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40-68, Game Thoughts

Two interesting things happened tonight. Or, I guess several interesting things happened tonight, but two things stand out from the others. There was Franklin Gutierrez taking a home run away from Vladimir Guerrero in the top of the fifth, and there was Jose Lopez throwing to first instead of tagging Bengie Molina in the top of the seventh. And these two plays stand out to me because they were plays the significance of which wound up depending so heavily on the plays that followed.

When Vlad hit the ball, I didn't expect it to carry as far as it went. I'm not sure Franklin did, either, but he kept it tracked all the way back to the fence. And as he leaped, he extended his glove beyond the top of the wall, snared the ball, and brought it back in one smooth, fluid motion. He pulled it off with such grace that, initially, I wasn't even that impressed. For one thing, the ball couldn't have been put in a better place for a highlight catch, and for another, when people say a guy 'makes hard plays look easy,' Franklin's the sort of guy they have in mind. He really does. He is so good - to his left, to his right, to his front, to his back - that, even when he comes up with the most difficult grabs, he seldom looks like he's exerting himself.

That catch on Vlad's fly ball was to be the highlight of the game. It was to be one of the highlights of the second half, right up there with the Chone Figgins double play last night. Even in a meaningless contest between a cellar dweller and the team with the biggest division lead in baseball, Guti came up with a catch we'd be sure to remember for weeks, if not months. He brought back a two-run homer off the bat of one of Seattle's greatest enemies, and in so doing preserved a lead in dramatic fashion that the M's would continue to hold on to along the way to a win.

Then two batters later, David Murphy pulled a Doug Fister fastball about a dozen rows deep in right field. Gone was the lead. And, more interestingly, gone was the elation over Gutierrez's play. The play didn't change. Nothing about the play was any different. But the subsequent events retroactively negated its impact, and in so doing, they marginalized its awesomeness. Franklin Gutierrez's catch was supposed to be a play we'd be talking about in two months. Instead, David Murphy's home run turned it into just another on the list of highlights that few of us will remember.

A couple innings after Murphy went deep, the Rangers were once again threatening. This time they had two on and two out with Elvis Andrus at the plate. Andrus hit a groundball that was fielded by Jose Lopez at third. Rather than go to third base or attempt to tag the oncoming and enormous Bengie Molina, though, Lopez opted instead to double-pump and throw to first. Andrus is a fast runner, and he beat out the play. Suddenly, the Rangers had the bases loaded.

This one was a little Lopez mistake sure to get some people talking, but it wasn't quite on par with some of the things we've seen him do on the basepaths or in the field before. It was hardly one of Lopez's greatest lapses in judgment. But then Michael Young stepped in and drilled a first-pitch changeup into the left field bullpen. The grand slam turned a narrow game into an impossibility, and boos cascaded down onto the field like so many pretzels. Lopez became the goat. It was Garrett Olson who left a first-pitch changeup in the heart of the plate, but it was Lopez who'd decided to try to get Elvis Andrus instead of Bengie Molina, and so it was Lopez who bore the brunt of the ire. His decision was widely panned and taken as further evidence that Lopez just isn't a heads-up ballplayer.

Now, clearly, context is a huge part of what makes some things memorable, while others are forgotten. And I'm not saying this is right or wrong. Events influence the way we remember previous events all the time, in everything we do. It's just interesting to me how dramatic of an effect this game ended up having on two particular plays in the field. At the time, one of the plays was remarkable, and the other less so. Looking back, it's flipped. Gutierrez's stunning catch became an event of mild interest, and Lopez's decision became a turning point.

Things have just not been going Guti or Lopez's way.

  • The difference between Jack Wilson's career OBP and Ichiro's career OBP is 67 points, or about seven times reaching base per 100 plate appearances. That's equivalent to fewer than one time reaching base per ten plate appearances. It's weird the way a difference of less than one time on base per ten plate appearances so dramatically shifts our expectations when the respective players come to the plate. When Jack Wilson steps up, there exists in our minds a certain cloud of despair and hopelessness. When Ichiro steps up, we feel like anything can happen.

  • In the bottom of the second, with a 2-2 count, Chone Figgins turned and fell to the ground trying to avoid a C.J. Wilson slider at his feet. He turned and fell forward, but still managed to check his swing. In other words, as his entire body was moving in one direction, he managed to keep his arms and wrists from following along. I can't even run on the sidewalk without tripping over driveways.

  • Sidenote: I always think it's funny when a batter gets charged with a swing while he's trying to avoid getting hit, but I really don't think those should count. It should be pretty clear to an umpire when a swing is intentional, and when a swing is an unintended consequence of trying to move out of the way of a baseball that's going really really fast.

  • The most impressive thing about Adam Moore's home run was that he hit the ball pretty low on the barrel and still managed to clear the left-center power alley. I know he has a rather uncomfortable amount of things in common with Rob Johnson, but Moore is the stronger hitter.

  • Michael Saunders bunts a lot. We saw him bunt again today in the third inning. Every time Saunders bunts, some number of fans complain that he should be taking this opportunity to learn how to hit, not perfect his bunting technique. It's all about player development, after all, and bunts don't help a player develop the way taking some hacks always does.

    The first thing I'll say is that development never comes down to individual at bats. If Saunders bunts ten times over a few months of action, just how much do those ten missed opportunities to have a long, productive at bat really matter? How much would Saunders have possibly been able to learn? He's learning. He's learning all the time. Even - I know! - when he's sitting on the bench and not even playing.

    And the second thing I'll say is that it's not like Saunders is always dropping down sacrifices. He's a fast runner, and he's a pretty good bunter. The bunt is a part of his skillset. He bunted for a hit today, which is the tenth time he's done that over 335 career plate appearances. 2010's league leader, Erick Aybar, has 13 bunt hits over 432 plate appearances. Bunting for a hit is just one of the ways that Saunders can beat a team, and while everyone would always prefer to see a walk or a nice line drive, a bunt single's still a single, and Saunders should really get credit for realizing that he can produce with both big ball and smallball alike.

  • Chone Figgins has batted .280 over the past two months.