If nothing else, this team is expanding my vocabulary, in a few ways.
It might sound weird, but as the losing streak builds, I'm only finding the games to be more and more captivating. I'll explain, but you'll have to allow me a video game analogy, which nobody ever likes to read. I'll try to make it quick. I'm sorry. I really am sorry.
A long time back, I bought NHL '09. Or maybe it was NHL '10 (ed. note: important detail! Always make sure to get these details right when telling a story). I didn't own a console, but Ms. Jeff's house had one, and I was over there often enough to justify owning a game. I've never really been into the more popular video games - I've never played Halo or WoW or Red Alert or whatever - but I've always loved the sports games, and what I liked about NHL '09 is that it was pretty realistic. A friend of mine owned it, and I enjoyed playing it, so I wanted to own it for myself so I could play more or less when I wanted.
I would play against the computer. I like playing against the computer. Because I had prior experience, the lower levels were too easy, so I set it up to Expert, or to whatever the Expert level is (ed. note: important detail!). I lost the first time, but no matter; I played again. I lost the second time, but no matter; I played again. I lost the third time, but no matter; I played again.
Over time, it became a matter. I kept playing, and I kept losing. Not getting blown out, mind you - I wasn't losing so badly that I was clearly overmatched. I was just always losing by one, or two, or occasionally three. What began as a minor annoyance soon left me consumed with frustration.
I hated the game, but I wanted to keep playing the game. I wanted to keep playing until I finally won. There are few things that drive me insane more than puzzles I can't solve*, and I couldn't solve NHL '09. So whenever I had the opportunity, I wanted to try again. Even though the game had so regularly left me pissed off, I felt an increasing drive to keep at it, and I would celebrate my own goals like a complete tool. Every play, every decision was critical.
* people eating crisp fruit
In an embarrassing sign that I might take these things too seriously, I remember there was one night where I played a game and lost, and later had trouble falling asleep. It was eating at me, and all I wanted to do was try one more time. It was 1:30 in the morning on a work night, and with Ms. Jeff's blessing, I stumbled in the dark to the living room, turned on the TV, and loaded the game. I played, and I won. Several one- and two-armed fist pumps later, I slept the best sleep I'd slept in weeks.
I don't feel the same kind of frustration with the current Mariners. I am not, after all, an active participant. I am an active observer. If the Mariners lose, it is in no way my fault. When they lose, I don't wish they would immediately begin the next game. But when I'm actually watching the games now, I find that I'm more and more interested in the course of things. Yesterday excepted, because I missed so much of it. I don't really care about the outcome, in that the outcome won't affect me five minutes after it's determined, but I have an increasing interest in seeing the Mariners win as they play, because they haven't won in so long.
Winning is kind of the opposite of eating. If you haven't eaten in a long time, you distinctly remember what you last ate, and when you last ate. If your team hasn't won in a long time, everything kind of blurs. We all know that the Mariners are riding a 12-game losing streak, but watching the game today, I wasn't thinking "man, the Mariners haven't won since July 5th." I was thinking "man, the Mariners haven't won in a while." And I wanted them to win. I was cheering out loud as if the game actually mattered, because I wanted them to win more than I did yesterday, when I wanted them to win more than I did the day before.
The extent of this losing streak has made the games more captivating for me because it's elevated the significance of a win. A win now wouldn't just be a regular win, of which a given team picks up 60 to 100 over the course of six months. A win now would be more than that. A win now would be a streak-snapper. A win now would feel like the Mariners solved a puzzle that's stumped them for more than two weeks.
The Mariners didn't win today. They almost did. Miguel Olivo's grand slam was an awesome, out-of-nowhere moment that brought me to my feet. In the end, they fell short. But they had my attention the whole time, more than they did a week ago, and at this point I think their subsequent games are going to be positively gripping. They'll be dull again once the streak is behind them and they settle in to being a normal brand of mediocre, but until then, this is some can't-miss baseball.
Some bullet holes before I move on to do other things, like consider the Mariners in a different way:
- The story of this particular loss is that the Mariners erased a large late deficit before coughing up the winner. And it's true - the M's were down 5-1 in the top of the eighth when they loaded the bases and watched Miguel Olivo knot things up. By that point I imagine most of us had already conceded defeat, and Olivo's blast was an absolute stunner.
But as tempting as it is to suggest that the Mariners battled and battled and battled, it's funny how that situation was built. With one out, Ichiro legged out an infield single to second. Brendan Ryan followed with an infield single back to the mound. Adam Kennedy followed with a five-pitch walk, where none of the four balls were particularly close. The Mariners loaded the bases, but the runners had by no means reached in impressive fashion.
They did reach, though, and that can't be taken away from them. Then Olivo brought them home. Then Justin Smoak and Josh Bard hit singles. It was enough to make you think they were going to take out all their frustrations on the Blue Jays bullpen. Then they didn't.
- Olivo's, of course, was the Mariners' first grand slam of the season. Its flight was observed by a few dozen players, several thousand fans, several thousand viewers at home, and two Miguel Olivos.
It was also observed by that one creepy guy in the window.
- Last night, I talked a little bit about how normally stoic players will momentarily display a human expression of surprise when a batted ball takes a funny bounce. The same goes for normally stoic pitchers when something bad happens they didn't expect.
The pixelation only contributes to the image. Casey Janssen reacted to Miguel Olivo's grand slam in a human way, and the human he chose was the Elephant Man.
- The Mariners' fifth-inning rally began when Ricky Romero issued consecutive two-out walks to Chone Figgins and Jack Wilson, which is like issuing consecutive two-out walks to a pitcher and then another pitcher. Romero then looked like he escaped trouble when he got Ichiro to flail at a 1-2 breaking ball in the dirt, but as Romero walked off the mound, the umpire determined that Ichiro had gotten just the tiniest piece of the pitch. I never understand how umpires actually hear those things, but Ichiro had new life, and he sent the following pitch back up the middle for an RBI single. I don't know if Ichiro actually tipped Romero's breaking ball or not, but I do know that pitchers should be made to pay for issuing consecutive two-out walks to Chone Figgins and Jack Wilson, so the Blue Jays can't complain.
- Brendan Ryan might be the most expressive player in baseball, and most of his expressions are eye-rolls or frustrated head-turns. Brendan Ryan is probably really annoying to argue with.
- With one out and a runner on third in the sixth, Edwin Encarnacion popped up an inside fastball, and slammed his bat on home plate. Batters most often slam their bats when they get a pitch they think they should crush and don't crush it, which makes me think that Doug Fister could be the league leader in slammed bats induced.
- I don't like to dwell on these things anymore, but it's worth noting that Tom Hallion's strike zone was comically bad, for both teams. The low strike simply did not exist, but the outside strike most certainly did. You could argue, I guess, that Hallion was consistent about not calling the low strike, and that the pitchers should've adjusted, but the low strike is supposed to be a strike, and you can't just take it out of play. You can be perfectly consistent about not calling strikes on pitches down the middle, but that doesn't justify your shittiness.
- Rajai Davis drilled the decisive two-run double off David Pauley in the eighth. Davis came into the game with a .535 season OPS against righties. At least the Mariners did not let the Blue Jays' best player beat them.
Tomorrow the Mariners send Felix Hernandez to the hill against John Lackey in Fenway Park. The next day pits Blake Beavan against Josh Beckett. After that, Michael Pineda and Tim Wakefield. These are three of the most uneven pitching matchups since the Phillies faced anybody.