You might've seen this, but the other day, when Albert Pujols finally hit his first home run of the season, he returned to an empty dugout. It would've been easy and predictable for the players to give Pujols the cold shoulder. They decided to take it one step further and abandon the dugout completely. As much as I hate the Angels and as much as I was hoping Pujols wouldn't homer ever again, I thought it was clever. I always enjoy watching the pranks that baseball players pull on one another.
Just as Pujols was returning to a familiar dugout, tonight Doug Fister was returning to a familiar city and a familiar ballpark. Fister was a teammate of many of the current players before getting traded, and so those Mariners players decided to have a little fun with their friend turned enemy.
The Mariners allowed Fister to cruise, just as he'd cruised on countless occasions before. Fister was fresh off the disabled list and held to a non-specific but limited pitch count. Somehow, on 73 pitches, he made it all the way through seven innings. I say "somehow" as if I don't know exactly what the Mariners were doing. They were just gift-wrapping outs. They couldn't have made Fister's job any easier. When he departed, he had allowed four hits, without a walk and without a run.* His team was leading 2-0. Fister was in line to pick up the 21st win of his career, a total which should be much higher, but which is what it is.
* I just now noticed the potential wordplay between walks and runs. It's my ninth year of baseball blogging on a daily basis. I'm amazing!
Then as soon as Fister left, the Mariners pulled the ol' switcheroo. It wasn't actually as soon as Fister left. The Mariners went 1-2-3 in the eighth. But maybe they thought Phil Coke looked like Doug Fister. Or maybe they felt bad about embarrassing Phil Coke a year ago. In any case, the eighth led to the ninth, and in the ninth, the Mariners completed their prank. The Mariners allowed Doug Fister to spin a fantastic, deep start. The Mariners then prevented Doug Fister from earning a win. The Mariners took that win for themselves. The Mariners thought it was just the funniest thing in the world, and Doug Fister didn't so much, but then he put his hands on his hips and was like "oh you guys". The Mariners have long been complete pricks to Doug Fister and now it's just part of their normal relationship.
Of course, I type all that as if the Mariners had much to do with their comeback in the first place. The bullpen kept the Octavio Dotel coming completely undone. It's funny - for a while, the Mariners were a little unlucky. The Tigers' first run scored when Prince Fielder lifted a towering pop-up into no-man's land in left field, and Brendan Ryan couldn't make a sprawling catch. The Tigers' second run scored as a result of poor contact against Hisashi Iwakuma. Those were the game's two runs, and though the Mariners were behind, it wasn't like the Mariners were getting badly outplayed.in check and in the bottom of the ninth the Mariners were by no means uninvolved, but that was all fueled by
Then the luck turned, if you want to refer to it as luck, which I don't like doing but which I already started. Octavio Dotel began the ninth for the Tigers because both Jose Valverde and Joaquin Benoit were unavailable. You recognize Valverde as the closer, and Benoit is a very good reliever. Dotel is very good too, but he was only pitching there because the other guys couldn't. And then out of nowhere, Dotel proceeded to have one of the worst and one of the ugliest outings of his entire vast career. Dotel has floated around, but not because he's been unsuccessful; since 2008 he's posted a 122 ERA+ with eleven strikeouts per nine innings. You can ordinarily rely on Octavio Dotel. He shouldn't have run into trouble tonight, but he created some of his own.
Dotel walked Brendan Ryan to lead off. Brendan Ryan, who has three hits since three Saturdays ago. Dotel walked him on five pitches, and none of the four balls were all that close. Then Dotel walked Ichiro on four pitches. The fourth was close, but Dotel hadn't earned a borderline call in his favor.
Ball one to Jesus Montero was a wild pitch, allowing the runners to advance. Ball two followed, and then ball three crossed Alex Avila up, leading to a passed ball that allowed the runners to advance once more. There was the Mariners' first run, created entirely by Dotel out of nothing. Dotel violated universal laws tonight. The tying run was 90 feet away, and because Dotel had fallen behind Montero 3-and-0, he had to come back with fastballs. Two of them were decently placed. The last one was not, and Montero destroyed it.
That was the end of Dotel's evening, but it wasn't the end of Dotel's influence, and a bunt and a sac fly off a lefty later, the Mariners had their walk-off win. Their improbable, walk-off, 3-2 win, after eight innings of offensive inactivity. It wasn't even necessarily that the offense finally showed up. It was that Dotel practically insisted that the Mariners put up a fight. The Mariners didn't want to fight, so Dotel took to hitting himself in the face until the Mariners delivered a blow of their own.
I was so prepared to write a recap about a nothing game. I had most of it mapped out in my head. Once the Tigers went up by two I started taking care of some laundry and thinking about how to approach the unapproachable. I had ideas, man. Promising ideas. Ideas I've now forgotten because I was too stupid to save them for later. But I could've sworn I'd be using them tonight. One of the last images I ever thought I'd see at the end of this game is the image posted below:
Munenori Kawasaki walking back to the dugout, arms up, a hero. The Mariners victorious. I thought the ninth inning would go like the eight innings before, and that the Mariners would seal a loss we'd forget about by Wednesday. The ending we watched was anything but the ending we expected, and, I don't know, does this make up for Tom Wilhelmsen gift-wrapping a game for the ? Baseball doesn't work like that, but the human brain works like that. A game like this helps to negate some bad memories. A game like this helps.
What a fantastically unusual baseball game. What an ordinary eight and a half innings, and what a fantastically unusual bottom of the ninth. What a game to have played, and what a game to have watched.
I got interrupted by a long phone call in the middle of all that that knocked me off course, so hopefully it still managed to flow. If it didn't, consider it a crooked write-up on a crooked baseball game. Now we're going to the bullet holes, and where ordinarily after a crazy baseball game I'm overloaded with potential bullet holes, I've got a pretty dry well for this one because for eight and a half innings the game was dreadfully unremarkable. Remember that first 95 percent? That was the worst! That wasn't the actual worst, but that was the hyperbole worst. Man, it sure does feel unpleasant when you watch your team get shut down by Doug Fister. Is that what Fister was doing to other people as a Mariner? I feel so bad for them.
- Most of the time I like to dedicate my first bullet hole to the Mariners' starting pitcher, and today the Mariners' starting pitcher lasted three innings. Not in a bad way, although kind of in a bad way. Blake Beavan was knocked out by a line-drive comebacker that got him in the elbow. Beavan might've been available to come back out for the fourth but you know who's probably not a real good bet when he's below 100 percent is Blake Beavan.
If you're wondering if Blake Beavan could be utterly Blake Beavan in just a three-inning window, the answer is an overwhelming yes. He threw way more strikes than he threw balls. The Tigers put balls in the air. Miguel Cabrera nearly took Beavan out of the yard in the first. Prince Fielder followed with the pop-up double. Beavan was unlucky to allow the double, but lucky to have not allowed the homer, so Beavan came out two luck-bases ahead.
In the top of the third, Beavan faced Cabrera with one out and runners on the corners. Cabrera maimed an 0-and-1 fastball right back up the middle. So right back up the middle that it clipped Blake Beavan. The ball deflected to Kyle Seager at third, who began what would be an inning-ending 1-5-4-3 double play.
It was unbelievably lucky for Beavan, because instead of allowing an RBI single up the middle, the inning ended without the Tigers having done any damage. It was unbelievably unlucky for Beavan, because Miguel Cabrera hit him in the elbow with a batted baseball. So much luck in the early innings. As Beavan walked off the field back to the dugout, he wore an expression like what Jason Statham probably looks like when he stubs his toe. Beavan couldn't open his mouth because if he kept his mouth closed, he could keep the pain in his body.
- Enough cannot be said about the emergency relief effort turned in by Hisashi Iwakuma. That's not true, enough could definitely be said, it's not like we need to spend the rest of our waking days talking about Hisashi Iwakuma's relief. But where Iwakuma probably came to the ballpark expecting to do what he does during every game - Pilates - he scrambled to get warm for the fourth, and then he turned in three solid innings. Three better-than-solid innings.
The Tigers did tag him for a run, but the run-scorer reached on a blooper and scored on a broken-bat single. Iwakuma also allowed some dangerous just-foul fouls. But his first four outs were strikeouts. He generated five strikeouts in all. Three-quarters of his pitches were strikes. Starting off the top of the sixth, he got ahead of Prince Fielder 0-and-2 and dropped a 1-and-2 split that Fielder swung plumb through. Iwakuma mixed up all of his pitches, and he looked...good. I was a little disappointed when he didn't return for the seventh.
I wonder what this game'll mean for Iwakuma's future. He got warm faster than he had in the past. He had more success than he had in the past, against a strong lineup. In a game in which Iwakuma wasn't supposed to pitch at all, he might've earned Eric Wedge's confidence. He probably did not do that, but tonight was more good than bad for Hisashi Iwakuma. Now he gets to feel involved.
- Munenori Kawasaki also gets to feel involved. He pinch-ran for Jesus Montero in the ninth after Montero's double. I don't know about replacing the DH in a tie game like that, but I also know that Jesus Montero moves around like someone put dark matter in his cleats. And it worked so I don't feel like complaining. Kawasaki advanced to third on a sac bunt by Kyle Seager. Then John Jaso lined out to right, giving Kawasaki an opportunity to tag up and sprint home. Tag up and sprint home he did, and after a good slide, it was Munenori Kawasaki of all people surrounded by Mariners in a celebration.
I remember walk-off hits by guys like Jose Lopez, Yuniesky Betancourt, and Jose Guillen, where some players would surround them to celebrate. I think all the players surrounded Munenori Kawasaki tonight. You could choose to take this as a sign of team cohesiveness. Or you could choose to take this as a sign that Munenori Kawasaki is impossible to not like. The sense I got tonight was that everybody loves him and everybody was eager to celebrate with him right in the middle. I don't want to label Kawasaki as a mascot because he is a player, but he's kind of living his own make-a-wish thing right now. He wanted to play in the Majors with Ichiro. He's playing in the Majors with Ichiro, and tonight, Ichiro congratulated Kawasaki on a job well done after he scored the winning run in a game.
- According to the commercial, Justin Smoak gets his baseball bats from big trees that he punches down in the forest. Maybe if he got his baseball bats from baseball bat companies he would have better bats and he would have better stats. Do you see how convincing that sentence is just because it rhymes?
Shawn Kelley appeared out of the bullpen, and so while I was ready to see more Iwakuma, I was just fine with Kelley. Recently I was reading some article that said how Kelley was finally feeling back to full strength, back to the way he felt before his elbow surgery. It's common for players to keep rebuilding strength as they put more and more distance between themselves and operations, even after they return to the field. So tonight was encouraging. Kelley only faced three batters, but three of his fastballs clocked in at 94 miles per hour. Before his surgery, Kelley was throwing 93-94. After coming back, he was throwing 90-92. Tonight he got back up there. If Shawn Kelley is back to being the guy that he was, then he'll be a very effective reliever, with just enough home runs allowed to keep from being closer material.
- The right-handed Kelley was pulled after 12 pitches so that the left-handed Charlie Furbush could face the right-handed Austin Jackson. Jackson came in with a 1.006 OPS against righties and a .684 OPS against lefties on the year. Sometimes I wish that managers just had no stats at all. Eric Wedge looked at his stats and assumed a reverse platoon split.
- In the top of the fourth inning, Alex Avila struck out for the second out of the frame. Jesus Montero began scampering off for the dugout, thinking that was it. If there's one thing Jesus Montero likes less than running, it's poorly-timed, unnecessary running. It's also possible that he just didn't want to crouch down behind Jhonny Peralta because, I don't know, Jhonny Peralta smells? At some point in baseball history, there must've been a batter who was unusually gassy, right? I'd love to know how that pitch sequence went. "First-pitch fastball, groove it and get this guy out of here."
- I'm starting to get that bad feeling about Michael Saunders again and I don't like it at all.
Tomorrow it's Justin Verlander against Kevin Millwood, and it's the rest of the Tigers also against the rest of the Mariners. Your first thought is that the Mariners are probably fucked. I'll remind you though that the Mariners have oddly had good success against Verlander in the recent past. Then I'll remind you that that doesn't really mean anything with regard to the future. So we're back to your first thought. But look at the trip that we took to get there. It's the journey, not the destination. I took pictures!