The ideal situation for a baseball fan, obviously, is that he watches his team remain in the race all season long, and qualify for the playoffs. That's what we're all hoping for every March and every April. The fact of the matter, though, is that the majority of teams miss out, and that a great number of teams drop out of the running by July or August, if not even sooner. Too many teams miss the playoffs for the playoff race to be the only thing in which we have interest. And so, we have backup interests. Things that keep us tuning in after the playoff ship has sailed. Those things are, in no particular order:
(1) Development of the team's young players
(2) Unpredictable occurrences of awesomeness and/or historical relevance
(3) Opportunity to influence the playoff race anyway
We're all familiar with the first two. We're all familiar with the third one, as well. You might recognize it as "playing spoiler." Teams that are out of the race can still play meaningful baseball, when they play against teams who are in the race.
Today, and this series, and the series before it - this has been meaningful baseball. Not because thematter, but because the teams the Mariners have been playing matter, which means the Mariners matter indirectly. How well the Mariners have played has had a direct effect on the final score, and the final score has had a direct effect on the playoff picture. The are nipping at the ' heels. They both need wins.
Now, all right - the Mariners, then, have been in position to play spoiler. They've been in position to knock a team back. All our lives, we've been taught that teams play spoiler by winning. That bad teams play spoiler by beating good teams who are still playing for something. But why should that be the case? In a situation like this, why is it only said that the Mariners are playing spoiler if they win? If the Mariners win, they hurt a contending team. If the Mariners lose, they hurt another contending team.
If a bad team plays a good team that's still fighting for something, then one way or another, the bad team's going to end up playing spoiler. It's either going to hurt the team it's playing, or it's going to hurt the team(s) competing with the team it's playing. Sure, the Mariners lost to the Rangers today. Sure, they blew a big lead and couldn't play spoiler in the traditional sense. But, the Angels beat the Bobby Abreu hit a tie-breaking two-run homer off Mariano Rivera in the ninth. That was a huge, dramatic win, and the Angels and their fans were hoping to narrow the gap. But they couldn't, because of the Mariners.6-4 earlier on.
The Mariners still played spoiler, even if the players and coaches don't feel like they did. And given that I personally still like the Rangers more than I like the Angels, I'm not too broken up about it, either. All meaningful baseball is meaningful, regardless of the outcome, and the sooner you can bring yourself to realize that the spoiler role isn't quite what you've been told, the sooner you can enjoy these kinds of seasons a little more than you do.
A small collection of bullpen meltdown bullet holes:
- It isn't fair to say that the course of this game was predictable, because saying that ignores the fact that the Mariners have actually won in Texas before, at least according to Baseball-Reference. (I personally don't remember any of those wins, but I also don't remember what I ate for breakfast.) But while this game wasn't predictable, I will say that, as the Rangers rallied and ultimately won, it felt in no way surprising. I never felt like the Mariners were secure; rather, I always felt like the Mariners were on the verge of letting the game slip away, which, in the end, it did. We've just seen Texas score too many runs in that ballpark for a small lead to hold up with unspectacular arms on the mound.
For me, Hamilton's single barely even registered. By that point, the outcome was a foregone conclusion. Ian Kinsler's home run told me that the Rangers were probably going to win, and Yorvit Torrealba's double - after Nelson Cruz stole second despite being picked off - sealed it. I would've been legitimately shocked had the Mariners scored in the ninth and hung on. I didn't even entertain the idea.
The whole thought process is irrational. I know that. I know about the Mariners' win expectancy when they had the lead. I made that chart and everything. But feelings feel the way they feel for a reason, and I can't deny them on the basis that they don't make statistical sense. I don't know exactly why I felt so skeptical, but I did, and, well, chalk one up to intuition, I guess.
- The temperature at the time of the game's first pitch was 105 degrees. If I'm remembering Twitter correctly, that's tied for the highest temperature at the first pitch in Mariners history. A big storyline for this series, as is the case for every series in Texas around this time of year, is that it's so God damn hot. With that in mind, here's Root Sports voiceover guy:
Mariners heat up Texas, tomorrow on Root Sports.
Endy Chavez hitting a home run off Michael Pineda is like...well it turns out it's almost exactly like Mark Lowe striking out Trayvon Robinson and Kyle Seager, which also happened. Great game.
- I didn't pay a lot of attention to Yoshinori Tateyama when the Rangers signed him, just because, whatever, old Japanese reliever, but here's what Tateyama has done this season between triple-A and the Majors:
He's basically been a slightly worse version of the two awesome relievers for whom the Rangers just traded, and though he doesn't appear to get a ton of high leverage work, he probably deserves it. While I realize he couldn't throw his fastball through laundry on a clothesline, what matters are the results, and Tateyama's results have been outstanding.
- Were this an important game for the Mariners, I'd be complaining about Eric Wedge using Jeff Gray and Aaron Laffey instead of Brandon League in the ninth inning of a tie game. As is, this was an unimportant game for the Mariners, so I will not complain about that. I will not complain about anything. Why complain? What is complaining going to solve? This is just baseball. It isn't something that really matters in life, like volcanoes. Be careful out there!
- I swear I don't have anything against Adam Kennedy, I really don't, but God damn is it annoying when he's the one who comes up with a big hit. At this point in the season I want all of the Mariners' hits to come from players who might be around in 2012 and beyond. I'm planning to forget all about Adam Kennedy by November.
Dustin Ackley has four walks in his last four games. Miguel Olivo has three walks in his last 54 games.
- As they say, this was a tale of two games for Michael Pineda. He allowed three runs and six baserunners in the first two innings. He allowed zero runs and one baserunner over his final four. Those final four innings also came with 69% strikes. Pineda blames the long layoff for his slow start, as he hadn't pitched since July 30th, and while I don't know if that's the whole reason, or if that's an acceptable reason if it is, I'd much rather he have a slow start and a strong finish than a strong start and a slow finish. The former implies that he's making adjustments, and I like the idea of Michael Pineda making successful adjustments.
Pineda's probably going to get more long layoffs over the rest of the season. We'll see if he gets better about dealing with them.
Jason Vargas and Derek Holland tomorrow at the same time. Watch as the Mariners play spoiler!