As I watched this game twist, turn, and finally wrap up, I realized the great shame is that one could write 3,000 words about this matchup and still not say enough. And that's the great shame because I will not be writing 3,000 words. I will be writing far, far fewer words, and in bullet hole form, because I am completely wiped out and don't anticipate a second wind. Let's see what my fingers have to say! I'm as curious about what text is going to follow as you are.
- This was one of those Felix Hernandez starts where you sit back and watch and think, yeah, that's the King. We haven't been able to say that as often as we would've liked to so far this season, but there was no mistaking Felix's ability level tonight, as he had every single pitch working for all eight of his innings. That's kind of implied by his ten strikeouts and zero walks, but I thought a real telling at bat was Coco Crisp in the seventh. Crisp fell behind 1-2 and then fouled off four straight pitches with these feeble swings like all he was trying to do was nudge the ball to the side since he had no prayer of hitting it hard and fair. Crisp ultimately grounded back to the mound.
Felix obviously deserved the win and it's a small bummer that he didn't get it, but I feel better having seen this effort out of him, and he probably feels better about having worked with all of his pitches, instead of two or three of them as has too often been the case. And since the team still won, nobody can be too upset. This way Brandon League gets win #1, and Doug Fister gets to feel like he fits in.
- The winning run scored on a strange play in the top of the tenth. With two on and one out, Brendan Ryan hit a grounder to Jemile Weeks, who threw to Cliff Pennington at second for one. As Pennington attempted to complete the double play, though, he had to contend with a sliding Ichiro, and he wound up throwing the ball away, allowing Franklin Gutierrez to score from third. Instead of watching Ryan bounce into a rally-killing 4-6-3, the M's instead found themselves out in front.
It was a strange play not because the A's screwed up - we've seen that one before - but because it involved a Jose Guillen-esque takeout slide by Ichiro, who usually doesn't do that. Ichiro appeared to be targeting Pennington instead of the base, and while he didn't exactly take Pennington's legs out from under him, he clearly created enough of a distraction. It was one of those things that'll earn him respect from people who don't understand why he plays the way he normally plays. For whatever that's worth.
- Another day, another standout performance by Dustin Ackley. Ackley didn't do anything special in the field that I saw, nor did he have to. At the plate, though, he reached base three out of four times. In the second, he stayed back on an outside 0-1 curveball and lined an opposite-field single into left (then stole second). In the fourth, he worked the count full before grounding out. In the seventh, he blasted a first-pitch changeup over the fence in straightaway center, 400 feet away. And in the ninth, he drew a five-pitch walk.
Two things. First of all, the home run. Ackley took a line drive swing, and off the bat it looked like he was going to line out right to Crisp. The ball sailed, though, and it kept on sailing, and Hit Tracker measured it at 413 feet. Just because Dustin Ackley doesn't look like he has power doesn't mean he doesn't have power, and this wasn't a homer you can fake. The longest home run Jose Lopez has ever hit in the Hit Tracker era measured at 415 feet. Did anybody ever say that Jose Lopez didn't have power? Ackley is not some slap hitter. He's not Jeremy Reed.
Second of all, the walk in the ninth. The A's had southpaw Craig Breslow in to pitch to Adam Kennedy and Justin Smoak. After Smoak singled to bring Ackley to the plate, Bob Melvin replaced Breslow with the right-handed Joey Devine. It's not like Devine is some ultra-groundballer who gave them a better shot at a double play. It was just a straight-up switch that wound up giving Ackley the platoon advantage. I can't recall the last time I've seen that, especially with a rookie. You just know Melvin was looking at his charts and thinking "this guy's batting .200 against righties and .700 against lefties. Jackpot!"
Carlos Peguero went 0-for-3, struck out twice, and couldn't reach a shallow pop fly in the bottom of the ninth that wound up tying the game. In Peguero's defense, he did cover a lot of ground on the fly, he drove in the game's first run, and he ripped a homer just foul. Still, though, he shouldn't be in the Majors, and I honestly don't understand why he is. Honestly. It is among the most puzzling roster decisions the Zduriencik Mariners have made. What did Peguero do to earn this? What has Peguero done to keep this? It is so perplexing that in due time I'm going to go all the way around and convince myself it's part of something genius.
- Peguero since Ackley came up: 5-for-37, 0 unintentional walks, 14 strikeouts. Each has made us really notice the other.
- There's something really cool about Jamey Wright picking up his first career save in his 500th career appearance. There's also something really telling about it, considering more than half of those appearances have come in relief. Jamey Wright has never before been seen as a closer, and he's never before been seen as a closer substitute when the regular closer is unavailable. Kind of says something about Wright's history.
But tonight he looked good, and you could even say he looked like a closer after he blew away Ryan Sweeney with an 0-2 fastball for the final out. The thing about the Mariner bullpen right now is that it's short on awesome talent, but long on fun stories. David Pauley, Aaron Laffey, Chris Ray, Jamey Wright - fun stories. Jeff Gray is a different kind of fun story.