Earlier Monday afternoon, the San Francisco Giants played the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field. The Giants were fresh off getting swept by the Arizona Diamondbacks, having lost with Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, and Madison Bumgarner. They were desperate for a win, but they had to turn to Barry Zito, who is held in about as high regard by Giants fans as Horacio Ramirez was by Mariners fans. Things weren't looking good, for Giants fans.
Approximately three hours after the first pitch, Zito put the finishing touches on a complete-game shutout. It was his first complete-game shutout in nine years. He's a lot worse now, and again, he did it at Coors Field. It was just the 19th complete-game shutout in Coors Field history. That isn't an eye-opening number, 19, but Coors Field has been open for a while. It didn't host a single complete-game shutout in 2007, 2009, or 2010.
That might've been the indicator that this Monday was going to be Silly Monday. Sure, you could say that Zito's performance was a fluke, and you could say that Zito's performance was completely independent of the Mariners' performance, but Silly Monday involves an intangible force the strength of which exceeds that of all humanity combined. On Silly Monday, the Mariners could stand an actual chance against Yu Darvish, who we figured would just mow the Mariners down.
And the Mariners did stand a chance. The Mariners went to work and put themselves in excellent position to win a game we thought nigh unwinnable. But even Silly Monday isn't strong enough to let the Mariners beat the Rangers. It can only get them part of the way.
To be honest with you, even though the Mariners blew a big early lead and lost by six, I don't feel as bad as you might think that I would. Coming in, I had zero expectations. Zero positive expectations. I had lots of negative expectations. I came in a big Yu Darvish believer - a bigger Yu Darvish believer than Mariners offense believer - and I anticipated a dominant performance. I thought the Mariners would be lucky to collect a handful of hits, and I thought the Rangers would win comfortably, with the crowd giving Darvish ample two-strike applause. Basically I thought this would be like a classic Mariners/A's game, except the A's would be replaced by a potential world champion with droves of fan support. I thought it would be half like a classic Mariners/A's game, and half like a classic Red Sox/Yankees game.
This didn't turn out to be the game I expected it to be. The fact that the Mariners lost by six is not a surprise. The fact that the Mariners lost 11-5 instead of 6-0 or 7-1 is more of a surprise. I legitimately had a lot of fun for the first few innings, watching Darvish pitch like crap and watching the Mariners - for the most part - take advantage.
Darvish did not look good. Let's get that out of the way. He looked better as the game progressed, and he left the field to a standing ovation, but he didn't look good as the game progressed and I think the standing ovation was more about the fans telling Darvish they're behind him than about applauding Darvish for a job well done. More than a few people remarked that Darvish did enough to get a win, but that says a hell of a lot more about the win statistic than it does about Darvish's debut performance.
The Mariners' early runs were boosted by some lucky hits, so in that regard Darvish was unfortunate. But his command out of the gate was absolutely miserable, and it only improved to okay by the end. Chone Figgins was the very first batter Darvish saw, and he walked him on four pitches. Shortly thereafter, Michael Saunders walked, and Munenori Kawasaki walked on four pitches with the bases loaded. Darvish would walk another, and he'd hit a guy, and he'd throw just 59 of 110 pitches for strikes. That includes as strikes all of the balls that Miguel Olivo swung at for some reason.
After his early struggles Darvish hit a smooth patch in which he retired ten consecutive batters, but he didn't necessarily look in control while he was doing it. For example, his 1-2-3 fourth inning featured two 3-1 counts and a deep line drive to right. I think what really struck me is that the Mariners were taking comfortable, confident swings. Miguel Olivo's swings looked bad like usual, but the Mariners didn't seem to be off-balance, despite the quality of Darvish's raw stuff and the breadth of his repertoire. That was the opposite of what I assumed I would see. It made me feel like I was watching a lineup, instead of the Mariners.
Given what I thought I'd be in for, the Mariners' first few innings against Yu Darvish made for tremendous entertainment. The game actually got me out of my seat, half cheering and half laughing, which I think was the only way to take that early success. That was happier than I'd felt at any point in any of the Oakland games. And given what I thought I'd be in for, when the Rangers ultimately stormed back and grabbed the game by the testicles, really squeezing them, it was hard to feel that disappointed. It was a little disappointing, but I'd rather have a few sips of a delicious espresso martini and then accidentally knock it over than have no delicious espresso martini at all. I didn't think I'd be having any delicious espresso martini. I did, for a bit. As far as I'm concerned, that's a gain.
Maybe this is a good compromise. Rangers fans get the win, and the knowledge that Darvish made it through his first start. Mariners fans get the experience of having watched Darvish struggle against a lineup one figured he could've whipped. Now that I read this paragraph again, it's total loser talk. But then being Mariners fans, I suppose we're all fluent in the language. Get them tomorrow! Against a pitcher who might or might not be better than Yu Darvish.
Some bullet holes, although I don't think I have that much now that I went into sufficient detail on Darvish:
- While Yu Darvish was commanding all of the attention (the only thing he was commanding all night, haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa), Hector Noesi was quietly pitching like a pile of crap in a pseudo-debut of his own. It isn't easy for anybody to debut in Texas, except for literally any hitter ever, but I expected more of Noesi than I saw.
For someone who's an established strike-thrower, Noesi was wild, and more, it seemed like he was forcing it. Maybe that's just the way that he throws even when he's at his best, but Noesi's was not a throwing motion you observe with confidence that the ball's going to go where he wants it to go. I'm presuming that the Mariners traded for Noesi in part because they believed he'd command the strike zone. There's work to be done.
Not that the Nelson Cruz home run was entirely Noesi's fault. Here's the pitch that Cruz ripped out:
Olivo wanted the pitch a little more in, so Noesi missed his spot, but he didn't miss his spot by that much, and Cruz just turned on the fastball the way that he does. In my head, Nelson Cruz is a fantastic inside hitter. In my head, Nelson Cruz is a fantastic outside hitter. I don't know how Nelson Cruz always runs a low contact rate because it feels like four-fifths of his swings are home runs.
Anyway, the Mitch Moreland home run was way more Noesi's fault. Check out the target location vs. actual location:
A changeup down and over the outer half is a good changeup. A changeup down and in is a riskier changeup, and Moreland put one of those swings on it where the camera doesn't even need to bother tracking the flight of the ball.
Incredibly, while Noesi was bad, you could also say that he was lucky. With two on and no out in the bottom of the first, he allowed a three-run homer to right to Josh Hamilton, except he didn't because Hamilton's homer was some inches foul and he wound up striking out later instead. And then in the third, Hamilton was called out on a fielder's choice at home even though his slide beat Olivo's tag, especially because Olivo never applied a tag. Noesi allowed seven runs in 3+ innings, but he might've been worse than that.
No biggie, one game. Just as none of us believes that Yu Darvish is going to be a pile of crap, we shouldn't believe that Hector Noesi is going to be a pile of crap. Everybody gets time. But if Darvish's start introduced the possibility that he could underachieve, Noesi's start also raised some questions. Now it's up to him to provide answers.
- Some people would say that Brendan Ryan had a game to forget, which is a weird thing to say because from one perspective you could argue that Brendan Ryan needs to remember this game and learn from it. The Mariners had Darvish on the ropes in the top of the first, when Ryan batted with the bases loaded and one out. He struck out on three pitches, looking ugly in the process. Then in the bottom half, Ryan made a bad throw on a potential inning-ending double play, extending the frame and allowing the Rangers to score two runs. Ryan's error didn't cost the Mariners two runs, both because it wasn't technically an error and because Noesi still had to throw run-scoring pitches, but if you feel like it you could put this loss on Ryan's shoulders. I suspect the Mariners would've found a way to lose, with or without Brendan Ryan, but blaming people sometimes makes other people feel better.
And Ryan later made another two outs, reaching base once when Darvish hit him in the back. Because what a guy with a neck problem needs is to be hit by a baseball near the spine.
I don't know what this game would've looked like had Ryan had a better at-bat in the first. I don't know what this game would've looked like had Ryan made his routine throw minutes later. It would've looked different. I guess you can't get too mad at Ryan for his bat since he isn't known for his bat, and you can't get too mad at Ryan for his arm since he'll make that play the next 50 times. Man, when you put it that way, you just can't get too mad at Ryan for anything. Now who are we supposed to be mad at? Oh, right, Ian Snell. God dammit, Ian Snell. You weren't literally the worst, but you felt like it a lot.
- If Ian Snell is a self-Googler then I'm going to feel really bad about this.
- Munenori Kawasaki drew into the lineup and continued to look like a Major League Baseball player. He had a good approach against Darvish in the first. He had a good approach against Darvish - and singled - in the third. He had a good approach against Darvish - and hit a ball hard - in the fifth. And I don't remember his at-bat in the seventh but it probably wasn't humiliating. What really caught my eye, though, was a play Kawasaki made on a groundball up the middle in the sixth. Josh Hamilton hit the grounder and probably thought he had a single of either the outfield variety or the infield variety, but Kawasaki - playing an unfamiliar position at second base - ranged to his right, scooped the ball, and immediately turned and threw accurately to first to get Hamilton by some margin I didn't calculate. It was just a regular good play, and not a spectacular play, but I'm trying to think of a way that Kawasaki has disappointed since he came over. I'm pretty sure he's done everything anybody could've expected him to do, and more than that.
- I mentioned somewhere tonight that I thought Munenori Kawasaki would make a great friend. Then I thought about it more and while I think Munenori Kawasaki would make a great friend most of the time, he probably never shuts up on the phone, and that gets really annoying, some of us have shit to do, stop talking, I don't care about that person, please just stop talking, I don't want to be rude but I don't want to hear you talking anymore. But I bet when you're feeling low, Kawasaki would be great at cheering you up. I imagine him having the personality of a puppy if a puppy were a person. "Quit wallowing. Let's go to the park! Let's run around in the park!" /draws curtains, sunlight floods bedroom
- Erasmo Ramirez made his Major League debut in relief of Noesi, and threw three innings, basically establishing that he's out there as the long reliever. Sometimes long relievers don't get a lot of work. I think Ramirez is probably going to get a lot of work. Nothing about Ramirez's performance was visibly outstanding, and he missed a spot and allowed a home run to Josh Hamilton, but after a while Ramirez came out and I looked at the numbers, and I saw that he threw 70 percent strikes while keeping six of eight balls in play on the ground. Ramirez was just quietly really good, and that's probably going to be the way that he usually feels. Blake Beavan is quietly acceptable. Ramirez can quietly be more than that.
He generated six whiffs, picking up three strikeouts. He got Nelson Cruz to expand the zone in a 1-2 count, which is one of those things Ramirez has been trying to learn how to do. Given Eric Wedge's haste in removing Noesi and inserting Ramirez, I wonder how long the Mariners are going to continue with this arrangement. I don't think they're going to change anything too quickly, mind you, but if Noesi struggles and Ramirez continues to do things that ingratiate a guy to a manager, I could see Ramirez getting a promotion.
- Somebody should probably tell George Sherrill that it isn't spring training anymore. Or, somebody should probably tell him again. His internal calendar is all wrong, and he's doing needless damage.
- Kyle Seager had a line-drive single, a line-drive double, a line-drive out, and a groundball single. In my hasty estimation, I would say that Kyle Seager is blossoming into the hitter the Mariners thought they were getting when they traded for Jeff Cirillo. Now that I have put Kyle Seager and Jeff Cirillo in the same sentence, you're going to come away liking Kyle Seager just a little less than you used to, and you're not going to know why. "I can't put my finger on it, but something about that guy..."
More Mariners/Rangers baseball tomorrow, except with Blake Beavan and no Yu Darvish, so if you're stuck late at work, don't stress. The radio should be fine. The radio might be for the best.