The Mariners had been flirting with .500 for longer than you might realize. They started making a real effort as far back as a month ago, and while they had their ups and downs, they never lost sight of the goal, and they never let it slip too far away. The Mariners were always trying. They would cast glances at .500. They would leave her notes. They would open doors for her, and ask her about the things that she likes to do. All the while, they were laying the groundwork, hoping that maybe one day something would happen between them.
And on a Friday night, something finally happened between them. After some weeks of running around and playing hard to get, .500 gave in and went out with the Mariners on a date. The Mariners pulled out all the stops. They picked her up, they took her to dinner, they paid the bill, then they took her to frozen yogurt. As high school dates go, it couldn't have gone much better, and though the two haven't talked about it, the Mariners can't help but feel like they finally have a real girlfriend.
A perfect girlfriend? Not hardly. .500 isn't the prettiest girl in the class. She isn't the smartest girl in the class. She isn't the funniest or most athletic girl in the class. But she's cute, and she knows her way around a sandwich, and she likes Archer, and for a first girlfriend, you could do a lot worse. Until Friday night, the Mariners were lonely, and now they get to feel like they have a companion in .500, like they have someone who understands them, even if they go to bed thinking about her best friend .550. Turns out the Mariners are also kind of douchebags, but then who isn't a douchebag in high school? Hopefully .500 doesn't get all clingy.
With a full off day on Thursday, I found myself eagerly awaiting Friday night baseball. I wouldn't say I was excited to watch the Mariners play the Yankees - I'd say I was excited to watch Michael Pineda play the Yankees. I didn't give too much thought to the Mariners' lineup. I didn't give too much thought to the Mariners' opposing pitcher. For me, it was about Pineda, and his opportunity to carry his dominance over against his strongest enemy yet. The way I figured, if Pineda had another Pineda start, the Mariners would win. If he struggled against a bunch of patient and/or power-hitting lefties, the Mariners would lose.
And so when Pineda had a hard time out of the gate, my spirits sank. I was expecting that Pineda might show a little inconsistency early on, just due to jitters or being overamped or whatever. But I wasn't expecting what happened. He allowed a home run to the third batter he faced. He walked the fourth. He walked two more guys in the second inning, and another in the third. All of Pineda's stuff was there - by which I mean all two of his pitches - but his signature control was failing him, and he wasn't in command like he has so often been.
It was only thanks to Franklin Gutierrez that Pineda didn't allow another home run in the fourth. And when the Yankees went up 3-0 in the fifth, I got the sense that the game was just about over. Pineda had walked five guys and thrown a wild pitch, and though he limited the damage, he'd reached his pitch count in five innings, meaning the Mariners would have to lean on a bullpen I'm never going to trust to keep them in the game. And plus they'd need to scrape some runs across against A.J. Burnett. To that point, Burnett had been wild, but he wasn't getting hit.
But then back came the Mariners. Earlier in the season we used to joke about how the Mariners were fighters, about how they'd always manage to battle, and though we haven't talked about that for a while, it's always been there, and it was there again tonight. They scored two in the fifth on a grounder to second by Luis Rodriguez and a Baltimore chop by Justin Smoak. Then, after David Pauley worked an easy sixth, they scored two more on a grounder to short by Brendan Ryan and a grounder to short by Ichiro. At that point, the Mariners were 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position, but they still had four runs - and a lead - because they delivered classic Mike Scioscia fundamentals. Four RBI on four balls in play that might not have gone a combined 400 feet.
Pauley preserved the lead in the seventh, and Jamey Wright preserved the lead in the eighth after he and Brendan Ryan worked a successful daylight pickoff play to nab Eduardo Nunez at second base.The replays I saw on Root Sports suggested that Nunez might have beaten Ryan's tag, but then Nunez had earlier been awarded second on a steal where I thought he might've been out, so who knows. What mattered was that, instead of having a groundball contact pitcher working against Nick Swisher with the tying run on second, the inning was over, and the Mariners only needed to get three more outs.
They got them from a most efficient Brandon League, and the Mariners were able to celebrate what really did feel like the triumph of the little guy over the big. It's not that simple, of course, and just as the Mariners aren't a heartwarming underdog the Yankees aren't a real evil empire, but that's the way these games feel, and that's a big reason why playing teams like the Yankees or Red Sox is so much more fun than playing teams like the Twins or the Royals. If the M's win, you get to feel like the opposing giant got knocked down a peg, and tonight the Mariners won in just the way you'd expect the ragtag bunch of nobodies to beat the neighborhood jocks.
After a long pursuit, the Mariners have reached .500, and they're only a half-game back of the division lead. Tomorrow, they hand the ball to Felix Hernandez, who will go up against a pitcher Yankees fans always include in proposed Felix trades when they're unwilling to give away any good pitchers. I can't remember the last time I felt so genuinely good about this team. I know that I have before, but I know that it's been a long time, and I know that it wasn't like this.
Just a few bullet holes, since the game took seven hours and I got a late start on writing this up:
- Some people are going to pass some of the blame on to the home plate umpire, but Michael Pineda walked five guys in five innings, which is two more unintentional walks than we'd ever seen him allow before. Only 55 of his 96 pitches were strikes, and only 13 of his 23 first pitches were strikes. This was the wildest that we've seen Pineda pitch, and though some of it might have been the umpire, and though some of it was definitely the Yankees' collection of disciplined bats, Pineda was unusually off.
One figures he was due for a game kind of like this. And against that team, and that lineup, his heart was probably beating a little fast. That wasn't just nine guys with bats. That was the New York Yankees, for the first time in Pineda's life.
Five walks, mediocre command, technically one home run but really more like two home runs - the downside is that Pineda isn't perfect, but the upside is that now he gets to learn to deal with a little adversity, and for us, it's probably better that Pineda has the occasional hiccup, just so we don't start taking him for granted. He's a 22-year-old rookie, and he's going to stumble every now and again. Games like this should both keep us from getting carried away, and allow us to better appreciate Pineda when he's on.
Of course, for as mediocre as Pineda looked, it's worth noting that Yankees hitters missed with a quarter of their 36 swings. Even when Pineda's wild, he's unlikely to get smacked around the park.
- With men on the corners in the top of the fifth, Pineda was ahead of Alex Rodriguez 1-2 when Miguel Olivo called for a low slider. Pineda threw a low slider in the dirt, but rather than try to smother the ball, Olivo attempted a backhand, and the ball bounced off his wrist and away for a wild pitch that brought a runner home. Because it was a wild pitch, it was considered to be Pineda's fault, but even though I don't know much about catching, I'm certain Olivo didn't do what a catcher's supposed to do. He's a stabber. It seems like all of the Mariners' catchers have been stabbers these last few years. Olivo is the latest. All that talk about how "at least he's not Rob Johnson" - that only applies to his offense, and not his defense. His defense sucks just as bad.
- When you hear that an outfielder robbed a hitter of a home run, the image that pops up in your head is that of a guy standing on the warning track, timing his jump, and leaping straight up to make an outstretched catch. That wasn't the play that Franklin Gutierrez made on Nick Swisher. Gutierrez broke immediately towards the fence, glided to the track, leaped forward to catch the ball just above the wall, and crashed into the padding non-violently as if by design. Gutierrez runs around so smoothly that you don't even realize when he's in a full sprint, and his ability to identify where a ball's going to end up is exceeded only by a Swiffer's ability to identify dust.
- During the fifth inning, the Mariners' bullpen phone in the dugout stopped working, so Eric Wedge had Brendan Ryan deliver instructional messages between every pitch.
- I know that it gets annoying hearing these explanations, but with Brendan Ryan, the difference between a hot streak and a cold streak is so clearly just random BABIP fluctuation before our very eyes. When he's going well, he's poking singles between the infielders, or hitting them slowly directly to the infielders, as he did three times on Tuesday. When he's not going well, all of his batted balls shift to the side a few feet. I admit that I feel a certain degree of confidence in Brendan Ryan when he steps to the plate, but I think that says more about me than it does about Brendan Ryan.
- Tonight was Viva Las Vargas night at the ballpark, and even the Mariner Moose was dressed up in an Elvis costume.
Mariner Rep: I need this Elvis costume.
Tailor: All right.
Mariner Rep: But I need it tailored for a moose.
Tailor: A moose?
Mariner Rep: Yes, we are going to put it on a moose.
Tailor: You are going to dress a moose up like Elvis.
Mariner Rep: Yeah, the Mariner Moose.
Tailor: I don't understand.
Mariner Rep: We're having an Elvis night, and we want the moose mascot to be in costume.
Tailor: Wait, it's a moose mascot?
Mariner Rep: Yes, the Mariner Moose, it's the Seattle Mariners mascot.
Tailor: Like, a mascot, where it's just a man in a suit?
Mariner Rep: Well yes, of course.
Mariner Rep: We don't have an actual moose!
Tailor: Why didn't you just say you need it tailored for a big man?
Here, Ice Cube is arguing with a bottle of Coors Light that he appears to have invited to a party, and he is arguing in such a way as to suggest that the bottle started it. In arguing that he is the colder of the two individuals, Mr. Cube refers to how often he's featured on the radio, on TV, and in movies, which is by no means a measure of coldness. Based on the available evidence, Ice Cube lost an argument to a bottle of Coors Light. Ice Cube is worth tens of millions of dollars.