I was involved in a conversation before everything happened. When I say "everything", I mean the run-scoring. The conversation was between a number of Mariners fans, and some of them were venting their frustration. The usual frustrations, except still new and still fresh, because the longer that the usual frustrations persist, the more they increase in intensity. Through the first seven innings of this game, the Mariners were outscored 3-0. They hadn't scored since they faced Yu Darvish. It spanned 23 innings. The team record is 30, but 23's close enough for discomfort, and it's still very much unpleasant, even if not record-breaking.
Some of the fans were saying that they were rapidly losing interest. This was just the seventh game of the season, and the Mariners entered 3-3, but the Mariners entered with a familiar-looking offense, and for a while today the Mariners showed off a familiar-looking offense. Some of the people I was talking to seemed to be approaching the breaking point. I'm sure the feeling was not unique to them.
See, when the Mariners don't score, the Mariners aren't interesting. They're actually the opposite of interesting, most of the time. And when the Mariners aren't interesting, and then you take a step back and consider your fandom, you start to wonder. Is this worth the investment, of attention and time? Of emotion? Rooting for sports teams is irrational behavior, but that doesn't prevent one from making rational decisions. The Mariners were making some people think they needed to make a rational decision.
This is a critical time for the Mariners. Attendance has been slipping. Attention has been slipping. The public is furious over Howard Lincoln's letter concerning the downtown arena. The Mariners need to get themselves back in good graces, lest they drive more people away and become an afterthought. The Mariners would never disappear entirely, and no matter what happened the fans would be there to support a winning team in the future, but if the Mariners don't get things turned around, they could enter a real dark period. Or I guess they could extend the real dark period.
The Mariners had Mariners fans questioning themselves. That was kind of the situation. I'm making this a little too dramatic, and one night doesn't change things on its own, but the natives were getting restless. The natives were already restless. They were getting more restless. The Mariners don't need the natives to be more restless than they already were.
At last, the shutout streak ended in the eighth. At last, Dustin Ackley drove home John Jaso. But that was just one run, and while it snapped a skid, it didn't change the emotions. The Mariners were down two runs. The Rangers have an incredible bullpen. Following Ackley, Ichiro hit a line drive up the middle, but it improbably slowed down by bouncing off Alexi Ogando's back, and the Rangers turned an inning-ending double play. This was a loss. The Mariners would quietly slip below .500, with .500 perhaps not to be seen again.
And then the ninth. Not to skip over Lucas Luetge in the bottom of the eighth, because good for Lucas Luetge, but people aren't going to be talking about Lucas Luetge tomorrow. They're going to be talking about the ninth, which wasn't the inning that saved the season, but which was the inning that bought the Mariners time.
I supported the Rangers signing Joe Nathan - not as a biased Mariners fan who wants the Rangers to fail, but as a baseball fan who thought signing Nathan was a good idea. I think he's still a capable pitcher. I thought the Mariners would go down quickly. When Justin Smoak ripped a leadoff single, I thought it would go for naught. When Kyle Seager followed with a double, it got my attention, but I still assumed disappointment. I thought there was a chance that Jesus Montero's fly to right-center would carry. It didn't carry, the Mariners had an out, and I figured that was it.
The Mariners were down just one, and they had a runner on third with one out, but the next batter was Michael Saunders. As much as I've talked about Michael Saunders' possible improvement, that's been my conscious brain. My conscious brain hasn't convinced my subconscious brain, which still assumes that Saunders can't do anything. Like he'll look like he did last year. Even if Saunders is legitimately good now, that's going to take a while to sink in. I thought he'd strike out, or maybe pop up. Maybe in foul territory. Maybe behind the plate. He fell behind 0-and-1. I saw it. I saw the swing. I saw the result. I felt my spirits sink.
He took a ball. Then he ripped a single. But it wasn't a single, because it was a double, because Michael Saunders is fast. Moments later, he stole third base. Brendan Ryan struck out, because Brendan Ryan looks lost, but enter John Jaso: Other Hero. Jaso took four pitches and lined a single up the middle. All he saw were curveballs. Five consecutive curveballs. He stayed back on the last one, and he put so many fundamentals into his swing that Chris Chambliss' brain achieved a higher level of cognition. He had witnessed purity. He had stared it in the face, and lived to tell. Chris Chambliss entered the day a human. Chris Chambliss leaves the day evolved.
The Mariners led. Brandon League wavered. Elvis Andrus lined out. The Mariners won. The Mariners bid farewell to .500, but not because they'd reached the summit; because .500 is but a lower camp.
Those same Mariners fans aren't talking about losing interest anymore. This was a game that sucks you in. That makes you feel actual emotion, which is the whole reason we do this in the first place. We just want to feel emotions about sports to replace the emotions of life. They don't even have to be good emotions. They just have to be any emotions. What was so frustrating was the way the Mariners were rendering us emotionless. Not tonight. Tonight's was a baseball game you don't watch and then immediately forget about when you flip to Tin Cup on TBS for some reason. There haven't been enough of those lately.
A night doesn't repair everything. For seven or eight innings, the Mariners were up to their usual tricks. They didn't hit a home run. They still won't hit home runs. One of the things that made the ninth inning so exciting was that it was so out of the ordinary. If the Mariners revert to being the Mariners, those frustrations will return, and they'll still be intense.
But tonight gives the Mariners a break. Tonight makes Mariners fans happy to be Mariners fans. This'll have an afterglow, even if the Mariners lose tomorrow afternoon. The worst they can do is hold the home opener at 4-4. From an optimistic perspective, you can look at this series and feel good about it. The Texas Rangers are a fantastic baseball team, and possibly the best baseball team. They don't have holes. The Mariners have met them on their own field. The Mariners lost the first game by six, but put themselves in good position early. The Mariners lost the second game 1-0. In the third game, the Mariners broke into the Rangers' sprawling mansion, disabled the alarm, navigated the lasers, and stole the win right out of the display case. I don't know what'll happen tomorrow, and the Mariners could lose by 12, but where this series came close to feeling like a disaster, now it feels like choppy seas that've been adequately navigated. Because they're Mariners. Ship jokes!
When Ichiro hit into a double play off Ogando's back, I thought, yep, that's a new way to not score. Glad to erase that one off the dwindling list. Now the double play's the furthest thing from my mind. Which you can actually tell is a complete lie since I'm writing about the double play right now. But you know what I mean. When I'm done writing, the double play will be the furthest thing from my mind. Except for Cameroon. I don't think I've ever thought about Cameroon.
Some bullet holes, even though I've already said too much:
- I was not very interested in settling in to watch an evening of Kevin Millwood. I would've been several years ago, when Millwood was a free agent I wanted the Mariners to sign. Millwood isn't that guy anymore, though, and he's effectively a place-holder, keeping a rotation spot uncomfortably and weirdly warm until some other guy is deemed ready to take it. I wasn't looking forward to watching what Millwood has been reduced to throwing. I wasn't not looking forward to it, but I was...I was Beavaning. I think that conveys the idea.
Millwood opened my eyes a little bit. He was missing spots. So many spots. His command was erratic, especially early on. But then I started to understand how this guy got nine strikeouts for every two walks last year with Colorado. Millwood's pitches aren't slop, and Millwood's pitches have movement.
The one pitch in particular that stands out in my mind is a 3-and-2 fastball he threw to Josh Hamilton to lead off the bottom of the third. Millwood practically aimed at Hamilton's armpit, but then the fastball sank and ran back over the plate for a perfect called strike three. I think that's the very pitch that's allowed Bartolo Colon to revive his career. I didn't expect Millwood's fastballs to dart. I expected them to just kind of...I don't know, go from Millwood to the catcher, unremarkably. Sometimes they would go from Millwood to the bat and then back out again.
Blake Beavan did a good job of shutting down the Rangers' offense last night. That was a Rangers offense with Mike Napoli in it. Millwood didn't have to face Napoli, but he struck out seven batters in six innings. He generated 12 swinging strikes, and he generated groundballs. Millwood's location was most definitely spotty, and he only narrowly escaped what could've been a nightmare first inning, but once that frame was behind him, Millwood was terrific.
I'm more interested in watching Millwood the next time than I was this time, is what I'm trying to say. Millwood doesn't look like much of an athlete or pretty much anything that you'd give a second thought, but his pitches have life, and he kept good hitters quiet in a dangerous park.
Steve Delabar did not keep good hitters quiet in a dangerous park. Steve Delabar allowed good hitters to make a lot of noise in a dangerous park, coughing up consecutive homers to Ian Kinsler and Elvis Andrus in the seventh that felt like the final nail and then a wholly unnecessary additional nail. I'm not going to question whether Delabar has Major League-caliber stuff. His fastball's in the mid-90s and he has a useful split. But his location is just not good, and it feels like a lot of his best pitches end up not even where the catcher wanted them. Delabar has the weapons to be an effective setup-setup guy, but it's nights like this that make you wonder why he's with Seattle while Shawn Kelley's with Tacoma. Sure, Kelley has some things he could improve. The only thing that doesn't really need to improve about Steve Delabar is his story.
- John Jaso finally drew into the lineup. In his first at-bat as a Mariner, he swung at the first pitch and grounded out weakly. The easy quip at the time was that it didn't make sense why Jaso had been riding the bench since he'd committed to the Mariner way. But then in his next at-bat he worked the count and then he tripled and then he singled so I guess John Jaso is not that committed to the Mariner way after all. More practice for you, John Jaso, I don't know who you think you are.
- ROOT Sports Guy, referring to the Mariners:
A cast of rising stars and dominant vets [...]
- Also, Bill Krueger saying something about Kevin Millwood and Blake Beavan:
Different ways to skin the cat.
- Josh Hamilton has a way more aggressive approach than you might assume. I know Adam at Lone Star Ball has written about this many a time at considerable length, but where you'd think of Hamilton as a more disciplined, patient hitter, no, stop thinking that, you are completely incorrect. He swings like he wants to use up all of his swings while he's young because what's the sense in saving swings for when you're old? Old people can't swing. Old people can't do anything.
- In the seventh inning, against an 0-and-2 Colby Lewis slider, Kyle Seager swung and missed. It was the first time he'd done that this season. It's still the only time he's done that this season. I don't know how much I buy into hitters actually being in the zone, but if there's such a thing as hitters being in the zone, Kyle Seager is in the zone. He's like a Dustin Pedroia laser show that can ride a rollercoaster.
- You've heard about Texas' "Boomstick" hot dog that's two feet long and sells for $26. ROOT Sports did a quick little bit on it coming back from commercial, with Brad Adam standing in front of a concession stand with a Boomstick on display. Every single team that visits Texas will do a quick little TV bit on the Boomstick hot dog. Every single one of those bits will involve a Boomstick on display. I don't know what they do with those hot dogs after recording. If they aren't consumed, that will add up to be an unthinkable waste.
- Don't forget that this game ended with Elvis Andrus lining out to first with a fast runner on second. We were inches away from a completely different feeling. Happiness is a robin's egg.
Tomorrow, it's Jason Vargas against Derek Holland at 11:05 in the morning. It's not at 11:05 in the morning in Texas, which is good for Derek Holland, because Derek Holland is young, and young people hate mornings. Jason Vargas probably feels about mornings the way he feels about everything, which is that some of them are better than others. What a nothing opinion to have, Jason Vargas.