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Second Coke Bender In A Week Fuels Mariners Victory

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Jack Wilson prepares to give the most chilling high five of his life
Jack Wilson prepares to give the most chilling high five of his life

What the Mariners showed last week, in a typically passive Northwesterner way, is that they're willing to do damage by taking walks and good counts as long as Phil Coke is handing them out. What the Mariners showed tonight is that they're also capable of beating Coke in a different way. A more aggressive way. A way that doesn't rely so much on Coke doing most of the work.

This time, Coke didn't issue a single walk, and actually threw a good number of strikes, but he still got taken behind the woodshed as the Mariners have apparently decided to put all of their offensive eggs in the Phil Coke basket. The Mariners have scored 85 runs so far this season. 15% of those runs have been charged to Phil Coke. Or, if you prefer, Phil Coke has allowed 17 runs so far this season, and 76% of them have been scored by the Mariners. The M's have averaged 1.6 runs per inning against Coke, and 0.4 runs per inning against everyone else.

The evidence clearly goes to show that the Mariners have Coke's number, and nobody else's number. What that would suggest is that this is all part of a deliberate scheme on the organization's part. Why Coke, you ask? Why did the front office build a team specifically engineered to destroy a relief pitcher convert in the AL Central? Why do any of us do anything? The important thing is waiting to see how well this works out. The front office knows more about baseball than we do, and they've decided that building a team against Phil Coke is the ticket to great success, so the least we can do is give it a chance. Come on. You're ugly when you're arrogant.

After missing a few games with a guest in town and then getting an off day yesterday, tonight I found myself in the unfamiliar position of finding baseball...unfamiliar. I had to re-establish the old routine and I scrambled to get the game thread up on time, which explains the late posting. With Felix Hernandez on the mound, it practically felt like another Opening Day. A new beginning, if you will. We've all wanted a new beginning for a couple weeks now, and for a little while, I got to feel like we were getting one.

Of course, it didn't take long for the reality of 2011 to set in. The Mariners were retired in order in the top of the first, and then Felix had a hell of a time working through the bottom half, surviving by allowing just one run but needing 25 pitches to do it. Within 15 or 20 minutes or so of first pitch, I remembered. I remembered everything about our current circumstance, and how shitty it is.

But then we got to the second, and Miguel Olivo led off with a drive to left that didn't clear the fence, and still cleared the fence. Olivo hit an assisted home run off the outstretched glove of Ryan Raburn that went as one of the first actual laugh-out-loud moments of the season, and from there everything felt lighter, sunnier. When you're accustomed to watching a team like the Mariners, it's easy to slip into a rut where you feel like you're watching out of obligation, like you're just giving away three hours of your time to be spent unentertained. Olivo's home run was a reminder that wacky hijinks can happen at a moment's notice for anybody, and that the strangest, most unexpected moments can make a whole viewing worthwhile.

Of course, it didn't hurt that the Mariners kept hitting. On the rare night that Felix needed support, he got it. Justin Smoak cleared the fence with a two-run homer in the fourth in a moment so moving and powerful that even the Tigers fans in attendance threw him applause. The next inning, the M's came through with a couple hits with runners in scoring position, the big one being a triple by Chone Figgins over Austin Jackson's head in center. A four-run fifth put the M's up 7-3, and I felt confident, even with Felix battling and the bullpen being what it is. You could argue that I shouldn't have, I suppose, but I did, and it worked out, and, yay, a win. The bullpen didn't even try to make things interesting.

Does it really matter that the Mariners won? I don't know. If you don't think the M's stand a chance of making the playoffs, then no, the actual win isn't very important in the grand scheme of things. But for me, it's about good feelings. On nights like this, I get to feel good about the Mariners. I get to feel good about my favorite baseball team. I know that the M's are probably going to lose 90 or 95 or 100 games this season, but these nights are so important, because they offer breaks from all the negativity. At least until tomorrow's game, we don't have to feel negative about the Mariners. Appreciate this.

To the bullet holes, hastily and sloppily written during Canucks/Blackhawks overtime:

  • Matthew mentioned in the series preview that we were waiting on Felix to turn in his first truly dominant start of the season, and we're still waiting. By no means was Felix ineffective tonight, but we've come to expect a lot more than three runs in six innings. While he was getting some swings and misses, and while he was getting groundballs, Felix didn't really feel in control the way he so often does.

    The problem as I saw it, and the problem as Felix saw it, was that he didn't have a good feel for his breaking balls. The numbers certainly bear that out, as Felix threw fewer than half of his breaking balls for strikes, and you're talking about half of Felix's repertoire, here. He didn't abandon the pitches, and he kept trying to make them work, but they weren't working like they usually do.

    It's a blip. Sometimes, for whatever reason, that happens. Sometimes the seams just don't feel right in your fingers. It's hard to explain why it happens, but there's no doubting the fact that it does, and Felix was still able to battle through the inconvenience to spin six strong frames. It's just a good thing the offense was there to pick him up after so often letting him down. And us. After so often letting him and us down. Stupid offense.

  • After watching Miguel Olivo hit so many balls hard over the past several games, I don't want to say he deserved a home run like this, but he definitely deserved a little good luck, because of late he hasn't been as bad as his numbers would suggest. Maybe this kind of makes up for that one home run Milton Bradley had taken away last April. The real fun part is going to be seeing how this comes up on Hit Tracker Online, because that line drive was going to come down on the track before Ryan Raburn decided to give it a little shove.

    This isn't the first home run I've seen bounce over the wall off a player's body. Everybody remembers Jose Canseco having a home run bounce off his head, but I've seen a few others. Based on its popularity, the consensus seems to be that Canseco's is the most embarrassing, but Raburn's accident might give Canseco a run for whatever money he has left. Canseco seemed to kind of lose his footing before the ball hit him in the skull. Raburn looked like he was trying to knock the ball over the wall on purpose. It was as if the ball were a frog, and Raburn's glove were a lily pad.

  • If Olivo's home run was the most hilarious of the season, Smoak's was the most heartwarming. In his first game back since the death of his father, Smoak hit a ball well in the second and then hit a ball out in the fourth to give the M's a 3-1 lead. What's interesting is that, while all the teammates and fans immediately thought about Smoak's dad, if I had to wager, I'd say what was going through Smoak's mind as the ball flew out was nothing. Baseball isn't there to serve as a reminder of Smoak's dad. It's there to serve as a distraction.

  • In the first inning, Chone Figgins hit a moderate line drive right to Will Rhymes at second base. I was planning to make some crack about how Figgins' line drives aren't hit as hard as most players' line drives, but then I went to the numbers. While the league average BABIP on line drives hangs out around .720-.725, Figgins' career mark is .716. So, so much for that crack.

    Thankfully for Figgins, the lineout wasn't the big story of his day, as he came up in the fifth and knocked a triple over Austin Jackson's head. Now, Figgins hitting a ball over Austin Jackson's head doesn't mean the same thing as a normal player hitting a ball over Austin Jackson's head, since the highlight will show you that Jackson was playing Figgins hysterically shallow, but Figgins seems to hit one or two balls like this a week. He'll bounce a dozen tappers around the infield and he'll flick a handful of bloopers, and then out of nowhere he'll try to make a little meteor crater near the warning track. The other team is never prepared for it - and why would it be? - and it's like Figgins' weekly effort to prove that he doesn't literally hit with the strength of one of us.

  • Jack Wilson stood on first with one out in the third inning when Ichiro lifted a can of corn to center. Wilson took off, thinking there were two outs, and Jackson easily doubled him up to end the frame. Wilson then strongly considered taking himself out of the game because he doesn't yet feel comfortable being on base.

  • Milton Bradley struck out three times tonight. Twice he struck out swinging, and once, in the fourth, he was called out on a borderline pitch by Jim Wolf. After the call, Bradley dropped his bat on home plate and then immediately picked it up and walked away, as if he thought better of making a scene. It reminded me of a scene from He's Just Not That Into You that on second thought I don't think I'm going to explain.

  • Root Sports actually came up with an interesting infographic on Michael Saunders during one of his early at bats, with the gist being that Saunders has found himself in too many 0-2 counts. For his career, Saunders has gone 0-2 in 23% of his plate appearances, against an 18% league average. And that has shot up so far in 2011, as pitchers have gone after Saunders aggressively. It might be time for Saunders to think about taking some early cuts because right now he is ending up in too many holes.

    Of course, with the Canucks winning tonight, don't look for Saunders to make any adjustments tomorrow, as he'll probably be too hung over to take any advice.

  • David Pauley turned in another effective multi-inning relief appearance today. I can sense that people are going to start buying him as a dependable option in the later innings. Don't fall into that...well I don't want to call it a "trap" but you should probably wait for a little more data before you take that particular plunge, lest your neck end up broken.

  • Franklin Gutierrez was in the dugout, and knowing what I know about baseball players, every single conversation he had was the same, and they were all gross.

Tomorrow brings us Erik Bedard and Justin Verlander in a matchup that doesn't excite me nearly as much as I wish that it would.