As part of my job, oftentimes I will take an hour or two in the afternoon to write up a post to be published the next morning, before I'm awake. Lookout Landing caters mostly to a West Coast audience, so a lot of people here are on my schedule, but Baseball Nation caters more to an East Coast audience, and an East Coast audience likes to have fresh material for an East Coast morning. So when I'm writing in advance, those are the baby birds I'm looking to feed.
Today, as I prepared for tomorrow morning, I found myself writing about Vance Worley. Do you know what's going on with Vance Worley? Worley just threw eight innings of one-run ball against the Cubs this afternoon. He has a 2.02 ERA, which is the lowest out of all the Phillies' starters. We're all familiar with all the various reasons why ERA is a flawed statistic, but what Worley has done is still interesting, and worth talking about. So I found an angle, and talked about it.
Usually, when I'm writing in advance, I can finish before the Mariners game. Especially if the Mariners don't start until 7. That leaves me plenty of time, unless it's been a hectic news day. But even if the Mariners start at 4, I can get done if I manage my time properly. Today, though, I didn't manage my time properly. The Wilson Betemit trade didn't help, but I wasn't finished with Worley until a bit after 5, meaning I'd already missed a handful of innings.*
* You might be able to work with a baseball game on in the background, but I am not
I clicked "Approve" for the Worley post, switched desks, and turned on TV while loading up Gameday to see what I'd missed. This being a Mariners game, I expected there to be few runs. This being Jason Vargas versus Brandon Morrow, I expected the Blue Jays to have all of them.
And it was 8-2. In the bottom of the fourth inning, Jamey Wright was pitching to Rajai Davis, and Toronto was winning 8-2.
Something like that always comes as a shock. No matter how bad a team might be, you would never expect it to be losing 8-2 in the fourth inning. And you certainly wouldn't expect this year's Mariners to be losing 8-2 in the fourth inning. Losing 3-0 or 4-0, maybe, but not 8-2. A score of 8-2 is extraordinary for such an early point in a game.
It was immediately clear, then, that the game was already over. It was not over, in that there were another five innings left, but it was over, in that the messenger who delivers updates to the official Government Standings Compound had already gained fingerprint access to the street-level lobby. The Mariners had lost, the Blue Jays had won, and the only thing left to determine was how the game would affect their respective run differentials.
You'd think that would be a drag. You'd think it would be a complete drag to miss the first few innings of a Mariners game due to work, and then turn it on, only to find that it had already been decided. What's the point? Why continue watching? What is there to see?
But I thought differently. It would've been a drag had I watched this game from the start. Then I would've had to see Jason Vargas struggle in the heat. I would've had to watch Jamey Wright crush any hopes of a comeback. I would've been disappointed - not because the game was important, but because I never actually take pleasure in watching the Mariners lose.
This way, I didn't have to watch them lose. Not really. I would watch a game that they would lose, but the loss was already theirs. They earned the loss before I tuned in. We've talked before about how stress-free baseball can be when you no longer care much about the outcome. For me, this was baseball without any outcome at all. The M's had lost, the Jays had won, and there were to be five innings of an intersquad scrimmage.
I turned on TV and just got to watch pure baseball. It was exactly as stress-free as a sport in July ought to be. I lost track of the score, because the score didn't matter. I saw Brendan Ryan do good things. I saw Dustin Ackley do good things. I half-saw Adam Kennedy do a good thing. I saw Aaron Laffey do bad things, but Aaron Laffey's bad things were Edwin Encarnacion and Adam Lind's good things, and those were interesting. Over five innings, I saw a lot of interesting things.
For me, this was a different baseball experience, but I can't say I didn't enjoy it. When you can forget about the outcome, and I mean really forget about the outcome, I'm not sure there's any such thing as bad Major League Baseball. There's just a long sequence of events, performed by professionals for your entertainment.
How about a limited set of bullet holes, since I missed most of the ugliness:
- One of my favorite things about bad bounces, and one of my favorite things about slow motion footage of bad bounces, is that, immediately after the ball takes a bad bounce, the nearby fielder always responds in a completely human way. Players are so often wearing their game faces or otherwise in the zone. But when the baseball does something a defender doesn't expect it to do, the defender can't help but express human surprise. It might only last an instant, but slow motion solves everything.
Here's Ichiro, as a Rajai Davis blooper bounces off the turf and over his head:
Zoom in if you have to. Human. Ichiro's mouth isn't hanging agape or anything, but this is an image of Ichiro we don't often see.
- As the game went to commercial after the bottom of the seventh, I muted the TV so I could make a quick phone call. I turned away, and then when I turned back a few minutes later, I saw that the ball was on a course for the right field seats. Excited, I scrambled to unmute the TV, and I heard:
...and deep to right field, gone! Home run, Adam Kennedy.
- Of course, Kennedy's wasn't the only bat to show up. Brendan Ryan checked in with his second impressive game in a row, and more awesomely, Dustin Ackley had a good night. I didn't see his walk or pop-out, but in the seventh he drilled a high 95mph Morrow fastball into the left-center gap for an RBI double. Then in the ninth, against Octavio Dotel, he turned this into a homer:
That's a fastball in on the hands, just off the plate. For so many hitters, that's supposed to be a weak area. "Just get in under his hands," the hypothetical coach tells the hypothetical pitcher about the hypothetical batter. That's a pitch to get Ackley to miss, or a pitch to get Ackley jammed. But Ackley read it, turned on it, and blasted it deep into the second deck down the line.
It's impressive. The two at bats were impressive individually, and the two at bats were impressive when considered together. In one, Ackley stayed back on a fastball and lined it to the opposite field. In the other, Ackley jumped on a fastball and pulled it a zillion feet. Literally my only complaint about Dustin Ackley is that he makes me like all the other hitters so much less.
- That makes two consecutive losses in which the M's scored at least four runs. They have lost, but at least they have lost differently.
Justin Smoak went 0-for-5 with three strikeouts, and his OPS is dropping ever closer to .700. I am beyond the point at which I think this is just a simple slump, and I'm beginning to think that there's something bigger going on. My #1 hope is that he's just quietly playing through some kind of hand or wrist injury, because that would be something that heals easily and predictably when given the chance.
- The Rogers Centre blares a goal horn whenever a Blue Jays batter hits a home run, so that this way the people in Toronto can hear what one sounds like.
- The 2011 Mariners have now matched the 2006 Mariners by losing 11 consecutive games. However, the 2005 Royals - the 2005 Royals who began the year 8-26 - lost 19 consecutive games between July 28th and August 19th. On August 20th, they finally snapped their streak in a game in which they recorded four hits.
So, the Mariners still have some work to do if they want to reach even a modern-day record. But then, with Boston, New York and Tampa Bay looming after tomorrow's Toronto series finale, it's not like it's impossible. Gotta go one game at a time.
It's Doug Fister and Ricky Romero bright and early tomorrow morning. General interest in the Mariners right now is probably at a season low, so I can't imagine ROOT Sports is going to pull great ratings, but the interest should climb again if the losing streak continues. Which, for ROOT Sports, presents a conundrum.