Theare not one of the best teams in baseball. They're not particularly close. I know this, you know this, and I suspect the Mariners know this, too. That's why, when pressed, Eric Wedge keeps talking about development and "seeing what we've got" instead of saying things like "we're going to take a lot of people by surprise this season." Wedge knows as well as anyone else what we're probably in for.
But Opening Day is still such a treat. Obviously, a huge part of that is just the return of daily games. This marks the beginning of the routine I'm never quite sure how I live without. That isn't all of it, though. While the Seattle Mariners are not one of the best teams in baseball, they're one of the best teams in baseball on Opening Day, because on Opening Day they get to hand the ball to Felix Hernandez, and the other teams don't.
One of the other teams gets to hand the ball to Roy Halladay, which I guess is basically the ultimate trump card short of handing the ball to Jesus himself, but that team aside, we've got Felix, and Felix gives us an advantage. On his own, Felix gives this team enough of a boost that they can measure up against anyone.
No matter how mediocre the M's may look going into the year, they start off with Felix. Which means that, on the first day of every baseball season, I get to watch a good baseball team. After tonight, the M's have won five consecutive season openers. That's not a coincidence.
Tomorrow? Tomorrow's a substantial step down. Not only does the excitement of Opening Day dissipate overnight, but we also go from Felix to Jason Vargas. But tonight - tonight was magic. Just the way it ought to be.
- Felix Hernandez threw the first complete game win in Seattle Mariners Opening Day history, and he threw it against a team with playoff aspirations. So as silly as it sounds, tonight was not Felix at his best. Certainly, he got better as the game wore on, but I didn't think he had his usual sharp two-seamer, and I was struck by how few swinging strikes he was generating for a while.
He wound up throwing 38 pitches through the first two innings - not a lot, but a lot for him - and he put his team behind early on when he threw Josh Willingham an 0-1 fastball that drifted too far over the plate. Willingham swung as if he was sitting on that pitch and blasted a two-run homer into the seats that caught all of us off guard.
After that, though, Felix settled down, facing 22 batters and throwing 70 pitches over the final seven innings. We didn't see swing-and-miss Felix, but we saw pitch-to-weak-contact, efficient Felix, which is the next best thing. Felix was probably aware of the fact that he didn't have his best stuff, so he didn't want to mess around. And Felix was probably also aware of the fact that he'd need to have quick innings if he wanted a shot at finishing, which we all know Felix always does. Probably makes the bullpen feel real special.
Tonight, Felix didn't dominate. This wasn't a repeat of his 2007 opener against the A's, which is still one of the finest games I've ever seen pitched. But after an initial stumble, Felix was in control, and it says a lot about a guy's talent level when he can do what Felix did at something below 100%. I'm pretty sure I love Felix more than I love my inalienable rights.
- There were some very touching Dave Niehaus tributes on the broadcast over the course of the evening. Before the game, they ran a season introduction bit that Niehaus had narrated. The radio broadcast booth went silent for the first pitch. And the TV broadcast booth went silent for the entire bottom of the third inning, which was the inning after which Niehaus would switch from TV to radio. We watched the game, and we heard the crowd blow its vuvuzelas, but the announcers didn't say a word.
It was the pre-game intro that got me more than anything else. Hearing Dave's voice stirred feelings I honestly didn't know that I had, being the emotionless sort that I am. I found it all to be very well done.
- The broadcast booth had obviously decided to go silent for the bottom of the third ahead of time. What I wonder, though, is what would've had to happen for them to break in and speak up.
Pennington: /pops out
Crisp: /flies out
Crisp: /exchanges words with Felix walking back to the dugout
Crisp: /shoves Felix over
Crisp: /spits on
Crisp: /kicks in the balls
Booth: /exchange nervous glances
Crisp: /pulls switchblade out of back pocket
Players: /surround Crisp in circle
Crisp: /holds switchblade out, nervously looking around at circle
Crisp: /charges at with switchblade
Officer: /shoots Crisp
Crisp: /morphs into dinosaur
Booth: aaaaand here in Oakland, we have some extra-curriculars taking place on the infield...
- Dave Sims in the first on an earlier encounter with Eric Wedge:
You could feel the burn of his competitive juices.
- Sims also talked about an earlier encounter with Chone Figgins while Figgins was batting in the first. According to Sims, Figgins said that he was going to be a little more aggressive this season and generally be more willing to swing the bat early in the count. While Sims was recounting this story, Figgins bunted at the first pitch, then watched the next three and struck out looking.
- Miguel Olivo's first official at bat as a Seattle Mariner in his second go-around saw him strike out swinging at a curveball in the other batters box, in the dirt. It's funny the things you don't realize you missed. I think we're contractually obligated to have at least one of these guys in the lineup at all times.
- There's no getting around the fact that the Mariners were greatly helped by the A's committing five errors. Some of you might recall that that's one more error than the A's made against us in the season opener a year ago. Even crazier is that the A's condensed all five of those errors into the final six innings. Kevin Kouzmanoff fumbled consecutive grounders in the fourth. Daric Barton dropped an easy throw in the seventh, and Brad Ziegler then bounced pretty much the worst pickoff throw I've ever seen moments later. Finally, Cliff Pennington muffed a routine grounder in the eighth. These errors led to the Mariners scoring two runs.
But while Oakland was a big help, bear in mind that the M's didn't only win because their opposing defense went clownshoes. The Mariners worked seven walks against Oakland pitching, topping their 2010 season best by seven, and had Trevor Cahill out of the game in the fifth. I think my favorite stat of the day is that, while the A's saw 108 pitches, the M's saw 184. The M's were working a lot of long at bats, and they were able to bring enough of their baserunners home. We should be encouraged by all their baserunners, because they won't go 1-11 with runners in scoring position all season long.
This was by no means a spectacular evening for the Mariners' lineup, but they did some good work against some good pitchers. I know we have Olivo, but we only have one of him. The rest - when it comes to having solid at bats, I trust the rest. I think. Sort of.
- The secret to Trevor Cahill's success against left-handed batters is that his fastball breaks approximately 90 feet to the right, more or less allowing him to disguise heaters down the pipe as pickoff throws to first.
- One of the announcers was discussing an upcoming promotion when he read the following line straight off the paper in front of him:
Now all kids 14 and under can dress like Ichiro.
- In the top of the seventh, Miguel Olivo sprinted home on a Brendan Ryan grounder to short. The throw beat him, but it was offline, and Olivo was able to score after charging into Kurt Suzuki's back. Suzuki wound up injured and had to leave the game soon after, but what struck me watching the replay is how it appeared like Olivo held up. Some guys, like Nyjer Morgan, might've gone in there shoulder-first and attempted to level the guy receiving the ball. Olivo ran into Suzuki just like you'd expect a catcher to run into a catcher. Though mildly violent, it was almost polite, and while I might just be seeing something that wasn't there, the respect I imagined in my head was nice to see on the field.
Bret Boone had a bat flip for home runs. Jack Cust has a bat flip for walks.
- In the top of the fifth inning, Justin Smoak worked a five-pitch walk off Cahill. Olivo followed and pulled a first-pitch fastball into left for a base hit. People always freak out when a guy swings at the first pitch after a walk and gets a bad result, but here there was nary a peep. Not swinging after a walk is a bad policy, because sometimes the first pitch after a walk is really hittable. Olivo got himself a hittable pitch, and he hit it. I don't trust that that was Olivo's actual thought process at the time, but the general point remains that the idea isn't to draw walks or increase the pitch count - the idea is to swing at hittable pitches, and lay off what's tricky. Olivo did that. On that one pitch, anyway.
- Everybody hates on Mount Davis but I kind of like it. It's terribly ugly, but it's distinctly Oakland, and I think its function is to sit there in the background and loom. The verb "loom" was invented in 1996 to describe what Mount Davis does.
- Now that Ryan Langerhans has gone 0-5 with four strikeouts, it's worth noting that, while he hit for a high average and good power in Spring Training, he also struck out 24 times, to go with two walks.
- There's a commercial I've seen a bunch of times lately advertising an upcoming appearance by Bill Engvall at some comedy club (so you can tell it's an effective commercial). In the commercial, Engvall tells a joke, which I'll paraphrase:
In [some place], a 19-year-old kid ran for mayor in his town. I was like, good for you, go out and get a job.
- Despite all of Oakland's mistakes in the field, hands-down the wildest moment of the evening came in the top of the sixth, when Chone Figgins stood in against Craig Breslow with two out and none on and ripped an inside fastball high and deep over the left field fence. Those of us watching had just seen Chone Figgins blast a tie-breaking clutch home run. Rob Johnson hit a home run on Opening Day 2010, of course, so it's not like there's anything to read into here, but from now until forever, the history books will show that 2011's first Mariner home run was not hit by Milton Bradley. It was not hit by Jack Cust. It was not hit by Franklin Gutierrez, or Justin Smoak, or Ichiro, or Miguel Olivo. It was hit by Chone Figgins. And 2011's first Mariner run scored on a walk.
When Figgins returned to the dugout, everybody around him was all smiles, save for Felix, who was stoic, presumably trying to figure out what it meant to have a lead, and whether it was against the rules.
Tomorrow, 6:05, Jason Vargas and Brett Anderson. The Mariners probably won't win if they sit back and wait for the A's to commit five errors. But then the A's probably won't win if they sit back and commit five errors, so who the hell knows what's going to happen.