I've always found it interesting how it's the most lopsided losses that make you the least angry. Lose an important game by one and people will bitch for days, but lose an important game by eight and - where you'd think that fans would have the most to complain about - most everyone's happy to just forget about it and move on. Today's game was awful, and observers would have every right to tear apart a disappointing lineup and a bullpen that was all chutes and no ladders, but that's not how blowouts work, and by the seventh I was already looked ahead to tomorrow. As a matter of fact, if there's one common refrain among Mariner fans right now, it's that tonight's game was encouraging, what with the impressive return of Bedard. I mean, I know that's true, but it's weird. Only a baseball fan could find more good in humiliation than in narrow defeat.
- It's a shame that it had to come to an early end, but for four innings, Erik Bedard was terrific. That was as sharp as I've ever seen him in a Mariner uniform. He came out in the first with a really good, biting breaking ball and a fastball that looked faster than it was, and though he was initially a little wild and the Orioles got to him for two runs, it didn't take long before he found his command and became almost literally unhittable. He struck out eight of the 16 batters he faced, retiring the final ten after Scott's run-scoring base hit, and for every single person asking whether Bedard was okay to be pitching again, Erik gave an unwavering and positive response. He's back. For however long he's healthy, he's back.
Of the 72 pitches he threw, 46 (64%) were strikes - 66% after the first - and the Orioles swung and missed 12 times. Those 12 whiffs tie his season high, alleviating some of the anxiety that built up as his swinging strike rate dropped prior to landing on the DL. His fastball location was good, his curveball location was better, and he got a handful of pitches up there at 94. It was just - Bedard was awesome. It kind of got on my nerves that it took him a month to get back from an injury that was written off as no big deal when it happened, but if all that patience and preparation helped to get him to where he can pitch like this most of the time down the stretch, then it was worth it. Because this was the version of Erik Bedard that looks like a second ace.
- In five innings of work, the bullpen's RA shot up from 4.01 to 4.28. Perhaps, given how the unit looked tonight and last Sunday, people will finally begin to see it as the problem it really is. The only guys out there who're worth a damn are David Aardsma and Shawn Kelley, but even Kelley's no good when he's not at 100%, and given that his velocity was down almost two full ticks tonight from where it was earlier in the season, there's reason to believe that he's not yet back in top form. Which means that, for the time being, we're in trouble. The middle innings right now are like a carnival ride from a Caligula nightmare. It doesn't matter how well the starters pitch - unless they go eight innings, then almost every day we get to feel at least a little bit uneasy, because there exists the ever-present danger of seeing a night like tonight's. The bullpen isn't ten-runs-in-five-innings bad, but it's bad, and this isn't the last time it's going to blow up. I suppose this is the point where I yell at Mark Lowe for becoming so much worse for no reason.
- So let's talk about Luke Scott's triple. That hit dealt us all a crushing blow - not only because it put the Orioles in the lead, but also because it was a ball that we've seen Franklin Gutierrez track down in the past. Scott smacked his liner to straightaway center field and it got Gutierrez all turned around, and by the time he turned back in the right direction, he was too late and didn't have a chance to pull it down. As a result, the O's went ahead 5-3, and the game was soon thereafter put out of reach.
At risk of sounding like an apologist, I can't really hold that play against Franklin. Yes, we've seen him make that catch on other occasions, and yes, he turned in the wrong direction, but as I've mentioned before, line drives hit over your head are the most difficult fly balls of any to judge, and sometimes a guy is going to screw up. You can't expect a player to make that play every time he gets it, because then you'd be looking for a perfect outfielder, and there's no such thing. Sometimes catchable balls are going to drop in. The key is that fewer catchable balls drop in with Franklin in the field than they do with most anyone else. Consider that play the defensive equivalent of Bedard throwing a hanging curve. It's okay to be annoyed, but at the end of the day you have to realize that you still have it pretty good.
- It doesn't hurt that Gutierrez does other things like hit home runs. His shot today came off a high fastball that looked gone off the bat, and the Safeco scoreboard measured it to be something like 420 feet (403 by HitTracker). I wonder how many people realize that Franklin Gutierrez has an .800 OPS. Remember when there was widespread concern that we traded a lights-out closer for a glove man with a bad bat? Gutierrez has been one of the best hitters on the team, and aside from his inflated BABIP, nothing about what he's doing is a fluke. He is a player that we will be proud to call our own for a long, long time. Meet the new Adrian Belre.
- Jeremy Guthrie normally has decent command and works off a fastball in the low- to mid-90s. Today he threw more balls than strikes and topped out at 90.9, averaging 88.7. His heater has now dropped from 93.1 to 91.2 to 88.7 over three consecutive starts. If anyone with the Orioles is still paying attention, they'll probably want to go in first thing in the morning and make an appointment with Dr. Yocum.
- The pitch that put Nick Markakis on base in the first inning didn't touch him. Here's your daily reminder that umpires hurt the game.
- I've never seen anything quite like Ronny :(edeno's single in the fourth, where he bunted the ball up the first base line, dropped his bat, and reached base after the ball bounced off his bat and rolled away from Matt Wieters. I had no idea that you could still reach if the ball hits the bat again after initial contact. That seems like the sort of loophole that Ronny might as well try to make a habit of exploiting. Ronny makes more contact when he drops the bat than when he swings it.
- I don't remember if I knew the name Tom Hallion before tonight, but that was an unforgettable performance. Some of you might think it's hypocritical of me to rip on Angel Hernandez for making a spectacle of umping third base while celebrating Hallion's making a spectacle of calling the game (which you can see here and here), but I think there's a key difference, and that's that, while Hernandez seems to derive satisfaction out of ringing guys up to their faces, Hallion makes his call behind the hitter. Plus there's the matter of Hernandez dealing with check swings and Hallion dealing with called strikes. Hernandez tells the hitter he fucked up. Hallion tells the pitcher he threw a good pitch. One is unnecessarily antagonistic, while the other is indiscriminately supportive. Good on you, Tom Hallion. You make things fun. Note that, when you're watching those .gifs, they're best accompanied by a guttural sound not unlike that of a garbage disposal.
Vargas tomorrow (matinee) in what has become a big game to win. Take it and we gain ground on someone in front of us. Lose it and I'm going to freak out.