feel like I still need to say more. Is that weird?
- David Aardsma might've looked the best he's looked all season. He only needed 11 pitches to pick up a pop and two strikeouts, and the 82% strike rate was his second-best on the year. He was both efficient and difficult to hit, as Anderson and Inge each whiffed on three pitches. Cherish this appearance, for seldom does Aardsma go a game without causing an entire fan base to nervously fidget with a pencil. Aardsma has a weird way of dominating. Observe the following two statistics:
O-Swing%: 132nd out of 140 relievers with 30+ innings
Z-Contact%: 7th out of 140
David Aardsma doesn't get a lot of hitters to go fishing. Only seven qualified relievers have done it less. But he makes up for that by being one of the most unhittable relievers in baseball when he throws in the zone. I can't necessarily explain why that is, considering Mark Lowe throws really hard too and doesn't generate nearly as many swinging strikes with his fastball, but just because I don't know the Why doesn't invalidate the What, and David Aardsma's strikes have clearly just been really really tough. That's neat. Also neat is that he threw Brandon Inge a couple sliders. That probably sucked.
- Griffey went 0-4 and his season OPS is down to .705. Larry Stone touched on this in the morning, and you should all go read his blog post if you haven't already, but you have to wonder how much longer the M's will put up with having Junior come more and more undone in the cleanup slot. Not that we're overflowing with desirable alternatives, but when Griffey's not hitting, it does us no good to give him more at bats. This is the delicate situation that so many people feared when Griffey first agreed to come back. What do you do when you can't bench an underperforming bat in the middle of a playoff race? I'm not sure how Wakamatsu ever gets any sleep. This whole situation would be made more navigable by Griffey heating up or, less awesomely, the Mariners falling apart.
Remember - 10:05am start time tomorrow.