Even after the off day, I came into this game feeling a little morose about the Mariners. Not so much about the Mariners as a whole - I'm rather excited about all the talent they've assembled for the future - but rather about their chances of contention this season. As much as I know and have always known that 2011 is first and foremost about development, I still got caught up in the present like everyone else, and the Atlanta sweep was more than a little rude of a guest. It forced me to take a critical look at things when I didn't want to take a critical look at things, and I had to acknowledge that, yeah, this probably isn't a playoff baseball team. It's nothing shocking, but it's still unpleasant when considered after a long stretch of believing.
As I was filling out the two lineups for tonight's game thread, I could hear my own brain groaning. The Mariners didn't look good. Dustin Ackley was out. Miguel Olivo was out. Chone Figgins was in. I'm still not quite comfortable with Adam Kennedy, especially at #3. Justin Smoak is slumping. Carlos Peguero is an out-making goof. And so on. And then there were the Padres. As I was writing down the Padres' order, I thought "man this isn't that bad." That is a team with surprisingly decent numbers away from home, and the lineups felt imbalanced. It seemed like the Padres had an advantage, and I couldn't shake the feeling that the M's were in for just another low-scoring loss. Something that would push them even further out of the race than they'd already dropped.
Then the game started. The Padres went down quickly in the top of the first, the M's got on the board in the bottom, and I remembered. "Oh yeah, Padres."
See, it feels like the Mariners own the Padres. It has felt like this for a while. There is no actual truth in the statement that the Mariners own the Padres, since teams are always changing and there's no reason that one team should be given to owning another team just because, but there is value in the perception, because of its effects on one's psychology. As I remembered that this was the Mariners playing the Padres, my spirits were lifted, and as the Mariners stormed out to what proved an insurmountable lead, I had to get up and open the door so that my confidence could soar freely at the heights it desired.
Tonight, the Mariners beat up on Dustin Moseley, because of course they did. Tonight, Jason Vargas threw a complete game shutout, because of course he did. This was just another game between the Mariners and the Padres. Sure, it sucked to watch Atlanta come in and drag mud all over the brand new carpets, but this Padres series is a means back to .500, and .500 is a means back to believing again. The 2011 contention ship may not have sailed yet after all, and it's all because of our reliably beatable friends down south.
A text from my Padres fan friend after the game was over:
Thank you kind sir for the beating you have graced us with
I'm not writing bullet points, because I'm kicking off a holiday/anniversary weekend during which I'll hardly be around (notice: don't expect content). But there is one thing I want to touch on, and it happened in the bottom of the third. The Mariners were up 2-0, and they had the bases loaded with Carlos Peguero at the plate. This situation came about because Moseley had walked three consecutive hitters, including Jack Cust to drive in a run. It was Cust's sixth bases-loaded walk of the year, which ties the franchise record. Think about that.
Now stop thinking about that, and think about what happened next. Facing Peguero, Moseley threw a first-pitch sinker. And Peguero swung at it, drilling a two-run single right back up the middle. Suddenly the M's were up by four, which is a massive lead against a team like San Diego in a park like Seattle's.
The conventional wisdom is that you should never swing at the first pitch after a guy walks a few hitters in a row. The conventional wisdom is that you should make the pitcher prove he can throw a strike. Had Peguero made an out, there would've been countless people wondering aloud why he'd done something so foolish in so obvious a spot.
But the conventional wisdom is wrong. Or at least, it's not always right. A hitter's job is to swing at pitches he can handle, and not swing at pitches he can't. Peguero got a pitch he could handle, and he swung at it, nevermind what Moseley had done before. And it paid off.
I don't mean to scrawl too thick an underline below Peguero's single. I don't actually trust Peguero's eye, and for all I know he would've swung at a pitch he couldn't handle, too. But this is less about Peguero, and more about using Peguero to talk about a concept. It is not a bad thing to swing at a pitch after a walk or a handful of walks, provided it's a hittable pitch. Hittable pitches are mashable pitches, and mashable pitches often turn into runs.
Two other quick notes before I basically check out:
- Vargas was superb, and he was superb in a few different ways. He began by striking out five of the first eight batters he faced. Then he struck out zero of the next 17. Then he closed the eighth with a pair of swinging strikeouts before working around a single in the ninth. Vargas has now thrown three complete-game shutouts in his last six starts. In the other three, he's allowed 12 runs in 20.1 innings. Do not bet on baseball. Do not ever bet on baseball.
- Chone Figgins made an excellent diving catch to rob Chris Denorfia in the third, and then he started a beautiful double play in the seventh. He also lined a base hit in the fourth. It's something. A reprieve from all the negativity. I am so far beyond being sick of him that I now want very badly for him to win us all back. It's not going to happen, but a man can dream.