I know that the Mariners lost to the Orioles, and that the Mariners lost to the Orioles in mind-bendingly heartbreaking fashion, but I want to focus on something else. At least for the time being. Something other than Brandon League's blown save in isolation. You want to see a game of almosts? Boot up the MLB.tv archives and watch this one over.
The Mariners went ahead early on a two-run homer by Adam Kennedy, but the ball was almost snared at the wall by a leaping, outstretched Nick Markakis.
The Orioles took the lead later on when Adam Jones ripped a double into left, but the ball was almost caught by a sliding Carlos Peguero.
The Mariners went out in front again in the next half-inning on an infield single by Miguel Olivo, but he was almost thrown out at first by Mark Reynolds.
The Orioles rallied for the lead in the bottom of the eighth against Jamey Wright, but all three of their hits stayed on the ground and just found their way through the infield.
The Mariners tied things up against Kevin Gregg in the ninth, but the hits by Michael Saunders and Justin Smoak were bloopers that were almost caught by converging defenders.
The Orioles almost won the game in the bottom of the ninth on a single by Nick Markakis, but Mike Wilson came up with a perfect throw from left field to gun down J.J. Hardy at home.
The Mariners almost took the lead in the top of the 12th on a double by Jack Cust that nearly left the yard, but Markakis and Brian Roberts worked a perfect relay to catch (or allegedly catch) Olivo at home.
The Mariners did take the lead in the top of the 13th on a single by Mike Wilson, but the single bounced out of the glove of a leaping J.J. Hardy, who would've been able to double up Jack Wilson at second had he made the catch.
The Orioles tied it up in the bottom half on a single by Felix Pie, but the single bounced up the middle and was almost fielded by Jack Wilson, who would've been able to start a game-ending double play.
The Orioles almost won - and the Mariners almost got out of the inning - on a grounder to Brendan Ryan in the next at bat, but Ryan couldn't field the ball cleanly to start a double play, and instead threw home, where he barely got Jake Fox.
And finally, the Orioles did win in that half-inning on a single up the middle by Matt Wieters, but Michael Saunders charged the ball and made a strong, just off-line throw home that almost nailed Pie at the plate.
All of these almosts, and there were presumably other ones, too. All of these almosts that, had they gone a different way, would've changed the outcome of the game. I'm not trying to sit here and argue that the Mariners got unlucky or deserved to win, because they also got lucky, and they didn't deserve to win any more than the Orioles did. Rather, my point is that, despite all the narratives people may create about this game, this game came very, very close on several occasions to being a different game.
And it isn't just this game, either. The almosts in this game seemed exceptionally frequent, but there are critical almosts in every game. One could go so far as to argue that everything is an almost, since a hit is almost a mis-hit, and a mis-hit is almost a hit, and a good pitch is almost a bad one and a bad pitch is almost a good one. The entire game of baseball hinges on these tiny, tiny things that make all the difference in the world, and while there's obviously a lot of talent involved, there's also a lot of not-talent, too, and the end result is that, when you get right down to it, I'm not sure how much we can even say about individual games, since they all come so close to being something else.
This is getting deeper than I wanted it to. Tomorrow I'll go back to writing about big plays and big mistakes as if they were just simply big plays and big mistakes. But today the Mariners lost an awful game, and I find all the philosophy reassuring. When viewed in a certain way, every devastating loss is but an inch or two away from an invigorating win, or a less devastating loss, or a different devastating loss, or anything, really, and tonight, I choose this as my bedtime story.
I'm going to skip over the running summary since I basically just wrote it above, and get right to the bullet holes:
- After everything that happened afterwards, it's kind of easy to forget that this was a Michael Pineda start. And while it may not have been the greatest Michael Pineda start we've ever seen, the man struck out six batters in six innings while throwing 72 of 100 pitches for strikes. The Orioles got a few extra good swings and a few extra hits, but it's not like there was anything unusually wrong with Pineda. He was just doing what he does.
We can critique individual things. Pineda only threw seven changeups against 40 sliders while opposing some talented lefties. The double that Adam Jones ripped in the sixth came on a slider that caught too much of the plate. While I haven't charted it, I feel like Pineda again started off against a bunch of lefties with that high fastball in the zone.
But step back for a moment. Michael Pineda has now made seven starts in the Major Leagues. He currently owns the AL's second-highest strikeout rate, behind Brandon Morrow. And Pineda, of course, is much better than Morrow when it comes to throwing strikes and avoiding the base on balls.
Michael Pineda has a higher strikeout rate than Jon Lester. He has a higher strikeout rate than Felix Hernandez. He has a higher strikeout rate than Josh Beckett and Max Scherzer and Jered Weaver and Justin Verlander. He has a higher strikeout rate than every starter in the AL, other than Brandon Morrow.
That's amazing. For a 22-year-old, Michael Pineda is amazing. We can talk about the specific things. There's a place for talking about the specific things. The little nit-picks. But try not to lose sight of the big picture. The big picture will take your breath away.
- While I thought Pineda was terrific today, the most impressive part of his start was J.J. Hardy's at bat to lead off the third. Hardy watched five pitches go by to work a full count - that wasn't the impressive part. The impressive part was the 3-2 fastball. Pineda gave Hardy 97mph heat up and in, just on the edge of the zone. Hardy didn't only make contact - playing his first big league game since April 9, he turned on that pitch and ripped a line drive home run into the left field seats.
We've talked a lot about perceived velocity here in the past. Perceived velocity depends on actual velocity, release point, and pitch location. That pitch was actually 97mph. It was released closer to the plate than most pitches are, on account of Michael Pineda's size. And it was up and in, where pitches seem far faster than they do when they're low and away. The perceived velocity of that 3-2 fastball would've been through the roof, and J.J. Hardy pulled it for a home run.
- Pineda's first showdown with Vladimir Guerrero began with a perfectly-located slider for a called strike one. The second pitch was a perfectly-located fastball in the same spot for a foul strike two. The third pitch was a perfectly-located fastball outside off the plate. Guerrero hit a roller up the middle for a single. Michael Pineda, welcome to Freaks. There are a few of them floating around. There's not really anything you can do.
- The sad thing isn't that Adam Kennedy is hitting home runs for the 2011 Seattle Mariners. The sad thing is that every so often Adam Kennedy will put a charge into a ball and I'll think, "thank you Adam Kennedy, I haven't seen a Mariner hitter do that for a while."
- Despite the loss, I'm not sure that Mike Wilson could be much happier with his big league debut. Wilson came off the bench to take over for Carlos Peguero once the Orioles bullpen got involved, and even though he made outs in his first three trips to the plate, he came up with a critical RBI in his fourth when he muscled a broken-bat blooper just about over the infield and off of Hardy's glove. More, Wilson helped send the game to extras in the ninth when he came up throwing on a Markakis single to left and tossed a perfect strike to Miguel Olivo to catch Hardy in plenty of time.
Hardy should not have been running. That much was readily evident as the play unfolded. Wilson looked to have the ball before Hardy even reached third base, and it was clear that either he or the base coach was overeager to try to end things then and there. But Wilson still needed to make a good throw, and he just about made a perfect one to let Olivo apply a tag and spare him from a collision.
It's worth noting that all ten of the pitches that Wilson saw at the plate tonight were fastballs, and he didn't swing at any bad ones. Whenever you're facing a guy who just came up from the minors, why would you pound him with fastballs? Wouldn't you just assume he can't hit anything offspeed until he proves otherwise? I don't get scouts.
- Wilson also made a good running catch on a Matt Wieters foul fly in the bottom of the eighth. It wasn't a spectacular catch, and Wilson didn't flash extraordinary speed, but he didn't look like the slow lumbering oaf so many people have tried to paint him as. I don't know about his instincts, but the man can move around.
- This was not the best day for home plate umpire Angel Hernandez. Or perhaps, given his reputation, this actually was the best day for home plate umpire Angel Hernandez, and all his other days have been even worse. I don't like to talk about umpire mistakes too much anymore because it comes off as whining and it just makes me upset about what's supposed to be a source of entertainment, but among Hernandez's mistakes:
-declaring that Brendan Ryan was not hit by an inside fastball in the eighth, and that the ball instead glanced off the knob of his bat
-calling a 3-0 strike to Ichiro on a fastball well up and out of the zone in the top of the ninth with nobody out and a man on first
-calling Miguel Olivo out at the plate on Jack Cust's double in the 12th when replays certainly made it look conclusive that Olivo slid in before Matt Wieters could apply a tag
The last one of those, obviously, was the biggest one, and even though it was a close play, and even though the throw beat Olivo to the plate, Hernandez put himself in bad position to make the call, and he made the wrong one.
I'm sure the Mariners benefited from some calls, too. This isn't me whining that the Mariners got screwed. This is me whining that Angel Hernandez earns more than a cantaloupe despite possessing similar judgment. If Major League Baseball has to keep umpires, the least it could do is try to only keep the good ones.
Chris Ray made an appearance today. He inherited a dangerous situation in extra innings and worked his way out of it without breaking a sweat. I was listening to that part of the game on the radio, and though Ron Fairly must have said that Chris Ray was coming in, I thought he said "Brandon League", so while Ray was moving guys down, I thought it was League the whole time. Imagine my surprise. Also, I was much more relaxed thinking it was League than I would've been had I known it was Ray. This is a neat trick. If you don't want to watch a certain current Mariner in a big spot, simply try to convince yourself that it's somebody else.
- I'm not going to be too hard on Jamey Wright for his blown save in the eighth for a couple reasons. One, all of the Orioles' hits came on groundballs. Two, Jamey Wright simply isn't very good, no matter what he's been able to do to date. But while I'll give Wright a break, one can't help but notice that Vladimir Guerrero's single came on an 0-2 pitch in the middle of the plate, Luke Scott's single came on an 0-2 pitch near the middle of the plate, and Adam Jones' single came on an 0-1 pitch inside, but in the zone and thigh-high. Wright was not helping himself.
- In the bottom of the tenth, Felix Pie led off with a soft roller right up the first base line that Justin Smoak picked up. Smoak stood in Pie's way and waited to apply a gentle tag, but rather than acquiesce, Pie planted his back foot and attempted to charge to knock the ball out of Smoak's glove. Smoak didn't appreciate it much, so he gave Pie a little shove along with some pleasantries, and then Pie decided it would be in everybody's best interests if he started mouthing off. One thing led to another, a bunch of people assembled in the area, and before we knew it we had another classic benches-clearing mill-around halfway up the line to first base. In hockey, if two players are mad at each other, those two players fight, and the rest of the teams watch them fight. In baseball, if two players are mad at each other, nobody throws any punches but everybody rushes to the area and shifts around aimlessly like when you spit in the middle of a line of ants.
- Jack Cust hit two balls to the track in left-center, and one ball high off the fence in straightaway right. Either this means the power is on the way back, or the power has almost completely eroded. I am not yet entirely sure which it is.
It's Felix and Chris Tillman tomorrow. A win and I think I'll keep buying in for a little while longer. A loss and it'll probably all start feeling that old kind of familiar again. With that in mind this is a much bigger game than I bet anybody would think. Baseball will surprise you!