I think most of us understand the perils of trying to paint a narrative. You don't paint narratives unless you are a very uninteresting painter. I think most of us understand the perils of trying to build a narrative around the events of a baseball game. A narrative implies that the events aren't by and large random, and are a part of some bigger story. And the whole backbone of a narrative can be so God damned fragile. I think we saw tonight how fragile a narrative can be.
Think about how different the game story might be tonight if J.P. Arencibia is called safe at home instead of out in the bottom of the seventh. Arencibia was on second with two outs when Adam Lind singled to Ichiro, and as Arencibia rounded third, Ichiro came up throwing. You've probably seen the highlight, or heard the highlight or heard about the highlight. Ichiro gunned Arencibia down, with an assist from an agile Miguel Olivo. At that point, the throw preserved a tie. I'm still not sure if Arencibia was out. Ergo I'm not sure if Arencibia was safe. The play was about as close as I think a play can be, and slow-motion replays did nothing to convince me. Arencibia was called out, and it made me happy.
Think about how different the game story might be tonight if Blake Beavan gets a called strike on Eric Thames in the bottom of the fourth. This is going way back. Remember how this baseball game was started by Blake Beavan and Ricky Romero? Remember how Romero was throwing a no-hitter? Thames was batting with one out and a runner on second. In an 0-and-2 count, Thames took a fastball practically right down the middle. It was an inarguable strike, but it was ruled a ball, and Thames eventually singled. The Blue Jays eventually scored two runs.
Think about how different the game story might be tonight if Brett Lawrie throws Kyle Seager out in the top of the ninth. When Seager came up with two outs and rolled a grounder to third, I reached for the remote. I had it in my hand, and as I was looking at it for the power button, Lawrie's throw to first bounced and Lind couldn't haul it in. I wasn't even watching the screen when Seager reached. But Seager reached and I put the remote back down. The Mariners lost. I mean, the Mariners basically lost this game. When the ball came off Seager's bat, everyone was thinking the same thing. Everyone began coming to terms with the loss, and then there wasn't a loss to come to terms with.
Think about how different the game story might be tonight if Colby Rasmus doesn't inadvertently knock down John Jaso's line drive later in the top of the ninth. Jaso singled up the middle with two outs to tie the game, with his liner dropping just in front of a diving Rasmus. The ball skipped by Rasmus' glove, and then this happened:
Rasmus blocked the ball completely by accident. That allowed him to recover and get Dustin Ackley thrown out at home. If that ball misses Rasmus' bare hand, Ackley scores easily, and the Mariners pull ahead. Hell, maybe Jaso scores too, because he's quick for a catcher, and Rasmus didn't have any support behind him. Then maybe there's no extra innings.
I'm thankful there were extra innings. Or extra inning, as it were. I wasn't thankful at the time, of course - I would've much rather had Ackley score and the Mariners win in nine. There was no guarantee the Mariners were going to prevail in extra frames, and the whole comeback could've been for naught. But given that the Mariners won, I'm glad they won the way they did. I'm glad they won it in the tenth, and not in the ninth.
Had the Mariners won in the ninth, we would've wound up with the same discussion as before. John Jaso would've been the biggest hero, and then all anyone would want to talk about is John Jaso's playing time, versus Miguel Olivo's playing time. I'm not saying it isn't a conversation worth having, over and over. John Jaso needs to play more, and Miguel Olivo needs to play less. That's it, regardless of what Eric Wedge says or believes. But if John Jaso is the big hero tonight, then people emerge both ecstatic and annoyed. They're ecstatic about the win, and annoyed that Jaso's a virtual ghost on the bench.
The way the Mariners won - nobody's emerging the least bit annoyed after the way the Mariners won. This was a feel-good win, an improbable win, sealed by the power bat of Michael Saunders. Michael Saunders is what people are going to be talking about and thinking about. There'll be other stuff - Jaso will be in there, and some other decisions and plays will be in there - but the spotlight's on Saunders for hitting late dingers in back-to-back innings. The spotlight's on Saunders for maybe, actually turning into a quality everyday player, just when people had finally written him off.
I don't think there's a Mariners fan alive who doesn't want the best for Michael Saunders, and who hasn't been disappointed by Saunders' failure to blossom. He's absolutely charming, and his skillset is so appealing. But at the start of spring training, who thought anything about Michael Saunders? He wasn't in the picture. He was going to be a roster casualty, or he was going to head back to the minors.
Then when Franklin Gutierrez got hurt and Saunders stepped in, who really believed his explanation about having a new swing? Who really believed that Michael Saunders could've been fixed by Josh Bard's brother, thanks to a program that Saunders can hardly himself explain? There are camp stories worth listening to and camp stories worth ignoring, and I think the overwhelming majority of us figured Saunders was going to be the same old Saunders.
Today is April 27th. Michael Saunders has batted 67 times, which isn't a lot, but which isn't a little. He has an .852 OPS. He has two strikeouts for every walk, instead of more than three strikeouts for every walk. Nine of his 15 hits have gone for extra bases. He's shown power that isn't just pull power. This could all absolutely just be a flash in the pan. It's 67 plate appearances. This could be Michael Saunders overachieving, the way Albert Pujols and Giancarlo Stanton are underachieving. But Saunders has the best numbers out of all of the regulars. Much like Lucas Luetge, he didn't figure in the picture in the beginning, but he's gotten a chance and he's grabbed it by the testicles. And then he's squeezed it a little bit, to let it know he's there.
This was a baseball game that the Mariners lost. The Mariners were a Brett Lawrie throw or an Adam Lind scoop away from dropping below .500. They were given a second chance, and by some miracle, they won, and they won in an incredibly satisfying way. They won because Michael Saunders came up big. They won because John Jaso came up big. They won because Justin Smoak, Jesus Montero, and Alex Liddi came up big, and they won because Michael Saunders came up big again. That game the Mariners won against the Rangers - that was fantastic. That was a 12oz milkshake. This one was a 16oz milkshake. Or if you don't like milkshakes or are lactose intolerant, this game is a bigger version of something delicious. Michael Saunders hit a home run. An inning later, Michael Saunders hit a home run. The Mariners are over .500. The Mariners are encouraging. The Mariners didn't make us feel like we'd wasted too much of a Friday. The Mariners are four and a half games ahead of the Angels.
What a catastrophe right now, the Angels. A shame they don't have players like Michael Saunders and John Jaso. I'm 95 percent certain this is going to look ridiculous in a few months when they've breezed by the Mariners in the standings, but that might not happen, and even if it does happen, it hasn't happened yet. The Angels will be looking up at the Mariners at the end of this month.
It's interesting that Michael Saunders has re-emerged thanks mainly to an injury to Franklin Gutierrez. It's interesting that Michael Saunders had his best game of the season on the day word got out that Franklin Gutierrez has plantar fasciitis. You wonder if they're connected. I was reading the other night about how psychopaths are charming and charismatic. It makes you think. Now it's making you think.
I don't want to stop thinking about this game. I'm no stranger to referring to hockey when I'm writing about baseball, and recently I was watching a lot of playoff hockey. The highs and intensity level of playoff hockey are unlike anything else. But in the later innings tonight, I got sucked in to an unusual, extraordinary degree. I didn't want to sit down. This was an awesome baseball experience, and because I know all about baseball and momentum, I know there's no guarantee tomorrow will bring another awesome baseball experience. So I want to dwell on this one for as long as I possibly can, because, man, what an experience.
Heartbreaking for the Blue Jays, really. But the blue jay is easily among the most annoying of birds. I love most birds, but seriously, fuck blue jays. Shut up. Just shut up. Just shut up.
Christ, that game. Immediately, you can't help but think about last April's big comeback against the Blue Jays, which was also improbable. But that comeback lifted the Mariners from 2-7 to 3-7, and the winning hit was driven by Luis Rodriguez. This one lifted the Mariners from 10-10 to 11-10, and the winning hit was driven by Michael Saunders. Little bit better, little bit more fulfilling. Now we have to choose which heartbreaking loss this negates. Is it the loss where the Mariners had a huge lead against the Indians? Is it the loss where the Mariners spoiled Felix's outing against the Indians? It can't be both. It can be one. Choose carefully, because this is important.
Now some bullet holes. What do I even have left? Let's all find out together.
- You knew the first bullet hole was going to talk some more about Michael Saunders. Ordinarily I give the first bullet hole to the day's starting pitcher, but I can't even remember anything Blake Beavan did, I might have been asleep. I know Blake Beavan pitched, which is super neat for him. He actually struck out four dudes, which is more than usual. Mike Blowers said Beavan had his game face on early today, which Blowers took to be a good sign, and then Beavan struck out four dudes. More early game faces, Blake. Now back to Saunders.
What I want to highlight are the two different ways he went deep. In the top of the ninth, he did this against Francisco Cordero:
In a full count, on the ninth pitch of the plate appearance, Cordero threw Saunders a 94mph fastball at the belt, over the outer edge. It was definitely a strike, but it wasn't a pitch Old Saunders knew how to handle. Or he probably did know how to handle it, but he couldn't physically handle it. Tonight he handled it, sending a blast to straightaway center. It was only the second-most impressive blast to straightaway center of the game, but once again, this isn't power Saunders used to show, which is what's so encouraging.
Then in the top of the tenth, Saunders did this against Luis Perez:
Perez is a lefty, you see, and he got ahead of Saunders 1-and-2. He tried to come with a slider low and away, but he missed more inside, and Saunders yanked it. He didn't crush it, but he crushed it enough to get out by some handful of feet. Michael Saunders homered to center on an outside fastball. Michael Saunders hit a grand slam off a lefty in a two-strike count. I was pleased enough when Saunders worked a walk against lefty Ricky Romero. Little did I know what he still had in store.
Several times during the game, I heard fans chanting Saunders' name, not in a positive way. More in a heckling way. There's a certain way that Americans repeat a player's name three times before saying "you suck". Elsewhere in the world, they skip the "you suck" part because it sucks and they just keep on repeating the name over and over. That's what the Canadian fans were doing to the Canadian Saunders, I guess because he's a turncoat? It didn't work. Michael Saunders is fueled by hate. Or he's fueled by hearing his last name a lot.
- This isn't important now with the way it all turned out, but during the top of the ninth I made a note to criticize Eric Wedge's in-game management. The Mariners began the top of the ninth trailing 5-3, and Wedge elected to let the right-handed Alex Liddi face the right-handed Cordero with Kyle Seager on the bench. Then, after Saunders' homer, Wedge elected to let the right-handed Miguel Olivo face Cordero with John Jaso on the bench. Wedge used Seager for Casper Wells and he used Jaso for Brendan Ryan, but did he think that Liddi and Olivo were better bets against a righty than Wells? It's hard to write an impassioned critique when the Mariners win that kind of game, and it's hard to write an impassioned critique about weird-ass pinch-hitting when you're not that passionate about it, but I would've liked to know why Wedge did what he did. Maybe he liked Olivo's power as the potential tying bat. That wouldn't be good enough for me.
- In the bottom of the seventh, the camera cut to a shot of the Mariners dugout. Nearly everyone on the bench was leaning back against the wall. Munenori Kawasaki was sitting straight up.
- Going way back to something you might have forgotten, in the top of the seventh inning, Jesus Montero hit a home run. He hit it off a lefty, and he hit it on a 3-and-1 fastball, so in those regards it wasn't all that special. What made it more special were two things: (1) he pulled it, to the left side of center, and (2) he didn't get all of it. Montero didn't square up the ball at all, and it still carried beyond the power alley. Sometimes when you watch Jesus Montero, he makes such quick and feeble outs that you forget he's one of the top power prospects in the world. A home run like this is a welcome reminder. We're still waiting on Montero to get going, but if and when he gets going, he could destroy some motherfuckers.
- Maybe you read this post by Marc W over at USSM about Lucas Luetge and Leverage Index. Not coincidentally I presume, the ROOT Sports broadcast tonight showed an infographic about Lucas Luetge and Leverage Index. Seriously, the graphic had Leverage Index written right there at the top of it. Then after they showed it the first time, they showed it again, and then they showed it again. They've talked about things like UZR and Defensive Runs Saved before so it's not like advanced stats are completely out of place on the broadcast, but Leverage Index is so unfamiliar, and so difficult to explain. I mean, first you have to understand Win Expectancy, and then you have to understand a second layer from there. I couldn't actually believe it. I felt bad for Dave Sims and Mike Blowers having to explain to several thousand people just what in the blue hell these numbers were telling them. I couldn't explain Leverage Index in five minutes, let alone five seconds. And I've used it before, a bunch of times!
The third time they showed the infographic, Blowers rather enthusiastically gave it the ol' college try. I was pleased to hear that. This past March, I was in the press box for a spring training game between the Mariners and the Giants. Before it got started, Pat Burrell came in, shook some hands, and sat down a few chairs over. He started reading the press notes, and at one point he looked up and asked if anyone could explain ERA+. I gave him a quick summary, expecting a blank stare or a dismissive wanking motion. Instead he listened thoughtfully and nodded his head. He got it. Blowers might get Leverage Index. Here's to ballplayers who think!
- By the way, in the second inning, Alex Liddi saved at least one run with a fantastic diving stop to his left. He took an RBI single away from J.P. Arencibia. That was so early in the action that it might as well have been a month ago but hey, all right, Alex Liddi can play some defense after all. The people who provide minor-league scouting reports must be very uninteresting trolls.
- Pretty soon there's a Dustin Ackley t-shirt giveaway for kids 14 and under at Safeco Field. Reading off the promo, Dave Sims said "your youngsters can look just like Dustin." Dustin Ackley is a grown man with a beard. And I don't think Dustin Ackley has ever worn a Dustin Ackley t-shirt.
Tomorrow it's Kevin Millwood and Brandon Morrow at 1:07pm. Let's go ahead and not think too much about tomorrow. Live in the present. Live this day as if it were your last! But don't actually do that, that's really bad advice.