It's a funny thing about a lot of baseball fans and writers - as much as we love the game, and as much as we come to the game's defense when it's insulted, we can't stand when the games themselves drag on. There's a reason those four-hour/ games have gotten so much attention over the years. People don't like when baseball takes too much time. Not so much because of extra innings; extra innings are tense. But slow, laborious regular innings are torture.
It seems counter-intuitive at first. If you like baseball, shouldn't you like baseball the way it is, no matter how fast or slow the pace? But then, a long game doesn't necessarily have more action than a shorter game - it just has more pauses and delays, when nothing's happening, and those moments aren't enjoyable. If you take your favorite movie and splice in five second-long delays before every line of dialogue, it probably wouldn't be your favorite movie anymore.
So with Daisuke Matsuzaka scheduled to take the mound for the Red Sox tonight, I wasn't looking forward to this game as much as I would've liked to, because Matsuzaka is well-known to be one of the slowest workers in baseball. He works slowly and he lives in deep counts, which can be rough on the viewer. Ordinarily I love playing games against Boston because they're one of the few teams still out there that I want to beat for more reasons than simply seeing the M's get a win, but Matsuzaka took some of the shine off that apple.
Then, after a few innings, he got hurt. He got hurt! Granted, at 82 pitches Matsuzaka was nearing the end of his outing anyway, but that opened the door for the game to pick up, and sure enough, after one final Matsuzaka-related break in the action, the game got a little faster, and the game got a little better as the M's erased a deficit. Then the game got a lot better. Then thewon. The whole thing took a little over three hours, but every pitch after the fifth inning or so had me on the edge of my sofa, and the final one elicited a shout and a fist pump.
Given this little hot streak that the Mariners are riding, there's going to be some talk about whether or not you're buying them as a legitimately decent ballclub. Less important than your answer, though, is that we get to ask the question. I don't know how long this improved play is going to last, but I'm just glad that I get to be happy about baseball again. Sometimes the Mariners make me forget why I love this game so much. These past four games have been a reminder.
It's hard to remember that, before everything else, the Mariners actually had an early lead in this one, after Justin Smoak's two-run single in the first. Smoak was given a very hittable pitch of which he took advantage, and one had to wonder at the time why the Red Sox would give him anything remotely hittable given who was standing on deck. But then (A) it's not like Matsuzaka puts his pitches where he wants them anyway, and (B) I guess it turns out Jack Cust isn't dead after all.
After the Mariners went up, they wound up victims of some lousy luck. The second inning saw Mike Cameron wrap a home run around the Pesky Pole in right, which is kind of like when a hockey player clears the puck along the boards and it takes a funny bounce off the stanchion to catch the other goalie off guard and go into the net. It counts, but nobody's satisfied. Then, in the bottom of the third, Darnell McDonald led off by striking out, but the umpires curiously ruled that he tipped the ball and Miguel Olivo didn't catch it clean, so McDonald got another chance and drew a walk, starting off a two-run inning that gave the Red Sox the lead.
A legitimate Mike Cameron homer in the fourth put Boston up 4-2, but then the Mariners got a break. With runners on first and second and one out, Dustin Pedroia hit a grounder to short. Brendan Ryan picked it up and rushed forward to tag Jason Varitek before throwing to first to complete the double play, but replays appeared to show that no tag was applied. In my head, it evened things up. Even though the previous bad call had indirectly cost the Mariners two runs, the right call here would've put two runners in scoring position for Adrian Gonzalez.
My feelings of evensies disappeared a few minutes later when Justin Smoak was called out on strikes on a pitch well inside with a runner on third. Thankfully, from then on there wasn't much in the way of controversy, aside from some more peculiar ball/strike calls for both sides, and the Mariners wound up winning, so I've little reason to complain and really mean it.
The seventh was the big inning. It's amazing how much better this lineup looks when the top of it is working the way it's supposed to. Ichiro singled and Chone Figgins doubled, and after a Milton Bradley strikeout, Miguel Olivo came up in a situation where he needed to make contact and he made enough contact, driving in the tying run. Then, two batters later, Jack Cust swung at the second pitch of an at bat for the first time in his entire professional career and blasted a double off the Monster to put the M's in front. It was only his third extra-base hit of the season and I don't think anybody saw it coming, but it sure would be peaches if this were an indication that Cust wants to get in on things too.
That put the game in the hands of the pitching staff, and after some deep breaths and eyelid raises, Brandon League threw a perfect inside fastball for the final out. Fittingly, after seeing Cameron hit a 150-foot home run earlier in the game, the Red Sox watched on as Jed Lowrie led off the ninth with a 410-foot fly out to center. Fenway's a weird, quirky ballpark, but Fenway doesn't play favorites, and in the end it all worked out for the forces of good.
12-15. It isn't a good record, but it's even with the Red Sox, and it looks a hell of a lot better than the 8-15 we were looking at all day Monday. Themight be proof that it's still too early to take much of what we see for serious, but then, the Cleveland Indians might be proof that sometimes a team can take you by surprise. The more the Mariners win, the more reasons you can find to think they could keep winning.
Man this feels weird.
- It's funny what that one call against Darnell McDonald did to Jason Vargas' final line. Instead of a hypothetically impressive five strikeouts and one walk, he wound up with four strikeouts and two walks in seven innings, with four runs allowed. On the surface, this was a decent start - nothing more, and nothing less, given the circumstances.
But I think Vargas was better than decent in a smaller park against a good lineup. His changeup was a weapon from the get-go. Two-thirds of them were strikes. Of the 21 swings the Red Sox took against it, seven missed, and six hit grounders. Vargas' strength didn't abandon him on a night when he needed it.
And when you consider that he lasted seven innings, and that Cameron's first home run was a fly out in any other ballpark, this was an excellent effort. Vargas is getting into that Jarrod Washburn zone where you just assume that he'll deliver a solid effort pretty much every time he takes the mound. I would never pick Vargas as the one Mariner I'd want to start in a must-win game, but if Vargas wound up having to start a must-win game, I wouldn't be disappointed. Home opener aside, I trust him.
- Looking back, it's hilarious now how badly so many of us wanted Daisuke Matsuzaka, and how upset we were when Boston paid a Soyuz seat just for the right to have a conversation. Matsuzaka hasn't been a bad pitcher, but he's been a frustrating one who's been less than what was advertised, and when you throw in the fact that he's among the five least watchable pitchers in the league, it's safe to say we dodged a bullet, or at least a fist-sized rock thrown with moderate speed in our direction.
- Jack Cust wound up being the hero when he delivered that double off the wall, but earlier in the game there was some talk about the length of his leash. Why would Jack Cust be on a leash? No wonder he's been struggling. There's been somebody tugging at a belt around his neck the whole time he's been trying to swing. Maybe if the Mariners want Jack Cust to improve, they should let him off the leash.
- Every time I watch a Red Sox game or come across some Red Sox highlights, I always think that Dustin Pedroia swings a bat that's way too big for him, and that Kevin Youkilis swings a bat that's way too small for him. Have they considered that maybe they took each other's bats by accident? Maybe Pedroia would actually be able to hit a baseball 400 feet if he weren't trying to swing the relative equivalent of a European bell tower. That he's still been able to have success with that uncut redwood is downright breathtaking. No wonder he's arrogant.
- If you're curious, the Win Expectancy difference between a Darnell McDonald strikeout and a Darnell McDonald walk in that situation in the third is 6.5%. The Win Expectancy difference between Brendan Ryan applying that tag and not applying that tag in the fourth is 4.0%. Neither call was huge; the first was just made to look huge by the ensuing rally, while the second was made to look huge by the Mariners holding the Red Sox where they were and coming back to win.
- I believe Chris Ray started warming up in the sixth inning, then he warmed up in the seventh inning, then he sat down and watched Jamey Wright get called on in relief for the eighth. This is probably the best way to use Chris Ray for as long as he's on the roster. "Well no looks like Ray's all tuckered out from the warm-ups, better use somebody else."
- It's bizarre that we've reached the point at which most of us feel comfortable with Jamey Wright as a high-leverage reliever. Granted, a big part of that presumably comes out of the untrustworthy nature of his peers, but here was Wright being called on to protect a one-run lead against the Red Sox in Fenway Park, and I don't think any of us flinched. He even froze Youkilis with an inside 2-2 curveball for a punchout. I'm not in any way convinced that the Wright magic can last all season, but if he can just keep doing whatever he's doing until David Aardsma and Shawn Kelley come back, then that'd be swell.
- Milton Bradley last got a hit on April 19th. Since then, he's gone 0-21 with four walks and nine strikeouts, and 2011's great comeback story is suddenly batting .193. You'd like to think that Bradley won't melt down for as long as the Mariners are playing good baseball, but the Mariners won't always be playing good baseball, so tomorrow would be a great day to see Bradley split the outfielders a couple times. It's clear even to the untrained eye that he's pressing, and Milton Bradley isn't a guy you want to see press.
More baseball tomorrow, with Doug Fister and John Lackey's face. The Rangers just lost, by the way. I know fans of other teams vastly prefer reading Lookout Landing when the Mariners are terrible, but I vastly prefer watching the Mariners when they have a little hope for something. Right now, there's hope for something.