One of my principal beliefs as a long-time, dedicated sports fan is that, over days or weeks or months or years, things even out. It's a belief that's kept me calm after events and incidents worthy of rage. I believe that lucky hits even out. I believe that miraculous catches even out. I believe that bad bounces and lousy calls even out. It's a belief that keeps me relatively sane and stable.
Sometimes things'll even out quickly. A caught line drive might be followed by a bloop or an infield single. Other times, they don't even out so quickly. Other times, things seem so uneven, so unreciprocated that I'm left questioning the very belief I hold in my core. What if things don't even out? What effect would that have on my mindset?
And then there are games like today. You'll remember that, just a few weeks ago, Ichiro lost a fly ball in the Boston sun that wound up going for a critical triple that basically decided the game. You might not remember that, three years ago, with two outs in the ninth of a 5-4 contest, Torii Hunter robbed Richie Sexson of a go-ahead home run to center field. These were heartbreaking, devastating plays, and it was hard on me to believe at the time that they would be made up for. The timing just made them out to be impossible turns of bad luck.
Today, they were made up for. Or at least one of them was. I don't want the universe to start thinking it's successfully negated two games with one game. Torii Hunter had a chance to make an easy catch and send this thing to extras, but instead he lost a Carlos Peguero fly ball in the underrated Seattle sunshine, and the Mariners walked off.
Did the Mariners deserve to walk off? Considering only the events of today, no, probably not. Considering the events of the last few weeks or the last few years, though, you could say they had this coming. We can still be upset about Hunter's catch, and we can still be frustrated by Ichiro's misjudgment, but we can't say that the M's never get a break, because today they got a break. One of the biggest of breaks. Over time, baseball balances out.
I've spent a lot of time in my day thinking about the most satisfying way for me to see the Mariners beat the Angels. It always comes down to two choices: either the Mariners could completely and utterly blow them away, or the Angels could lose in some ridiculous fashion either by getting dinked to death or shooting themselves in the foot. I gotta say, I think I'm siding with the latter. Today's was the perfect ending.
In your latest reminder that baseball games can't be predicted - and I feel like I've been talking about this a lot lately - note that the Mariners just swept the Angels in a two-game series by throwing Jason Vargas and Doug Fister against Jered Weaver and Dan Haren. Neither Weaver nor Haren is a perfect pitcher, but nobody is, and they're both pretty close. Certainly a lot closer than Vargas and Fister. Throw in the fact that the Mariners have the Mariners' offense and there was no way any rational soul would've expected this pair of outcomes coming in.
And here we are anyway, with a fluky win and a less fluky win that can't be taken back. The Mariners continue to hang around, and with their pitching staff, they should keep on doing so until or unless somebody decides to pull away. They may never again get close enough for us to feel like they really have a shot, but as long as they remain close enough for us to dream, that'll play. Anything that gives meaning to the actual games, rather than just the individual player statistics.
On to the matinee bullet holes:
- A start after setting a career high for swinging strikes, Doug Fister was much more like himself today. He was all over and around the strike zone and allowed a good deal of contact, finishing with two strikeouts in eight innings. But still, despite all the contact, the Angels couldn't really mount any rallies. The reason?
Of the 31 batters Fister faced, he got ahead of 20 of them 0-1. A pitcher's job is to get outs, not strikes, but getting that first strike makes getting outs so much easier, because it instantly puts the pitcher in control of the at bat and puts the batter on the defensive. Rather than being able to look for a certain pitch or a certain spot, the batter has to be ready for anything.
Another reason Fister succeeded was that the Angels don't have a very good lineup, which is either a more fun or less fun reason, depending on who you are. And now, even though it's unsustainable, Doug Fister's ERA currently stands at 2.93. That's a 2.93 ERA for a guy who just a few starts ago allowed 14 hits.
- Something that may have been true all along but that I've only more recently come to notice is that Doug Fister is incredibly active and agile on the mound as a defender. Pitcher defense doesn't get talked about very often because their opportunities are so infrequent, but Fister seems determined to involve himself in as many plays as possible, and seldom does he mess them up. As long as Mark Buehrle is pitching I don't think Fister's going to get a Gold Glove, but he is one of the only pitchers whose defense has ever really caught my eye.
- In the bottom of the sixth, Chone Figgins attempted to steal second base. He slid in and CB Bucknor initially called him safe before immediately changing his mind and calling him out. In real time, it looked like Figgins' foot had come off the base, but no re-tag was applied, making Bucknor's call look incorrect and absurd. On slow-motion replay, though, it was revealed that Figgins never touched the bag at all, making Bucknor's call the proper one. This was the second time in three days that I'd gotten upset at a second base umpire for doing his job really well.
- While the Mariners obviously fluked their way to a win in the ninth, it's worth noting that they very nearly went ahead in the eighth. Facing Haren with two on and one out, Chone Figgins hit a ball on the button, but pretty much right to Howard Kendrick in left. On the next pitch, Justin Smoak bounced a sharp grounder toward the hole and Alberto Callaspo laid out for a terrific diving stop. At that point I was prepared to write about a win that had been taken away. Instead now Callaspo just gets to sit and wonder whether it was worth it, and whether any of all this is worth it.
- One also has to remember that, while the sun ball off Peguero's bat decided the game, it wouldn't have been possible were it not for Jack Cust's check-swinging bunt infield single to lead off. Cust was tied up by a very tough lefty and fisted a ball slowly down the line on which nobody had a play. Baseball balances out.
- After that disputed call on Figgins' stolen base attempt in the sixth, Eric Wedge came out of the dugout to argue, and a heckler in the stands addressed the umpire as "Blue", even though all the umpires were wearing black. But then the umpire in question was CB Bucknor so maybe it was better this way.
- With two down and the winning run on third, Peguero lifted the decisive fly ball against lefty Scott Downs. While Peguero got the job done, I don't understand why he was allowed to hit there in the first place with righties Brendan Ryan, Franklin Gutierrez and Mike Wilson available off the bench. Peguero has shown in the early going that he has all kinds of trouble even making contact, and that's while being platooned. The odds were not in his favor, outcome be damned. Still, credit to him for taking the first pitch and then hitting the second one moderately hard. He did more than I expected him to do.
- The Mariners mobbed Peguero at first base after the ball dropped in, as is the custom when a guy produces a walk-off. But this was kind of weird in a way, since Peguero just hit a routine fly ball and Torii Hunter fucked it up. I guess it would have been in bad taste had the Mariners mobbed Torii Hunter. They also presumably weren't in the mood to mob the sun. But they had to mob somebody, so Peguero made the most sense. You can't have a walk-off without a proper mobbing.
- Even today, the chicken noise Safeco plays for an intentional walk still draws a reaction from the crowd. At any given baseball game, there are that many people who have never been to one before in their lives.
- The at bat of the game, from the Mariners' standpoint, belonged to Luis Rodriguez in the bottom of the fifth. After taking a called strike, he fouled off a good curveball, took three close pitches inside, fouled off consecutive cutters on the inner half, and then took advantage of the only hittable pitch he saw by ripping a centered cutter down the right field line for a leadoff double that was also the Mariners' first hit of the day. Rodriguez has built something of a reputation for having good at bats, even if the results aren't there, and this was a great one. It was a classic example of a guy hanging in until he gets something to hit.
Rodriguez, by the way, seems to really really like hitting balls down the right field line. For as many as he's hit fair, he's hit at least twice that many just foul.
Erik Bedard and Mat Latos tomorrow as the Mariners kick off an interleague weekend full of unfunny trite rivalry jokes. These are always the worst two series of the year.