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34-49, Game Thoughts

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So a kid reached down and interfered with Russell Branyan's potentially game-tying eighth inning double. I personally don't think Ichiro was going to score on the play, as it didn't look like he was even halfway to third when the ball was picked up, but by interfering, the kid denied any possibility of that taking place. It was, as you can imagine, an unpopular act, and as the kid was escorted out of the stadium, he was roundly booed while the security staff received a simultaneous ovation.

But let's think about this incident for a moment. Let's consider what could've happened, and what actually did.

1) Kid doesn't interfere

If the kid doesn't reach down, or if he misses, Russell Branyan gets the same double, but Ichiro might score on a bang-bang play. Or David DeJesus might screw up and Ichiro might score easily. Or Ichiro might stay at third to bring Jose Lopez to the plate. Ultimately, the Mariners either win or they don't win, and it ends up being a forgettable mid-week win or loss against the Royals in the middle of a wasted season.

2) Kid does interfere

As we saw, the kid picked up a live ball, forcing Ichiro to hold at third base. Lopez then grounded out on a 1-0 fastball off the plate, stranding the tying run at third and the go-ahead run at second. The Mariners lost.

Given a choice, any fan in his right mind would prefer option #1. Nobody likes when non-players, be they fans or umpires or anyone, end up a factor in the result. This latter path, though - the one the evening followed - allows us to wonder. It allows for enduring uncertainty. What if the fan hadn't reached out and picked the ball up? What if he had just let it be like a proper spectator and allowed the play to unfold? Then what? Would Ichiro have scored? Would Ichiro have been thrown out? Would the Mariners have won? Would the Mariners have lost?

The answers to these questions aren't important. Any game will, in the end, wind up a win or a loss. What's important is that there are questions to be asked. It takes on a gravity greater than the actual game. It becomes something to argue about. It becomes something to talk about at work. It becomes something you remember for far longer than a game like yesterday's. Remember when that kid picked up that ball and the Mariners lost? It becomes a story, and a source of frustration, and a badge of futility, and everything in between. There were people who were making their first and only trip out to Safeco to see tonight's game. They'll never know. They'll take this one to winter.

That kid picked up a live ball. It was dumb, but I can't really blame him too much, as he probably wasn't paying real close attention, and the urge to grab a souvenir can be overpowering. A lot of people would've done what he did, and he clearly wasn't aware of his mistake until a few seconds had passed. But by grabbing the ball, that kid gave us something more memorable than a baseball game. He gave us two potential baseball games. He gave us controversy. He gave us a scapegoat. And he gave a certain significance to a game that would've otherwise been forgotten in a week, if not in a day.

Any fan in his right mind would prefer option #1. But option #2 - it's not without its merits. If sports are a pastime, if sports are a distraction from the many things in life that really and truly matter, then that fan might've unwittingly done us all a favor. Because people are distracted. And some of them are going to stay that way for a good long time.

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Really not much at all to discuss, so let's just be quick about it:

  • At seven innings, this was tied for Ryan Rowland-Smith's longest outing of the season, and it was a better effort than his game in the home opener against Oakland. Let's do this the easy way:

    Pluses

    Most importantly, of RRS' 101 pitches, 70 were strikes. That gives him 66% strikes over his last three starts, versus 63% strikes previous. We want an RRS that throws strikes. Throwing strikes is critical, especially when you don't have overpowering stuff. Additionally, with 12 grounders on 27 balls in play, RRS' groundball rate over those same three starts is an eye-popping 50%, versus 32% previous. For three starts, now - against good lineups - RRS has kept the ball in the zone and he's kept it on the ground better than the RRS we're accustomed to seeing.

    Minuses

    Unfortunately, over those same three starts, he's struck out six of 79 batters faced, while walking seven and drilling two. I don't think those walks are sustainable as long as he's throwing this many strikes, but there does have to be some concern that, in going for more grounders and staying lower, RRS is sacrificing some of the strikeouts of which he never had a surplus. Strikes are good, and grounders are good, but the way he's been pitching lately is similar to the way that Nick Blackburn's been pitching, and Nick Blackburn's gotten blasted. It's something to watch as we wonder if RRS' stuff will miss bats lower in the zone.

    The bottom line is that it's progress. RRS isn't where he needs to be yet, but he's in a better place than he was, both psychologically and in the stat line, so we'll see if it continues along this course. Though he's not a guy who's ever going to make or break a season, he's a likable guy we all want to see succeed, and that becomes a compelling storyline in a season like this. It's less about the triumph of a team, and more about watching a guy bottom out and rooting for him to work his way back in front of a generally supportive but critical audience. Human interest!

  • Michael Saunders has now drawn a walk in four consecutive games, and though one could argue that Zack Greinke should've had him punched out today, it's something. It's also something to hear how much Dave Niehaus seems to love him. He can't pass up a single opportunity to point out how strongly he believes Saunders will develop into a great young player. I don't know if Dave is an adequate evaluator of talent, and given his pitch and fly ball recognition I have my doubts, but there's something about his age and experience that makes me want to believe everything he says.

  • Jay Buhner was in the booth when one of the other guys - I think it was Rizzs - asked his opinion of Saunders. You could tell that Buhner was unprepared for the question, because the answer he provided was less an evaluation of Saunders' various skills, and more like an assortment of the first random facts relevant to Saunders that came to his mind. Rangey. Okay, that's good. That's an ability. Can swing it. Means nothing. Anyone can swing it. Tall, lanky kid. This is just a physical description. With Bradley out, he should get some playing time. This is a confirmation that Milton Bradley is kind of hurt, and therefore in no way blocks anyone else.

    There was more, but I stopped listening. White noise doesn't have to be constant.

  • Said Bill Krueger after the game, of the fan who interfered with Branyan's double:

    He's obviously not a baseball fan. He probably likes soccer.

    I'm not going to sit here and pretend to be offended, because I'm not, but that's a childish remark. Which would be one thing if Krueger were anything like Buhner, who clearly doesn't take himself too seriously, but Krueger seems to take himself more seriously than the president of a doorknob-making company takes doorknobs. And that's when such a remark becomes offputting.

    I don't know Bill Krueger personally, so I don't want to say anything too mean about him, but I really have to wonder to which audience he appeals. For an alleged baseball analyst, he definitely doesn't appeal to analysts. He's kind of abrasive and aggressive, so he doesn't have the adorable Brad Adam thing going for him. The women I've heard don't seem to find him particularly attractive. I guess the way he sounds so confident whenever he says anything can convince the casual male baseball fan that he knows what he's talking about, but is that a good thing when he so frequently spreads misinformation? A good broadcast should serve to entertain and inform. At least from where I sit, Krueger does neither. Ex-players can provide valuable insight, but what insight Krueger provides is buried by the layers of cliche dependence, incorrect assertions, and bluster. I wonder what he adds that couldn't be added by someone at least a little more likable.

    In reviewing his Keys To The Game, Krueger gave the Mariners a check for Clutch Hitting.