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Unbeatable Mariners Beat Beatable White Sox

Well after the Mariners game ended, I was watching the Padres and Diamondbacks in extra innings. With two down and the bases loaded in the bottom of the eleventh, Chase Headley worked a walk-off base on balls to give the Padres a hard-earned win. The players came spilling out of the dugout to congratulate Headley at first base, but they arrived with a jog, and after a few slaps on the head, everybody turned to walk off the field. The Padres were content, but they seemed more relieved than enthusiastic.

When Brendan Ryan came up with his game-winning single, meanwhile, the Mariners dugout exploded. Many of the players sprinted over to Ryan, Michael Saunders lifted him for a second or two, and, as is so often the custom in these situations, the players surrounded Ryan and beat the crap out of him. The Mariners seemed more enthusiastic than relieved.

I don't think it's just about the difference between a walk and a single. It's about the difference in team trajectory. The Padres have struggled to find any kind of consistency all season. They got a win tonight, but it was just a win, and it didn't feel like part of something. The Mariners' win feels like part of something. The team's now won eight of ten games. They've won three consecutive series, they're one below .500, and given the strength of the pitching, everybody can feel it. Everybody can sense the possibility that this team might not go away. The team's excitement level was reflected in the way that it went after Ryan.

I'm rather fond of having things this way. It's nice when wins don't stand out as isolated events. You could, of course, argue that all games are isolated events, which is probably more true than false from a probabilistic perspective, but the wins still feel like they're connected, and it makes the highs higher. For them, and, in turn, for us. The more fun the Mariners get to have, the more fun we get to have, and these days the Mariners are having a lot of fun. It's no coincidence that this was among the more enjoyable games I've watched in two years.

It is just a coincidence that I've written consecutive posts comparing the Mariners to the Padres but I promise I'll knock it off.

A lot of the time when the Mariners are lousy, which is a lot of the time, I find that there are other teams that I want to watch the Mariners play, other teams that I kind of want to watch the Mariners play, and other teams that I don't want to watch the Mariners play. The teams that I like to watch them play under any circumstances are the Angels, the Red Sox, the Yankees, and a few teams from the NL, just because there's a little extra hate or novelty there. Among the teams that I don't want to watch the Mariners play are the White Sox. They're in there with the A's and the Royals and a few others as teams that just don't do anything for me whatsoever. If the Mariners are bad, and they're playing the White Sox, it's going to take an awful lot to get me interested in the action.

When the Mariners aren't lousy, though - I wouldn't say the groupings dissolve, but the minimum level of interest is raised to the point where I don't automatically go into any game assuming it's going to be boring. The White Sox don't do anything for me, but with the Mariners playing decent baseball, suddenly I don't need the identity of the opponent to make a contribution. Watching the Mariners'll be interesting enough on its own.

So even though the M's were playing the White Sox tonight, the M's were looking to sustain a recent hot streak, and they had Felix Hernandez on the mound in front of a big bobblehead crowd to boot. This was a game I actually wanted to watch. I know that's a weird statement but any of you who sat through the 2010 season know what it's like to have games you just want to ignore.

Felix, certainly, didn't disappoint. After watching his first few innings I got the funny feeling that we were in line to see some history, and after exchanging a few emails I know I wasn't the only one. History wouldn't be made, but that still tells you something about the quality of the stuff he was throwing tonight. As hard as it can be to separate a pitcher from a lousy opposing lineup, Felix looked like Felix. I could've counted his mistakes with one tube of tennis balls.

But it was Felix who wound up allowing the game's first run, due in no small part to Justin Smoak's failure to cover first base on what was intended as a sacrifice bunt. An awesome-looking Felix was suddenly on the hook for a loss, and with the run having been unlucky and with the offense being asleep, one figured that Felix was probably steaming underneath.

The support finally came in the sixth, when Milton Bradley doubled home one run on a towering double he just barely dropped fair down the left field line, and Justin Smoak doubled home another run on a deep drive to the left-center track. It was only two runs, but it felt like it should've been enough, and while I know that puts a little too much pressure on Felix to be perfect, there's no denying that the lead felt safe.

The lead wasn't safe, as Carlos Quentin led off the seventh with a long home run to left on a hung slider. But Felix recovered to keep the Sox where they were, and it was clear how badly he wanted it. Felix was around his most fired up tonight. When he gave up the home run, he was pissed. When he walked off the field after a scoreless eighth, he roared some motivational words. When he walked off the field after a scoreless ninth, he roared a few more.

The M's didn't do anything in the seventh. They didn't do anything in the eighth, save for watching their left fielder get himself ejected. Finally, they got their run in the ninth. Against former Mariner Matt Thornton, of all people, who threw 37 pitches and 37 fastballs. The most remarkable part of the inning was Jack Cust going the other way with a line drive single off a flamethrowing lefty. The second-most remarkable part of the inning was Michael Saunders making solid contact and flying out against a flamethrowing lefty. The third-most remarkable part of the inning was the actual winning hit, a grounder just to the right of second base off a fastball down the pipe. I don't know what it was about Brendan Ryan that made me feel so confident in his ability to come through with that knock, but maybe it was more about my lingering lack of confidence in Matt Thornton. No matter the case, I had good feelings going into that at bat, and Ryan delivered with one of those hits that you tuck away and call on every month or two when you're feeling kind of down about things.

They interviewed Ryan in the dugout after the game. He's just about the most likable player of the bunch. I so hope that he's good, or at least not bad. I know Tony La Russa had his problems with him but I'm pretty sure lots of fine and reasonable people would have problems with Tony La Russa. Brendan Ryan is a treat.

To tonight's bullet holes:

  • Bobbleheads are a hot collector's item, and they have been for years, but all collector's items eventually need to evolve if they want to remain relevant. Bobbleheads as they are now won't remain popular forever. They might want to take a cue from baseball cards in the 90s. In the 90s, the baseball card industry started to get more adventurous, and one of their most popular experiments was placing little swaths of actual jersey in some of the cards. One could imagine a set of bobbleheads with a small amount of actual jersey fabric. More unsettlingly, one could imagine a set of bobbleheads with a small amount of actual player skin. Hopefully they don't have to get that adventurous. If we ever were to get to that point then they should probably just stop making bobbleheads and start on like baseball player Beanie Babies or some shit.

  • Justin Smoak's RBI double to left-center was absolutely destroyed, and would've gone out of several other parks around the league. That's the hit from tonight that a lot of people are going to remember. What far fewer people are going to remember is that, in the bottom of the second, Smoak turned on a 1-1 high fastball and pulled a home run to right just a few feet foul. Foul balls are foul balls, and they don't count for a reason, but still, Smoak just barely missed. He is locked in right now like no Mariner has been locked in since Kenji Johjima faced Jarrod Washburn.

  • In one of the early innings, Root Sports ran a viewer poll, asking people which player had the best performance today. The candidates:

    Cliff Lee, who struck out 16 in seven innings
    Andre Ethier, who went 3-5 to extend his hitting streak to 30 games
    Jaime Garcia, who threw 7.1 perfect innings before settling for a complete game shutout

    50% of the viewing audience voted for Ethier.

  • In the third inning, Brendan Ryan led off against Phil Humber with a well-hit double to the left-center gap. I was just looking over Ryan's spray charts over the years the other day, and noticed that, where he used to hit a fair number of balls to that area, this year it's been empty. Tonight, then, might have been a step in the right direction. Well it was definitely a step in the right direction. Now we'll see if there are more steps in the right direction to follow, or if there are steps in some other direction because he is lost and doesn't know which is the right direction.

  • In the sixth inning, Alexei Ramirez let the bat slip out of his hands on a swinging strike. The bat flew into the third baseline camera well and glanced off of one cameraman's forehead. As that cameraman winced and put his hand on his head, the cameraman next to him looked away and waved at the TV camera with a stupid grin on his face as if nothing at all were the matter.

  • I don't want to be too hard on Phil Humber's patchy beard since it appears to be patchy as the result of some unfortunate previous facial burns, but if the best you can do for whatever reason is grow a patchy beard, you shouldn't grow a beard. All anyone's ever going to notice is that your beard is patchy.

  • With Chone Figgins in the act of stealing third base in the bottom of the eighth, Milton Bradley was called out on strikes, causing him to argue, get himself tossed, and argue some more. Now, the first thing to understand is that Bradley took three called strikes in the at bat, all of which were questionable, and the last of which was bad. Bradley was called out on strikes on a ball, which understandably cheesed him off. But he just got tossed last weekend, getting himself suspended as the result, and it's beyond clear that Milton just wants to be right and doesn't care about the consequences. Or at least, he doesn't think about them. It seems like arguing is instinctive. When Milton sees a perceived wrong, he automatically lets the official nearest him hear about it, and based on all indications he's familiar with a few of the magic words.

    The big question about Bradley's recent ejections is whether they're indicative of some brewing discontent under the surface, or if they're just incidences of him venting. I don't know the answer to that. I suspect we'll have an answer pretty soon.

  • 94mph inside fastball, called strike
    90mph low change, swinging strike
    90mph low change, swinging strike

    Felix's last at bat of the game was his prettiest.

Doug Fister gets the ball tomorrow as the Mariners push for .500. His opponent will be a very good Gavin Floyd, but I think we've established by now that the Mariners cannot be beaten so honestly I don't know why the White Sox even flew out here in the first place.