Back on April 16th, the Mariners lost to the Royals. They didn't just lose to the Royals, either - they lost 7-0, in a game that matched Felix Hernandez up against Sean O'Sullivan. Felix allowed five runs in five innings and, with the lineup doing absolutely nothing about a nobody starter, he was taken out after 90 pitches, as Eric Wedge figured there wasn't any reason to leave him in. It was the Mariners' fourth consecutive loss, dropping them to a league-worst 4-11, and it was the first day this season that I really thought, yeah, this year isn't going to go anywhere.
The M's got better from there. They split their next eight games. Then they won five in a row, and eight of their next ten. Suddenly they were only a game below .500, and while the team wasn't hitting, at least it was hitting a little better, and the pitching had been good. The M's put themselves in a competitive position, and to a person we all got excited. Even though we knew perfectly well that the big picture was the top priority, we were thrilled to have a team we might actually want to watch every single day.
And now here we are. The M's lost an ugly one to the White Sox. They lost a tight one to the White Sox. They lost a tight one to the Orioles. And they lost a pretty ugly one to the Orioles. Ever since Brendan Ryan's dramatic walk-off single up the middle, the Mariners have lost four games in a row, and I'd be lying if I said that same old familiar indifference weren't setting back in. 16-17 is interesting. 16-21 is one of the worst records in baseball. And for a neat bit of symmetry, tonight we saw Felix Hernandez get pulled after allowing four runs in five innings while opposing a vastly inferior pitcher. I don't feel exactly the same today as I did on April 16th, but I feel mighty close. Emotionally, I feel like the fun's already over.
It isn't rational. Though the M's have lost four in a row, two of those went to extra innings and easily could've gone the other way. And besides, 16-21 is still better than 4-11. That's 12 wins in 22 games. If the M's were to keep winning at that clip, they'd finish with an 84-78 record. I know that I'm probably just overreacting to small events and making them out to be bigger than they are.
But still, all the thrill of last Friday night has almost completely eroded away. I was ready to make believe that this team could do bigger things. Now I feel like I'm going to go back to watching the Mariners the way I usually watch the Mariners. I don't like the way I usually watch the Mariners. The way I usually watch the Mariners is sad.
Because I've still got other stuff on my plate tonight, we're going to go straight to the bullet holes again. We're also going straight to the bullet holes again because this was not a game worth reviewing with 2,000 words. This was a game worth reviewing with five seconds of the sound of a person really loudly doing the dishes.
- Ordinarily, when Felix has a rough go of it on the mound, we can chalk up at least part of his misfortune to guys putting good swings on good pitches. Tonight, though, Felix simply didn't have it. His last time out, he was dealing no-hit stuff from the beginning. This time, he started shaky and didn't really get any less shaky.
The umpiring, for whatever it's worth, didn't help him, and one of the big mistakes was calling ball four to J.J. Hardy to load the bases in the second when Felix actually threw a 3-2 slider in the zone. There were several occasions on which Felix and whoever the guy was behind the plate disagreed.
And it's not like the Orioles were hitting him all over the ballpark. He missed nine bats, he generated plenty of groundballs, and until the fifth, he'd labored but only allowed one run.
Still, Felix was unlike himself, and maybe the best indication is the total number of foul balls. Historically, batters have fouled off about 17% of Felix's pitches. Tonight, Felix threw 105 pitches, and the Orioles fouled off 29. The command wasn't there. The putaway stuff wasn't there. The Orioles were frequently able to battle until they drew some balls or got a pitch to hit.
It'll be interesting to see where Felix goes from here. His next start is at home against the Twins. That should be as easy an assignment as one gets. It'd be reassuring to see an eight- or a nine-inning masterpiece. Just because I'm familiar with a world in which Felix is mortal doesn't mean I don't want to go back to the home planet as soon as I can.
Said Chris Tillman:
On motivation against former team: "It felt good. First of all, it was good seeing those guys again, the few that are left. But I think that gave me a little extra boost, kind of wanted to stick it up their butts a little bit."
Doctor: So you have a baseball up there.
Doctor: So you have a baseball up there, and you want me to get it out.
Doctor: How did you get a baseball up there?
Mariners: A friend.
Doctor: A friend of yours put a baseball up your butt.
Mariners: Well he isn't really a friend.
Mariners: More of an acquaintance.
Mariners: More of an old acquaintance, I guess.
Doctor: You let an old acquaintance put a baseball up your butt.
Mariners: I didn't really want him to.
Mariners: I didn't really want him to but he did and now there's a baseball up my butt.
Mariners: Please get the baseball out of my butt.
Doctor: This is going to hurt.
Mariners: It already hurt.
- The J.J. Hardy walk in the bottom of the second was bad, but umpire Paul Schrieber's highest-leverage mistake came in the top of the ninth, when Brendan Ryan led off with a full count and then took a Kevin Gregg fastball several inches inside off the plate for what Schrieber decided would be strike three instead of ball four. It wasn't one of those borderline pitches where you ultimately throw up your hands and accept that sometimes it's a strike and sometimes it's a ball. This was well off the border. This was an indisputable ball that would've given the Mariners a leadoff baserunner. Schrieber wasn't having it.
Ryan turned and argued for several seconds before stomping away in a huff, but when something like that happens there's nothing you can do. The umpire can't really reverse his call, and because he can't reverse his call he can either dig in his heels and insist he was right, making the batter mad, or he can admit that he made a mistake and go with the call anyway, making the batter mad. It must be awkward to be the catcher. If I were Matt Wieters I would've said "oh yeah totally a ball" but then I guess catchers shouldn't undermine the referees standing directly behind them.
- The game's feel-good moment came in the top of the seventh, when Michael Saunders destroyed a 3-1 Jason Berken fastball over the right field wall for a 400-foot home run. There was nothing particularly special about the homer. Berken grooved his fastball, and Saunders did what hitters are supposed to do to 3-1 grooved fastballs. But we've seen Saunders do so little with such hittable pitches before that it's nice to be reminded of the fact that he's one of the 500 or so best hitters in the world, and that he's capable of doing good things. Between this homer and yesterday's line drive single, it's almost enough to make me believe that Michael Saunders won't finish the season batting .150.
- With one out and two runners in scoring position in the third, Justin Smoak struck out. With two on and two out in the seventh, Justin Smoak grounded out. I drew the comparison between the 2011 Seattle Mariners and the 2010 San Diego Padres last week. If you've ever been curious what the Padres looked like when Adrian Gonzalez wasn't hitting, consider this your response.
Between Smoak's important outs and Adam Kennedy whiffing with two out and two runners in scoring position in the sixth, the Mariners did have their opportunities. It felt like they weren't doing crap all game at the plate, but it turns out they were doing some crap, and just not enough in critical spots.
- The Orioles had Carlos Peguero going after low breaking balls for much of the game. He whiffed on a low breaking ball in his first at bat. He grounded out on a low breaking ball in his second bat. He flew out to the track on a low breaking ball in his third at bat, nearly leaving the yard. All of the breaking balls were out of the zone. Over the coming weeks it's going to be fun to see opponents try to figure out how low they have to throw their breaking balls to Carlos Peguero so that he will swing at them but not still find a way to hit them 500 feet.
- Ken Griffey Jr. was present today, and before the game he was sighted giving advice to Miguel Olivo by the batting cage. Surely his lessons will stick.
Tomorrow Jason Vargas will try to help the M's avoid a sweep as he goes up against Zach Britton. According to Yahoo!'s Zach Britton player profile image, Zach Britton is a bird, so you have to figure the M's have an advantage here, unless he is a bird with a very large wingspan.