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37-58, Game Thoughts

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Walk-off wins are an interesting phenomenon, in that they're kind of anti-baseball in a way. They're sudden. They're exhilarating. There's nothing about them that's slow or deliberate or calculated or subtle - they just happen, and half the people celebrate, and half the people don't, and everything's over in a flash. They provide a rush unfelt by fans in the overwhelming majority of the games they watch - games they watch knowing full well that the odds are they're just in for a standard, unexciting nine innings.

And if walk-off wins are invigorating, then walk-off comeback wins are an absolute, unparalleled delight. You know one of the big reasons so many people love playoff hockey? The games keep going until somebody wins, even if the teams require five extra periods. Playoff overtime is among the more nerve-wracking, compelling sporting circumstances in the world, and the sudden-death goals become instant classics. The hit that delivers a walk-off comeback win is the closest that baseball comes to a hockey goal in overtime. It isn't just about the result. It's about the context of the winning play, the suddenness of it, the surprise, and the negated possibility of things going the other way. For all intents and purposes, Franklin Gutierrez hit a sudden-death single.

That was a good feeling. For us, and for them. And honestly, I wonder if people in our position might not enjoy these things more than the people who follow or play for a good team. Those people have a higher baseline feeling, and higher expectations, possibly leading to reduced satisfaction. For us: who saw this coming? How long has this been coming? How great does it feel to pull out a win in a game the M's have lost like two dozen times?

When I think about it, I think it might look like this:

Goodfeelings_medium

A bad team gets the higher good feeling peak after a walk-off, because for them these things are less frequent and more of a relief. A good team gets the lower good feeling peak but sustains the good feelings for longer, as the context settles in and the significance of the game becomes apparent. At first, celebrating a walk-off is all about the game just played. While that game's going on, that's the only game that matters, and the big picture is at least momentarily forgotten. That's why the M's got to celebrate their 37th win as much as they did. But I think their and our excitement may fade sooner than it would for a good team, because as much of an exciting relief as it was, it doesn't take long to remember, oh yeah, everything else.

That's just a hypothesis, though. What really matters is that, if nothing else, a 37-58 ballclub just provided one of the biggest highlights of the season. Watching a bunch of happy Mariners smile and jump around and beat the crap out of each other never gets old. It just never gets old. Walk-off wins are a treat.

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I only caught the last few innings of this one, so I don't have a whole lot to say. The big points:

  • Jose Lopez's baserunning gaffe on the Milton Bradley pop-up was the pinnacle of brainlessness. You can read about this play in a million other places, but in short, Lopez stood at first as a meaningless run with one out in the bottom of the ninth, Chone Figgins occupying second. Bradley lifted a shallow pop to right that looked like it might drop in front of Andruw Jones, but Jones made a diving catch, rolled over, and threw to first to double up Lopez, who had inexplicably strayed too far from the base. The inning was over and the game advanced to extras, and Lopez again became a target of ire.

    I am not going to defend Lopez on this one. I don't think there is any defending Lopez on this one. I will say that Lopez has done things like this his entire career. Even when he was going okay in 2008 and 2009. This isn't indicative of some lack of effort. It's just indicative of another lapse in focus, one of countless lapses for which Lopez has developed a reputation. It's one thing to screw up when you're hitting the occasional home run. Then people are more willing to overlook your mistakes. But when things are going as badly as they're going for Lopez at the plate, he has to be looking to improve the other parts of his game if nothing else, and one of those parts is paying attention. He wasn't paying attention. That's an unforgivable error, and he should be forced to watch video of it on a daily basis until these things start happening less often.

    Alternatively, the M's could just get rid of him. There are reasons to do it, and there are reasons not to do it, but they could always opt to make an example of him and send him on his way. That we can even talk about this seriously in the middle of July is one of 2010's greatest disappointments. I didn't think Jose Lopez would carry over all of his gains from 2009, but I also didn't think he wouldn't carry over any of them.

  • For those of you wondering, the brainlessness only makes Lopez that much more lovable. Stupid dog! Get off the sofa!

  • From what I gather, Felix Hernandez was amazing today. The numbers certainly bear that out, as he threw two-thirds of his pitches for strikes, kept two-thirds of his balls in play on the ground, and struck out eight guys. This was cruise control, and a welcome bounceback from a start against the Angels in which he didn't have his good stuff.

    And most interesting? Felix threw this game with Josh Bard behind the plate. I am all about pitcher comfort. Pitchers ought to be comfortable. On any given day, your starting pitcher is your most important player in a game, so you should want to do what you can to keep him feeling good. But while no bone in my body doubts that Felix Hernandez prefers to throw to Rob Johnson, I also think that, push comes to shove, he could manage with somebody else, as he did tonight. Throwing to Josh Bard, Felix threw one of his best and easiest games of the season. That's not a fluke. Felix's stuff can work against anyone. No matter who's catching. This is an important thing for the M's to keep in mind as they look ahead and deal with their issues at catcher.

    Felix's location, by the way, was just outstanding. Let's go to Brooks Baseball. Against lefties:

    Location
    Against righties:

    Location

    Lefties got pitches almost exclusively away, many of them down. Righties got almost everything at the middle of the zone or below. Just looking at those charts, you don't even have to know much about PITCHfx to understand that Felix didn't give the White Sox many chances. That is exactly how I would want a strikeout groundballer's pitch charts to look. For 93 pitches, Felix did everything right.


  • And for only 93 pitches, as Don Wakamatsu elected to remove Felix after eight innings while he was riding a streak of 17 consecutive outs. Much as is the case when Wak would let Felix's pitch count get really high, this puts fans in a weird (albeit opposite) position. On the one hand, Felix was rolling, he was feeling good, and he was showing no signs of fatigue as he looked ahead to another ninth inning. On the other, the M's are terrible and Felix has been worked awful hard, so why not give him a bit of a break? It's certainly the safer course of action. Nobody ever got hurt by pitching less.

    The internet has conditioned most people to develop strong opinions on as many things as they can, but me, I just don't have one on this. I can see both sides. I will say that Wak's decision was surprising. He'd let Felix throw at least 101 pitches in 13 consecutive starts, including games with 118, 126, and 128. And you have to figure that what's surprising to us was even more surprising to Felix, who made no attempt to hide his displeasure after the game. It's just hard for me to come down on someone who's simply looking out for his best pitcher's health. Sure, Felix doesn't come out if this is an important game. But this wasn't an important game.

    I guess I'm caught in between. I hate when Felix is upset, and I hate when Felix is injured. What I'd really like is for someone to explain to Felix why Wak did what he did. Explain it in a way that he thinks about, that he understands. It doesn't reflect negatively on Felix. It isn't a sign of distrust. If anything, it's a compliment. Wak likes and trusts Felix so much that he wants to keep him healthy as a horse.

    I'm somewhat concerned that this could have an effect on the Felix/Wak relationship, but more likely is that it blows over and Felix forgets about it by his next turn. Hopefully someone reminds him, or he reminds himself, just how long he's been allowed to go a few times this year. Felix wants to stay out there in every single start, but he won't get his way every time, and he needs to understand that he still gets his way more often than not. Like everything in life, it's a compromise.

    Talking about pitcher workload is so complicated.