Sometimes, when the Mariners have a 7pm start on the schedule, I look forward to the game all day long. Sometimes, when the Mariners have a 7pm start on the schedule, I don't look forward to the game all day long. And other times, when the Mariners have a 7pm start on the schedule, I pretty much dread the game all day long.
Coming in, this was one of those games. I was exhausted after staying up to write about last night's affair, and just wanted to sleep. Instead, I knew I'd have to watch the 5-12 and fading Mariners take on a depleted version of the 8-9 non-rival Doug Fister, and taking the mound for Detroit would be the relatively uninteresting Phil Coke. And then only making matters worse, early in the afternoon I found out that the Mariner lineup would feature Chris Gimenez in place of Justin Smoak. This had all the makings of a game I'd watch through half-shut eyelids, and I expected that I'd turn the TV off around 10:15 wondering what I'd just done with my last three hours.. Taking the mound for Seattle would be the relatively uninteresting
Baseball's a funny game that can take you by surprise. I did watch the last couple innings through half-shut eyelids, but only because by that point the game had passed the three-hour mark and the Mariners couldn't stop putting together disciplined at bats. Tonight, every single Mariner batter battled in almost every single trip to the plate. Tonight, the Mariners scored a season-high 13 runs. Tonight, if I did my math right, the Mariners raised their team OBP from .301 to .317. And tonight, Doug Fister turned in one hell of a start over 6.1 innings. The only thing wrong with tonight's game is that it dragged on a little long, but it only dragged on a little long because the Mariner hitters refused to give in.
Make no mistake: the Mariners weren't facing the Tigers' best group of hitters, and the Mariners weren't facing the Tigers' best group of pitchers. But while this projected to be a pretty dull and miserable game, it wound up a 223-minute delight. I'd say that's a welcome change from the early norm.
Whenever you have a game that ends up with a ridiculously lopsided final score like 13-3, you forget that there was a point at which the outcome wasn't so certain. To be sure, the Mariners got off to a promising start when they scored their second, third, fourth, and fifth first-inning runs of the season. And they were able to do it all with but one single hit, thanks to Phil Coke's 20-minute hallucination that he was facing dangerous hitters instead. But in the top of the second, the Tigers came right back, putting two runners in scoring position with nobody out. At that point, this felt like one of those games that would end up 8-6, in somebody's favor.
But then Ryan Raburn popped out to Jack Wilson, and Brennan Boesch got lost off second base, and suddenly the Tigers had two down and a man on third. They'd still score a run in the frame on a bloop single, but it could've been worse, and from there the Mariners didn't look back. Fister buckled down, the lineup kept working good at bats, and when some grounders and steals allowed the M's to push their lead to five in the fourth, the game felt in the bag. Fister was on cruise control, and Chris Ray and Josh Lueke were certainly too worn out from their Monday efforts to put another game in jeopardy.
The Tigers' last gasp came in the seventh. A grounder, a line drive, and a blooper allowed them to load the bases with nobody out, and after a pop up, Alex Avila chased Fister from the game with a bases-loaded walk that brought the tying run to the plate. But the weird thing about Jamey Wright is that I'm finding myself beginning to believe in him, and Wright needed all of one pitch to get Brandon Inge to hit a sharp grounder to second. A 4-6-3 later and the inning was done, and the M's went on to put things well out of reach in the bottom half.
Tonight, the Mariners scored early, the Mariners scored in the middle, and the Mariners scored late. They drew first blood. After the Tigers mounted a little rally, they shut them down and extended their lead. And after the Tigers tried to fight back again, they shut them down and blew the doors open. I don't want to say that the Mariners do or do not have killer instinct, because I don't think that's a trait that any team in any sport can possess, but for one game they definitely choked the life out of the Tigers at every opportunity. And to think they did it at the plate with three extra-base hits. The Mariners scored 13 runs on three doubles, 12 singles, and 11 walks. This was an entire game of 2009 Chone Figgins.
Tonight's bullet holes:
- Much like Jamie Moyer, I find the concept of Doug Fister a lot more interesting than the actual act of watching him pitch. Most of the time, he'll throw his five or six or seven innings and the only thing I'll be able to write when he's finished is "I can't believe this still works!" His windup isn't weird, none of his pitches are in any way remarkable, and if he has a personality, he doesn't show it on the mound. He's just some white guy who goes out there and throws white guy pitches, and he usually keeps himself from getting in the way.
But tonight, Doug Fister was interesting. Legitimately interesting. It has to be said that he was facing a Tigers lineup without Victor Martinez, Magglio Ordonez and Carlos Guillen, so those guys weren't at full strength, but even so, Fister struck out seven batters, setting a new career high. Twice he struck out consecutive hitters, getting two guys looking in the first and two guys swinging in the fifth. And a big key to his success was his big looping curveball.
PITCHfx missed a few at bats, but Fister threw at least 24 curveballs tonight, building on an early season trend. Coming into the year, Fister's career curveball rate was right around 9%. So far in 2011, it's up to 19%. And the reason for the increase seems to be that Fister has significantly improved his command of the pitch.
Tonight, the Tigers only offered at four of those 24 curves, but 15 of them went for called strikes. Not only did that mean the hitters were finding themselves in worse counts; it messed with their timing as well, making Fister's fastball, changeup, and slider more effective. Fister's excellent curveball expanded his velocity range, and the result was a very impressive start.
I think that's the right word. Doug Fister was impressive. I'm not sure I've ever been able to say that before. If this whole curveball thing keeps up, then Fister might become an even better version of the guy who was already exceeding everyone's expectations.
- The Tigers used four pitchers, and those four pitchers combined to throw 116 strikes out of 212 pitches. It was a chilly night in Safeco, and it's possible that the cold was causing the Tigers problems getting a feel for the ball, but if so, that only makes what Fister was able to do all the more incredible. You know what's hard to throw when you don't have a good feel for the ball? A curve.
- I don't remember when it was, but at some point a Tigers hitter drilled a comebacker that caused Doug Fister to duck so as to keep the top of his head attached to the bottom of his head. The comebacker, though, was hit close enough to second that Jack Wilson was able to gobble it up and throw it to first for the out. The instant replay focused on Fister and called it the Home Depot Doing More On Defense play of the game. The Home Depot Doing More On Defense play of the game was Doug Fister getting out of the way of a baseball. Doug Fister did less on defense. You could argue that Doug Fister did the least on defense.
- Jack Wilson drew three unintentional walks for the first time in his 1,263-game career. He had drawn three walks in a game once before, but one of those three walks was intentional. So between that game and this game, I'm not sure which is more weird.
- In the first inning, five Mariners reached base and two Mariners crossed home before Chris Gimenez chimed in with the team's first hit. The Mariners' bases-loaded walk, drawn by Jack Cust, was their league-leading sixth on the year. Last year, they drew seven.
- In the top of the sixth, Brendan Ryan ranged to his right to pick a grounder towards the hole by Austin Jackson, and made a strong throw to first to get the speedy runner by half a step. Milton Bradley jogged all the way in from left field to tap Ryan on the butt. It's amazing the lengths some baseball players and coaches will go to in order to tap another baseball player or coach on the butt.
- It was in the fifth that Michael Saunders pulled a single to right and got thrown out trying to stretch it to second. Offered in response by Rick Rizzs: "that's baseball." Nobody thought anything of it, because for whatever reason "that's baseball" is an acceptable response to anything that happens on the field of play. One wonders if this works in other lines of employment.
Banker 1: Hey buddy
Banker 2: What's up
Banker 1: Not much, just passing along these documents
Banker 2: Right on
Banker 1: /trips
Banker 1: /falls
Banker 1: /documents fly out of window, fall 20 stories to the street
Banker 2: That's banking
Banker 1: Yeah
Banker 3: It sure is
Banker 4: /nods
- The announced attendance was 12,411, or exactly four more than last week's all-time Safeco low. In the seventh inning, they started the wave. It was more of a ripple. If observing the wave at a football game is like standing beside the Pacific Ocean, then observing the wave at Safeco tonight was like fly fishing in a creek.
- While the Mariners were piling up the runs, the camera cut over to the Ichi-Meter in right field, and Rizzs remarked that "the man out there with the Ichi-Meter is busy tonight." The man out there with the Ichi-Meter updates the Ichi-Meter when Ichiro gets a hit. Tonight Ichiro recorded four hits in three and a half hours. The man out there with the Ichi-Meter was only slightly more active than a man in a coma.
- Root Sports voiceover guy line of the day:
Come lunch time tomorrow, you know where I'll be - taking in a Mariners matinee on Root Sports.
Ichiro groundball single
Ichiro steals 2nd
Ichiro steals 3rd
Figgins RBI groundball single
Figgins steals 2nd
Figgins reaches 3rd on error
Bradley RBI groundout
The top of the Mariners lineup only rarely goes according to plan, but when it goes according to plan, there is no more annoying top of the lineup in the league. When the top of the Mariners lineup goes according to plan, it's like playing your brother in a really stupid baseball video game.
Tomorrow's 12:40 matinee brings us Rick Porcello and Erik Bedard. By the time that you read this, the game will be soon! The game is so soon!