I have to admit that I came into this game feeling kind of conflicted. It's not that I didn't want the Mariners to win - it's that there were other variables making it all a little murkier than usual. For one thing, I just feel so bad for the Twins being in their current situation, since it looks so similar to what we just went through. But more importantly, this was Harmon Killebrew tribute night. This game meant a little something extra to everybody on the other side. The pregame ceremony was very well done, Ron Gardenhire's speech was touching if brief, and the fans were terrific despite the team's terrible record, because on this night, of all nights, they wanted their Twins to win. I understand this is just buying into the Minnesota stereotype but I figured there would be worse things than letting those people go home content. They deserve it.
But then I flashed back to April 8th. On April 8th, I made the drive from Portland to Seattle so as to attend the Mariners' home opener. At the Mariners' home opener, we watched a moving pregame tribute to Dave Niehaus that brought me to tears. After the tribute was over, the Indians almost immediately scored a run, and then they went on to post a ten-run fourth as they stomped all over our hopes and dreams that we might have a good time. I did not have a good time. Despite the Niehaus ceremony, it was one of the worst live baseball experiences of my life.
So then I reconsidered. I quit feeling conflicted. A positive experience was taken from me, so I wanted the M's to take a positive experience away from someone else, and while the Twins aren't the Indians, they're both in the AL Central, which is close, and one shouldn't be picky with revenge. I wanted the M's to roll, and though they didn't roll, they did end up winning in such a way that might've been even more demoralizing in the end.
Mission accomplished. We're even, baseball.
The weirdest part of a winning streak is the confidence. Maybe that's only weird to people who aren't used to feeling confident, but whenever the M's go streaking, I always find myself thinking like they're never losing again. Matchups feel advantageous. Leads feel secure. Deficits feel flimsier than the petals of a tulip. I know, rationally, that the Mariners will lose, and lose often, but whenever they go on a winning streak, I can never imagine how. The pitching's too good to struggle! The offense is too timely to fail! The bullpen is aces! It looks so ridiculous in text but you know it when you feel it.
So I was pretty sure the M's would win coming in. I was extra sure when Jack Cust left the yard. And I remained every bit as sure even after Denard Span led off the bottom of the first with a homer. When the M's added on runs in the second and third, it was like there wasn't even a point to watching the rest. These were the Twins. What were they going to do? This game was in the bag. The M's were almost .500.
Of course, the game wasn't in the bag. Or maybe it was in the bag the whole time, and it just went kind of funny in the middle. But the Twins tied it in the fourth. They took the lead and drove Jason Vargas out of the game in the fifth. And they added two more in the seventh. It was only when Jim Thome knocked his second dingdonger that I first considered the possibility that maybe, just maybe, it wasn't going to happen.
But still, I had far more confidence in the lineup than I should have, and they fought back for two in the eighth. Aware of Matt Capps' struggles, I reckoned a one-run lead wasn't stable in the ninth, and sure enough, the tying hit came with two outs. And after Jamey Wright wriggled out of a jam in the bottom, the M's went right back to work and took the lead in the tenth. So what if they still had to go through Brandon League? Brandon League only had to go through Danny Valencia, Drew Butera and Span. And besides, the M's were on a winning streak. Teams don't lose games during winning streaks, and League would slam the door without so much as a walk or a medium-depth fly ball.
So here we are. The Mariners won. They're only a game under .500, where last Tuesday they were seven games under .500. And for the first time during the streak, they won a game in which the starting pitching let them down. I think the great misfortune here is that the context of this streak will allow this game to just blend in with the others, when it was actually an incredible comeback that deserves to be appreciated for everything that it was, but if the downside of winning is that the individual wins don't stand out as much as they have in the past, then I think I'll be able to manage.
Now to fly through the bullet holes:
- There are certain lineups you expect to snap a long run of awesome starting pitching. The Minnesota Twins do not have one of them. This was just a blip for Vargas, for whom the occasional weak start doesn't cause the same level of panic as when Felix has one, but Jason Vargas is not a guy who can get away with walking four batters very often. On the upside, Vargas' effort extended the Mariners starting pitchers' streak of going at least 4.2 innings and allowing no more than five runs.
- The new thing with Vargas seems to be to describe him as cool, calm, and/or collected. He is described as such because he always just goes about his business and never shows any emotion on the mound. I remember the same things being thrown around after Cliff Lee's performance in the 2009 World Series. "He's so calm, that guy," everybody said. Except Lee later admitted that he very nearly "shit himself." The way somebody looks on the outside doesn't necessarily say anything about the way he feels on the inside. It's important to appear composed, of course, but sometimes the calmest-looking players are actually freaking out, right before your eyes.
- I have no idea what purpose a mound conference with Carl Pavano would serve. "Hey Carl, just remember to keep throwing the ball pretty much anywhere within the borders of the strike zone at all times." What's the point? Stop wasting everyone's time.
- Jack Cust walked, singled, and - in the top of the first inning - finally blasted his first home run of the season, sending a first-pitch fastball from Pavano way out to left-center to establish an early 2-0 lead. It wasn't a cheap home run by any means, meaning not only did Cust get himself on the board; there are signs he might be able to do it more than once. Now it'll just be a matter of seeing him hit dingers on pitches that aren't the worst pitches ever thrown.
- A Carlos Peguero single:
Peguero actually made contact with five of his six swings on the night, and while he continues to be more aggressive than you're always afraid spiders will be, he just keeps providing moments. The single above came in the fifth. Then in the ninth, with two down and the tying run on second, Peguero got a 1-0 fastball right down the pipe from Matt Capps and lined it into center for a hit. When the game comes down to Carlos Peguero, Ordinary Jeff assumes the game is already over. Ordinary Jeff assumes that Peguero will get himself out on a breaking ball in the dirt. But this was Winning Streak Jeff. Winning Streak Jeff has faith in Peguero, because he has faith in everybody. And Peguero delivered. Winning Streak Jeff now has even more faith in Peguero. This will end well.
- The worst Gameday glitch I've ever seen:
- Dave Sims:
Good news - Jason Vargas has been taken off the hook.
- The Mariners' rally in the eighth was nearly not so. Jack Wilson hit a routine grounder to Trevor Plouffe at short, but Plouffe for whatever reason double-pumped, and Wilson - who was sprinting the whole way - beat out the throw. A little later, with one out and men on the corners, Ichiro hit a shallow flare to second that looked like it easily could have been caught on the fly, but the ball dropped between infielders and a run scored when Ichiro ran too fast for a double play.
Then in the ninth, the Mariners got another break. With Michael Saunders on second, Franklin Gutierrez grounded a comebacker to Capps, and Capps quickly wheeled around to see Saunders well off the bag. But Capps hesitated and ultimately decided to go for the easy out at first. Peguero singled in the next at bat. I'd heard a lot about how the Twins were shooting themselves in the foot with bad and poorly-timed defense and tonight it was right there on display.
- Franklin Gutierrez looks fine.
- In the middle of the sixth inning, a Mariners fan was shown on the scoreboard proposing to another Mariners fan, who said yes. They were roundly booed by a decidedly partisan Minnesota audience. I'm trying to think of any other scenario in which one's wedding proposal would be booed by tens of thousand of people but I'm drawing a blank. A lot of thought went into this one.
- Because of the proposal, in the bottom of the sixth Dave Valle started telling the story of how he proposed to his current wife. Right in the middle, a Twins batter hit a sharp foul ball into the seats, and Dave Sims wondered aloud whether anyone had been injured. Once it was clear that everyone was fine, attention returned to the game, and Valle never finished his story.
- With one out and runners on second and third in the top of the tenth, the Twins elected to intentionally walk Chone Figgins to set up the force and face Luis Rodriguez. While I understand why the Twins did what they did and while the math probably agreed with them, I have never felt such relief. Rodriguez, of course, worked his standard excellent at bat, and lifted the sac fly that won the game.
Doug Fister and Nick Blackburn go at it tomorrow. Blackburn's K/9 has skyrocketed to a career-high 4.7 this season. We might be in trouble.