I was being honest when I wrote that game thread opener. I like Ryan Rowland-Smith and all, a great deal more than his pure performance would warrant, but let's be realistic. He has not had a good season. He's struggled to throw strikes and he came in with the worst home run rate in baseball. The , meanwhile, lead the league in OBP and have an .800 OPS against left-handed pitchers. That is an awful matchup. And then to go up against CC Sabathia, with this offense, without Franklin Gutierrez? Russell Branyan's left-handed. Ryan Langerhans is left-handed. Michael Saunders is left-handed. Ichiro is left-handed. The damage was going to have to come from Chone Figgins, Jose Lopez, and Milton Bradley, and that just isn't a trio that's inspired much confidence.
I don't have a list in front of me, but off the top of my head, this was probably the most unfavorable matchup thehave faced all year. It just had the feel of a blowout, you know? I'd been dreading this game for a week. I knew all along what was going to happen. The Yankees were going to blast RRS out of the game, Sabathia was going to cruise, and the M's were going to head to Detroit having gotten embarrassed. I was just happy to take the first two games of the series. At least doing that made the prospect of getting thrashed today a little easier to take.
So with all that in mind, this practically felt like a win. If the Mariners were 45-33 instead of 33-45, the outcome still would've made me feel awful, but moral victories are easier to swallow when the actual victories are less frequent. In probably the worst matchup of the year, the Mariners - minus their stud center fielder - stuck with the Yankees into the bottom of the eighth.
RRS, for his part, was good today. Better towards the beginning than towards the end for the second start in a row. It's important not to look at his line, see three walks and two strikeouts, and conclude that he was lousy. For one thing, one of those walks was intentional. And for another thing, this wasn't some league-average offense he was facing. This was the Yankees. Facing the Yankees makes you lower your expectations. That's a big part of what made Felix's start yesterday so amazing. You expect a worse performance against this team than you do against most any other, so you're willing to take some worse numbers.
And RRS hung tough. There were times that he could've melted down. He had two in scoring position two batters into the game, and was losing after the third. But he escaped further damage in the first by striking out Alex Rodriguez and getting Robinson Cano to pop out. He erased a leadoff single in the fourth by getting Rodriguez to ground into a double play on a changeup. Cano would follow with a homer, but it was a solo shot, which is better than the alternative. Then in the sixth, after a close walk loaded the bases, RRS got ahead of Curtis Granderson and induced a grounder to first to end the threat. That closed the door on his outing, with the end result being two runs in six innings.
With three one-two-three innings and some big clutch pitching, RRS turned in what was, all things considered, a solid performance. He really didn't allow many hard-hit balls, and what's more, of the 20 balls the Yankees put in play, 12 were on the ground. RRS came in with one of the lowest groundball rates in baseball. You always expect him to keep the outfield busy. Today, he called on the infield for a change. I don't know if that was a conscious attempt or just statistical happenstance, but it worked. You don't want to put too many balls in the air against that lineup in that stadium. RRS didn't. Of all people.
The Mariners, naturally, weren't doing anything against Sabathia, since Sabathia's really good and the Mariner lineup is not, but then we saw why people make such a big deal of pitchers who keep you in the game. Sure, the M's barely hit anything hard for six or seven innings. Sure, they were being shut out while the Yankees took their hacks against RRS and Brian Sweeney. Because RRS and Sweeney kept them to two runs, though, the deficit was never insurmountable. Even for this team, two runs can happen in the blink of an eye. Which it did in the eighth. All it took was a four-pitch walk, a grounder, a passed ball, and a line drive. Russell Branyan delivered the big hit he was brought in to provide, and improbably, impossibly, these Mariners were tied with those Yankees after seven and a half.
A sweep would've been great, but at that point I barely even cared. What mattered was that the M's kept it competitive. The rest really was gravy. When Alex Rodriguez took David Aardsma deep for the game-winner, I barely blinked. So what? Shit happens. It wasn't even a legitimate homer anyway, having come down in the first or second row in right field, about 170 feet from home plate. I thought it was a pop-up off the bat. A-Rod thought it was a pop-up off the bat. David Aardsma probably thought it was a pop-up off the bat. It left the yard, but it wasn't really a homer, no matter what it says in the box score. It was a weak fly ball that flew out of a weak stadium.
It was a homer that, again, would've infuriated me were the M's in a race, but as is, it's just kind of funny, in that A-Rod must've felt embarrassed the whole time rounding the bases. I know I don't have grounds to say very much about another stadium's hitter-friendliness given that my team plays in the complete opposite environment, but I'd rather see too few home runs than too many. Home runs shouldn't come easy. They should be earned. A-Rod earned that home run like Michael Strahan earned his record-breaking sack.
Anyway, A-Rod homered, and the Mariners lost. They lost by two, though, where I thought they'd lose by double digits, so all in all, it wasn't too bad. Being out of the race really does make it easy to be satisfied with less. Sometimes you can even be satisfied with a loss. This was one of those satisfying losses. Satisfaction doesn't have to be binary. You don't always have to be happy with a win, and you don't always have to be upset with a loss. Sometimes it's fine to just lose by a little. No one wants to seem greedy.