The A's, as we all know, did thea big favor in the season opener when their defenders treated the baseball like it was an angry badger. And then last night, the A's defense again helped the Mariners take and build on the lead in the ninth. So two games into the season, we were left asking two questions:
(1) Would the A's ever start playing like a Major League Baseball team?
(2) Would the Mariners be able to beat a Major League Baseball team?
Based on the Sunday matinee we just watched, the answer to the first question is "yes", and the answer to the second question is "no". Suddenly forced to play against a team that wasn't handing out freebies, the Mariners made asses of themselves instead and lost by six. I mentioned last night how quickly the baseball season goes back to feeling familiar after Opening Day. Yeah.
Here's the good news: because of the way the Mariners' starting five is ordered, we don't quite go from this loss with Doug Fister to some fourth starter tomorrow. We go from this loss with Doug Fister to Erik Bedard, and then to Michael Pineda. And then after Pineda, it's Felix! Three aces! 5-1! Forget all that negativity! All the A's really managed to prove today is that they're capable of beating the one starter who won't be in our World Series rotation. Nice going guys. I bet you could really do a number to Luke French too.
- As you'd expect, Doug Fister came out and threw a very Minnesota kind of ballgame, as is the norm. When he missed the zone, he barely missed, and nearly everything the A's swung at, they hit. The second pitch of the game was a fastball down the pipe that Coco Crisp lined right back up the middle, nearly taking Fister's awkward head off, but from there on he was okay. Nothing more and nothing less.
The big hit he allowed was Crisp's triple in the third. Trying to work the edges, Fister fell behind 3-1, and while Miguel Olivo called for a fastball over the outer edge, Fister's heater drifted over the middle and Crisp smashed it to the gap. That at bat was a good example of how narrow Fister's margin of error really is. He needs to put his pitches right where he wants to put them, because if he doesn't, they'll get hit hard. If Fister ever develops a blister or a hangnail or something, you'll know, because he'll last zero innings and allow 15 runs.
This wasn't the best game Fister's ever thrown, but after all the concern about his release point in Spring Training, it's somewhat reassuring to see him more like himself. Everybody knows that Fister has the most potential to suck of all of our starters. It would be nice if he didn't.
- Fister's working on some full stubble and longer hair, by the way. I was going to mention how awkward these make him look, and then I remembered some of his previous experiments with hair, and I realized it isn't the hair that makes Doug Fister look awkward. You can't not look awkward when you're white and 6'8. That's at least four or five inches above the uppermost bound of nonawkwardness. Trust me on this one.
- On the first fieldable ball the Mariners put in play, Daric Barton dropped a foul pop-up. The A's wound up playing competent baseball today, but only after they were able to get the silliness totally out of their system.
- At first, I wasn't sure what I thought of the A's gold uniform tops. They looked a little too much to me like the jerseys my team wore in high school. But then Milton Bradley lost a ball in the sun. Then Ryan Langerhans lost a ball in the sun. Then Ichiro looked like he kind of lost a ball in the sun. And that's when it dawned on me that, in his constant search for undervalued talent, Billy Beane had added the sun to the Oakland A's roster, and the team was wearing the only jersey it owns.
- I remember one time back in college I was walking around campus right before going on a date. I had gotten myself all dressed up and groomed as well as I could, but it was an unusually windy day, and the wind was messing up my hair, so eventually I was pushed beyond my breaking point and I stopped and stood there, by myself, swearing at the wind for minutes at a time, in front of anyone who happened to walk by. If Bradley, Langerhans, or Ichiro got really mad about the playing conditions off-camera, they probably looked ridiculous.
- While he did lose that one ball in the sun, in the bottom of the fourth Langerhans was able to sprint to his left and lay out to rob Hideki Matsui of a potential double to the gap. Between the instincts, footspeed and finish, it was a handy reminder that we'll be able to survive Franklin Gutierrez's absence in the field. And just two innings earlier, Langerhans had fallen behind 0-2 against the left-handed Gio Gonzalez before working to a sixth pitch and ripping it over the right field wall. Langerhans reminds me of Michael Saunders in a lot of ways, with the big difference being that Langerhans is presently more aware of the limitations of his swing.
- In the bottom of the second, after leading off with a double, Hideki Matsui attempted to tag up on a Kurt Suzuki fly out to right field, but got himself gunned down at third by a perfect strike from Ichiro. With this and the Langerhans catch soon thereafter, this was kind of a bummer of a Japanese Heritage Day for Hideki Matsui. It was less of a bummer of a Japanese Heritage Day for Japan, who was reminded which of their players is still the best at baseball.
I suppose I'm obligated to note that it looked like Chone Figgins missed the tag on Matsui after catching the throw, but the third base umpire knows a good story when he sees one.
- Milton Bradley's third inning double over the head of Josh Willingham in left was a pretty good demonstration of why the A's will probably end up playing a lot of Ryan Sweeney in the later innings of games in which they have a narrow lead.
- A's fans booed former A's player Milton Bradley. A's fans booed former A's player Jack Cust. A's fans did not boo former A's player Ryan Langerhans, and some of them actually went so far as to applaud former A's player Adam Kennedy. Adam Kennedy posted a .758 OPS for the A's in a season in which they won 75 games, and then he went away as quickly as he appeared. Nothing about that stadium will ever make sense to me.
- I don't want to say this game was lost at any particular moment in time, but I feel like the Mariners' biggest missed opportunity came in the top of the seventh, when they were trailing 3-1. Langerhans led off with a fluke infield single, and then Brendan Ryan worked a walk off a clearly tiring Gonzalez. That brought Jack Wilson to the plate. The obvious, classic managerial move was to ask Wilson to bunt, and that's what Eric Wedge did. And then Wilson bunted even after getting ahead 2-0, which I think might've been the right time to have him swing away.
But anyway, that put the tying run on second base with one out and the top of the order coming up. Then Gonzalez jammed Ichiro into a harmless comebacker, and he subsequently struck out Chone Figgins with a bunch of curveballs. The inning was over, and while it was still only a two-run game at that point, I think that stripped whatever wind remained right out of our sails. The M's had Gonzalez on the ropes and they couldn't cash in.
- In the top of the fourth, Miguel Olivo drew an unintentional walk in just his third game played. Even weirder is that, a year ago, Miguel Olivo drew an unintentional walk in his first game played. In the last 48 hours, we have seen Miguel Olivo draw an unintentional walk, and Chone Figgins hit a home run.
Josh Lueke made his big league debut in the bottom of the sixth and struck out Cliff Pennington on five pitches, including one dynamite 0-1 breaking ball. The seventh inning was much much worse, and Lueke wound up getting charged with four runs, but it all started when Langerhans lost a routine out in the sun, and who knows how things might have gone otherwise. He did strike out Josh Willingham with another awesome low breaking ball, and it's clear that Lueke shouldn't have too much trouble missing Major League bats when he gets his stuff harnessed.
So, some success and some jitters. Lueke may not have had the debut he's always dreamed of, but it's out of the way now, and for the rest of his life he'll be able to say that he struck out the first big league hitter he ever faced. It's not quite RRS striking out Ken Griffey Jr.,but few things are.
- Tom Wilhelmsen then got to make his big league debut in the eighth. He fell behind the first two guys he saw, but he got them both out, and then he closed by freezing David DeJesus with an outside curveball. Wilhelmsen topped out at 96 and threw all three of his pitches, and one wonders which moment was the best for him: finding out he made the team, jogging out to the mound for the first time, or jogging back from the mound for the first time. He'll grow jaded in time, but right now he has to be just the cutest thing.
Off to Texas now, where the M's get to face a team that hit 47 home runs in their season-opening series against Boston. Root Sports has a commercial advertising tomorrow's broadcast, including the line "Don't mess with Texas - well you know what, we didn't get that memo," even though they clearly got the memo since they knew about the expression. The commercial also promises that the Mariners will show thehow to win the AL West, even though the Rangers literally just won the AL West last year. Root Sports should only exist in Chicago.