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Mariners Compete Hard Against Rangers, Make Parents Proud

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I was going to begin this writeup with "the Mariners may not have won this game" until I realized that's stupid because there's no uncertainty. The Mariners did not win this game. They lost this game, because they scored four runs, and the Rangers scored six runs. The Rangers beat the Mariners because they outscored the Mariners.

But while the Mariners ultimately fell short, they did at least succeed in making the game interesting, which is something they didn't do nearly enough of a year ago. They battled. It's one of those things you say whenever a team plays decently well against a vastly superior team. The vastly inferior Mariners battled, and gave themselves a chance to tie this up as late as the top of the eighth. They could've wilted after quickly falling behind 3-0, but they stuck with it and instead lost without wilting.

Indeed, the Mariners didn't lose because they surrendered; they lost because they tried and played worse. They lost in large part because they put runners on second and third with nobody out in consecutive innings and came away with two runs, and they lost in large part because Ichiro dropped a line drive that indirectly led to the Rangers scoring two runs of their own. That is a pretty sure recipe for defeat.

I suppose you could be upset by their failure to take advantage when the door was open, yet the fact that the Mariners even gave themselves opportunities is nice enough at this point, because it's a sign of progress, and that's really all we want. We aren't in a position to get greedy and complain about losing winnable games, because not all winnable games will be won, and certainly not by this baseball team. Winning a bunch of winnable games would mean this is a good baseball team, which it isn't. It is an all right team on the path to being good, and it is in 2012 and 2013 that we'll hopefully be able to start legitimately complaining about lost chances in earnest. We can fantasize all we want about 2011, and I'm right there with you, but I don't think it's in the cards, and I'm going to try to keep from getting too broken up about it.

  • What everybody wants to know, I'm sure, is how Erik Bedard looked in his first start since 1976. The raw line is none too impressive - Bedard went his five innings, allowing five runs while striking out three. There isn't much there that grabs the eye, aside from the fact that Bedard actually got himself into a baseball game again.

    But for one thing, Ichiro couldn't handle a line drive in the second inning with two outs, and the next batter drove two guys home with a triple. So those are two runs for which you can't fault Bedard entirely.

    And for another, and more meaningfully, this was Bedard's first start back, and it would've been silly to expect him to be brilliant. His command was clearly spotty, as evidenced by the two walks and a changeup he left right over the middle of the plate to Josh Hamilton in the fifth. He's got some honing to do. But his curveball looked as sharp as it ever has, and it played well save for the instances in which the Rangers were sitting on it. His stuff hasn't run away and hidden. He'll just have to work on getting it under control.

    I will say that his fastball appears to be about a tick lower than it was, although given how early it is, and given some of the issues with PITCHfx calibration, I'm not going to make too big a deal of this right now. Bedard's fastball was never his strength anyway. He tried to sneak one in against Elvis Andrus in the first, but Andrus was able to get around on it and yank it over the left field wall. I wasn't expecting that. The velocity is just something to monitor going forward.

  • The most recent season in which Erik Bedard had previously made a Major League start was also the most recent season in which Elvis Andrus had previously hit a Major League home run.

  • There were a lot of eyes rolling when Bedard's pitch count reached 50 in the second inning. "Same old Bedard," remarked all those ill-informed pricks who can't appreciate what they have. Then Bedard needed just six pitches to work a 1-2-3 third, and 11 pitches in the fourth. Even to those of us who enjoy what Bedard brings to the table, that efficiency came as a surprise. So now we can add to the list. Over the last four days, Chone Figgins has hit a home run, Miguel Olivo has drawn an unintentional walk, and Erik Bedard has thrown a six-pitch inning. You never know what you'll see at the ballpark!

  • As you probably know, I'm an Erik Bedard fan. But I've written before about how I think Bedard's most appealing as a guy who's unavailable to pitch, but on the way back, and I think we kind of saw that play out today. There was a lot of anticipation and there were a lot of people hoping to see Bedard immediately re-emerge as an ace, but Bedard's pitching itself was anticlimactic. The actual act of watching Bedard pitch - even when he's successful - doesn't measure up to watching a guy like Felix, but we don't think about this when we imagine Bedard in theory. Theoretical Bedard is a potential strikeout machine. Reality Bedard can't achieve the level of our daydreams, and so Reality Bedard can leave us wanting. It's a damn shame, for us, and for him.

  • It was remarked in a few places, including on TV, that the Mariners managed to out-hit the Rangers today. In that the Mariners had ten hits while the Rangers had seven, this is true. But the Mariners had an OBP of .297 and a slugging percentage of .389, while the Rangers had an OBP of .314 and a slugging percentage of .548. It's funny how triples and homers can be more valuable than singles and doubles. The Mariners are probably going to out-hit a bunch of teams this season, and they're probably going to lose quite a few of those games.

  • Just before the first pitch, the broadcast flashed a graphic showing that the Rangers had hit 11 home runs through their first three games. Said Mike Blowers:

    I wouldn't anticipate that slowing down.

    The 1997 Mariners hold the current team record for home runs in a season with 264. Mike Blowers believes this year's Rangers are going to beat them by 330. The Rangers only went on to hit two home runs, though, so now they're off Blowers' pace.

  • It might even go without saying, but I think the brightest point this early in the season has been the productivity of Justin Smoak. He came into the year with questions about his approach, and questions about his ability to hit right-handed against lefties. So far he's drawn four walks, and all five of his hits have come against lefties, with three doubles. Facing Derek Holland today, Smoak ripped an inside slider up the middle for a base hit and later drilled an inside fastball to the gap. Then in the eighth, against Arthur Rhodes, Smoak waited back on a curveball and hit it hard the other way, nearly leaving the yard.

    Smoak's approach isn't perfect, but by and large he's taking good swings and he's making solid contact. Four games are four games. But much better to have four games like this than the alternative. I can't tell you how great it feels to watch a young Mariner hitter actually do something.

  • Coming back from commercial later in the game, we were shown some clips from Dallas' Sixth Floor Museum. Referring to the infamous window, Brad Adam said:

    ...where shots were said to be fired by Lee Harvey Oswald.

    Either Brad Adam is a conspiracy theorist who wanted to slip some real talk in under everyone's noses, or it is part of Brad Adam's job description to be sunny and noncommittal about everything.

  • The Mariners' middle infield was at the top of its game tonight. I could spit a few words on Brendan Ryan's outstanding ability to pick short-hops and transfer the ball to his hand, but there's no sense in giving too much attention to the runners-up when the first place play of the day was so amazing.

    Here's one .gif. Here's a second .gif. And here's the video highlight. With the bases loaded and nobody out in the bottom of the sixth, Yorvit Torrealba hit a grounder right back up the middle that promised to put this game out of reach. But Jack Wilson ranged to his right, snared the ball right over second base, had the awareness to drag his foot across the bag as his momentum carried him forward, and then spun and made a strong, accurate throw to first to complete the double play.

    A run would score, and ultimately the double play didn't change the outcome, but the more I watch this clip, the more sensational it becomes. The range was impressive enough. But to get the foot down, and then to make what was practically a no-look throw, all while still getting used to a brand new position - I don't think I'm exaggerating when I say this stands a chance of being one of the five best defensive plays of the season, by anybody. It certainly stands a chance of being the best defensive play all year by a Mariner. Some guys will make throws, and some guys will make dives and leaps, but Wilson made so many things happen in a split second that I don't think he's going to be topped.

    At that point in the game, with the Rangers about to blow the doors open, some players might've felt discouraged and let up a little bit. Wilson turned in as good a play from a second baseman as any I've seen in years. I know it's early, but God damn does he ever look rejuvenated. He's even hitting line drives!

  • Seeing Adrian Beltre in an opponent's uniform isn't as startling now as it was a year ago, but it's still unpleasant, and the fact that he's playing for contenders is as bittersweet as it gets. And every so often he'll give us a little wink as if to remind us of what we're missing. Against Aaron Laffey in the eighth, Beltre took one pitch and did his little happy feet dance, and then he swung at the next one and hit a line drive from his back knee. It's like going to homecoming and seeing your ex with some dude dancing to what used to be your song. Bitch please, that shit was ours.

  • Laffey made his Mariner debut in the seventh, and was then left out there in the eighth inning of a two-run game to face the right-handed Adrian Beltre, the right-handed Michael Young, the right-handed Nelson Cruz, the right-handed Mike Napoli, and the right-handed Yorvit Torrealba. Somehow Laffey survived without making things worse, although he did have to strand two runners in scoring position. He also generated 13 swings, of which zero missed. I'm willing to give Laffey a chance just because the front office clearly sees something in his skillset, but if Eric Wedge uses him in situations like this down the road then Laffey might as well draft his own DFA papers now and save everyone the hassle.

  • Milton Bradley doesn't have an off switch.

Tomorrow is the second game of this series we've all been waiting for, with Michael Pineda set to make his big league debut against Alexi Ogando in his own first big league start. These are the games in which one feels obligated to analyze every single at bat, which means these are also the games that bloggers with sleep schedules dread the second-most, next to night games in Oakland. Eww, Oakland.