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13-21, Game Thoughts

Digging the awkward poses in the back
Digging the awkward poses in the back

I'm not going to sit here and tell you that the season's over. This was one loss, and no single loss can ever end a season unless it actually leaves you mathematically eliminated. It's May 13th. Losing today doesn't mean a whole lot more than losing yesterday, and there are still another 128 games to go.

What this does do, though, is provide a handy landmark. A point that, should the Mariners fail to recover from their current slide, people can refer back to as the day we knew things weren't to be. In theater, seasons don't end with a whimper. They end with a bang. They end with drama and excitement. The Mariners just had their day of drama and excitement, and they got it in the shorts.

If the Mariners finish with an irrelevant 70 wins, we'll all be able to reflect on today as signifying their last gasp. They gave it their best chance - they gave it everything they had - but it wasn't enough, and they fell. It's not the most accurate way to tell a story, but it isn't inaccurate, and it's compelling, and so it is to be that, if the M's keep on struggling, today will not soon be forgotten.

On the other hand, if the M's suddenly catch fire and pull themselves back into this thing, everyone'll then be able to look back on today as a different kind of turning point. The day that made the Mariners mad, the day where the players all rallied together and made a commitment to playing the kind of baseball the were supposed to be playing. Today's game already happened, but its narrative significance will only be determined by the events that come next.

Funny how that works.

  • Lots of anger directed Mike Brumley's way for getting Josh Wilson thrown out at the plate to end the game. For those who missed it, Ichiro grounded a single through the hole to left with two out and men on first and second, and Wilson rounded third to score, but Patterson came up with a good enough throw to get him nailed.

    First thing to understand is the breakeven point. Using a little win expectancy math, we get an even 50%. If Wilson scores, the WE% jumps by 24%. If Wilson's out, the WE% drops 24% to zero. What this means is that, for Brumley to wave Wilson around, he has to be 50% sure that Wilson will score.

    And me, I don't think he could've been 50% sure. You expect a guy to be able to score from second on a two-out single, definitely, but the element that those who missed the game don't realize is that Patterson was playing Ichiro very, very shallow. I was surprised to see how close he was when he retrieved the ball, and as soon as I saw that, I thought, oh no. Patterson doesn't have the best arm in the league, but he has a decent one, and he was throwing from a fairly short distance.

    As it happened, the throw was a little off-line. Still, it beat Wilson home by a significant margin, and Wieters had plenty of time to make the catch and move into position. There was nothing Wilson could've done. Even a mediocre throw had him dead to rights.

    I don't like what Brumley did. It's important to realize that, if he holds Wilson up, we've got Chone Figgins batting with the bases loaded against a guy who's fairly wild. It's not a great position, but it's a decent one. Hold Wilson up and you figure we've got at least a one-in-three chance of tying the game. Brumley went for the glory, though, and he got burned, because he either didn't realize how shallow Patterson was playing, he underestimated Patterson's arm, or he overestimated Wilson's speed. The eighth inning meltdown will command the bulk of the attention, but that was one hell of a demoralizing way to record the last out.

  • Brandon League has been used five times in six games. Shawn Kelley hasn't pitched since Sunday. I feel bad piling on Wak for using League here, but the Mariners were up 5-1 against a bad team and their win expectancy stood at 95%. He didn't have to use League again.

    Still, the reason you save League is because you expect League to be good, which made the eighth inning so much worse. He didn't necessarily deserve that fate, given the Rob Johnson fumbled strikeout and the fact that the pitch Luke Scott crushed was inches outside off the plate, but that was as poorly-timed a bad outing as it gets for a team in our position. You can't blow a late four-run lead against the Orioles. That is a killer. That is an absolute killer, and these guys are going to have one miserable flight down to Florida.

  • Yes, Adam Jones reached on another swinging strikeout that got away from Rob Johnson. With League's tendency to throw two-strike pitches in the dirt and Johnson's complete and utter inability to not suck for one second of every single god damn day that he breathes the world's air, I'm thinking this'll develop into a trend. Look for League's strikeout rate to be inflated.

    You know what's annoying? Almost as annoying as Rob Johnson's inability to catch or block a flipping baseball? Mike Blowers coming to his defense. Yes, Mike, it is hard to catch a baseball. Catchers' gloves are weird. But Rob Johnson, you see, is a professional catcher. Lots of things are hard. You expect experts to be able to do them. That I can't snowboard doesn't mean I'd excuse Shaun White if he fell down getting off the lift.

  • Worth noting that Scott's grand slam just barely left the yard. Michael Saunders had a chance to bring it back and would've at least knocked it down were it not for the outstretched arms of a few fans in left field. At the time, it looked like those arms might've stretched into the field of play, but I was admittedly biased and blinded with rage. Still, that's a replay I'd like to check out. If this is Baltimore's revenge for Jeffrey Maier, they chose a weird time to call it in.

  • The Mariners have played 34 games. They've scored eight runs in the first inning. Worse, they've scored four runs in the second inning. The combined Mariner + Mariner opponents OPS for the second inning is like .540. Stop. You hear that? That's the sound of something really important.

  • Ryan Langerhans drilled an opposite-field double, but the big story - and the delightful story, right up until the bottom of the eighth - was Michael Saunders turning in another splendid performance. His day:

    First AB: Called strikeout, good job by Millwood pounding him inside
    Second AB: Ten-pitch showdown. Fell behind 0-2 on two low-inside sliders, took two balls, fouled off four tough inside pitches, took a ball, lined a hanging slider into right for an RBI single
    Third AB: Got ahead 2-0, fouled off a high fastball, pulled a similar slider to the one he singled on deep into right for a line drive home run
    Fourth AB: Swinging strikeout where Alfredo Simon put two changeups in the perfect place down and away

    A couple weeks ago, Saunders was batting like .025 in Tacoma, and there was concern that he was pressing. He was having good at bats, but he wasn't getting results, and he was visibly and admittedly frustrated to all hell. Then he caught fire and he carried it over following his promotion, and right now Michael Saunders of all people is having arguably the best at bats on the team. Saunders' confidence has to be through the roof.

    It feels so good to see this from an underrated player that we've developed in-house. All that disappointment we felt late last summer is out the window, as the experience seems to have worked to Saunders' benefit. He can't go away when Bradley returns. He can't. There's no way. If anything, he deserves a regular job.

  • Saunders hit a home run today. Corey Patterson hit a home run today. The same fan got both balls. They weren't hit to a deserted section, either - they were pulled above the big scoreboard in right, to an area where dozens of people were standing and milling around. Somewhere there is a 60 year old who has been going to baseball games all his life who is going to kill that fan in his sleep.

    I wonder if that fan can play catcher.

  • On April 23rd, I was encouraged by Casey Kotchman's lack of groundballs. Since April 23rd, Casey Kotchman has hit 62% groundballs.

  • Miguel Tejada has a good strikeout face. He smirks, and he winks, in what's either a playful "you got me this time" kind of way, or a terrifying "I am literally doing everything I can to keep this bottled up before I murder somebody" kind of way. I bet he's a real treat in the clubhouse.

  • In the bottom of the second, Luke Scott lifted a foul pop-up that Jose Lopez chased after and hauled in with his back to the plate. For all of the crap that I and others have been giving Don Wakamatsu this season, we should remember that Jose Lopez wouldn't be a third baseman were it not for our manager. Of course, one must also wonder if the position switch is in any way related to Chone Figgins' inability to get hits and Lopez's inability to not have an OPS in the low .500's, so I suppose we don't have to chalk this up as a win if we don't want to.

  • Two things that bother me about Mike Sweeney are that he has a batting stance like a child and he looks like he's too big for his uniform. Very good to see him take a ball deep, though, especially going the other way, and this is just the latest bit of evidence that he has a lot more left in his bat than Griffey does. Which is problematic. Sweeney's the one who might, in some way, have just a little bit of value, and Griffey's the one we can't ever cut. 

  • We've seen two Ichiro power swings in two days. They've led to a double and a homer. He's batting .348 with an .834 OPS. Ichiro's offense is a white noise machine.

  • Finally, this wasn't the best day Felix has ever had, but it was a hell of a recovery after the last two times out. He was a lot more himself, and it showed, with the groundballs, the timely strikeouts, the lack of solid contact, and the swagger. I was concerned that he might come a little unglued in the fourth when a Rob Johnson (Professional Catcher) mistake and a bloop single put a run on the board, but instead he bounced back by retiring eight of the next nine hitters he faced. The Orioles had five at bats with a runner in scoring position in the sixth and seventh innings, and they went hitless, because Felix busted out some wicked offspeed stuff and kept the ball in good spots.

    Last week, I was worried. I'm not so worried anymore. About Felix, anyway. I am worried about the team, but even that should fade away once we drop far enough out of it that things stop being sad and start being hilarious.