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Amphibious Mariners Knock Off Terrestrial Tigers

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this happened
this happened

When you think about it, it's not surprising. Okay, when you think about it, it is surprising, because the Detroit Tigers are supposed to be good, and the Seattle Mariners are supposed to be good in a few years. Seattle just won a three-game series over Detroit at Safeco Field. But when you think about it more, Seattle is the Mariners, and they were playing at home, and where is a mariner at home but on the sea? And where is a terrible place for a tiger to find itself? Precisely, in the water. Or in front of a cannon, or anywhere with explosives inside its body. But definitely in the water. The Mariners had a definite aquatic home-field advantage, and though mariners aren't renowned for their fighting, they're more capable of fighting in water than tigers are. I think. I have to be honest, I haven't researched this paragraph.

So as far as the actual baseball game is concerned, the Mariners won 2-1, and they won in large part because Jason Vargas was absolutely outstanding. They also won in large part because of Kyle Seager's line-drive double, and they won in large part because of John Jaso's line-drive single. Those are a lot of large parts contributing to the Mariners' victory. But as is sometimes the case, I can't get past one part, one part that isn't any of those parts. So now I'm going to give that part a disproportionate amount of attention.

I take you to the bottom of the eighth. It's 1-1, and Michael Saunders is leading off against Luke Putkonen, pinch-hitting for Casper Wells. Based on the pattern I think Eric Wedge thinks Casper Wells is completely incapable of facing a right-handed pitcher. Additionally while we're here, I'd never before heard of Luke Putkonen, but he reminds me of Luke Prokopec. Just because of his name, obviously, not because of his skillset, because I was unfamiliar with his skillset, because I was unfamiliar with him. Remember Luke Prokopec? He was Australian and not very good, by big-league standards. He's still Australian and not very good, by big-league standards.

So the righty Putkonen was facing the lefty Saunders. The first pitch was a high-away fastball that Saunders fouled off. The second pitch was a high and tight fastball that Saunders took for a strike. After two high fastballs in the zone, Saunders was behind 0-and-2, and knowing Michael Saunders, he was probably about to make some kind of out.

The third pitch was another fastball, at 94 miles per hour, lower and less tight than the previous fastball. It looked to be in the strike zone. Gameday believes that it was in the strike zone. Tigers catcher Gerald Laird, for whatever reason, couldn't catch the fastball cleanly, and it dropped to the ground. It was called a ball, and Saunders' count advanced to 1-and-2. The next pitch was a high fastball over the middle of the plate that Saunders slapped down the third-base line for a double. Thus a rally was born.

Over the last, I don't know, one year? Two years? we've come to learn an awful lot more about catcher defense than we used to know. I mean, people have been able to put numbers to it. Good numbers, produced by complicated and intuitive methods. We've learned a lot more about a catcher's ability to block pitches in the dirt. We've learned a lot more about catchers framing pitches and influencing the umpires behind them. We've always known that framing is a skill and that some catchers are better with umpires than others, but until fairly recently we couldn't quantify it. We had to lean on reputations and guesswork.

As we've learned more about catcher defense, we've paid more attention to catcher defense. I know that I personally have been paying more attention to catcher defense. I never used to check to see who was good at framing or what have you. I figured it was on the pitcher or the umpire. It's still technically on the umpire, and in an ideal world framing wouldn't actually be a thing, but this isn't an idea world. The book to my left has a broken spine. It's too warm inside to keep the window in this office closed, but it's too cold outside to leave the window open. I need to clip one toenail but not any of the others. This world is imperfect.

I'm pretty convinced - not completely convinced, but pretty convinced - that if Gerald Laird catches Luke Putkonen's 0-and-2 fastball over the plate, it's called strike three and Michael Saunders turns around and goes for a walk. I don't know for sure what umpire Mike Winters would've done and I know that umpires call relatively small strike zones in 0-and-2 counts, but I'm sure that Laird dropping the fastball didn't help matters at all. It looked like a strike. It wasn't even all that close to the border. It maybe wasn't called a strike because Laird fumbled it, and for some reason that matters. Given new life, Saunders doubled on the next pitch, and the Mariners had a three-in-four chance of winning the baseball game.

So that's me spending too much time focusing on one moment. If I spent that much time focusing on every moment, this would be the world's longest baseball game recap, and the world's most interesting and most unreadable baseball game recap. If I'm ever on my deathbed, I might wish that at some point I had dedicated three months to writing about one regular-season Mariners game, but I'll also know that dedicating three months to writing about one regular-season Mariners game would have probably sent me to my deathbed, or more accurately to my deathfloor after I decided to kill myself. There are some fascinating challenges that should never be attempted. Some challenges that should be left to the imagination.

To bring this all back to the overall game, the Mariners quieted a potent lineup and won in two hours. Jason Vargas had one of those games where you believe in every pitch that he's throwing, the Mariners' infield defense maybe couldn't possibly have been any better, and John Jaso, just once again, emerged as a hero. As Matthew remarked on Twitter after his single, the Mariners are just so much more satisfying to watch when John Jaso's playing instead of Miguel Olivo. It's just that one spot in the lineup, but Olivo's approach is so extreme, Jaso's approach so extreme in the other direction. John Jaso's been so consistent and so likable and he's even had a number of good plate appearances against left-handed pitchers. For a while it seemed like he was forgotten. He's far from forgotten now. I don't want him to go back to being forgotten in just a few weeks.

The Mariners don't play tomorrow. Off-days are most strongly influenced by the most recent game. Tomorrow ought to be a pretty pleasant off-day. I think it's good to know when you're going to have a pleasant day in advance. Or maybe that runs the risk of ruining it? Maybe then you enter the day with expectations, and the day struggles to meet them? Is this actually better at all? I better find my thinking cap. I can't figure this out without my thinking cap.

Time to play a game I like to call "let's see how many bullet holes I can write before I have to go pick somebody up at the airport". The design of the game is just the way I want it but the name of the game could use work.

  • Last season, you might remember that Jason Vargas threw three complete-game shutouts. He also threw a fourth start with nine shutout innings that the Mariners wound up losing in 12. That was part of the week-long Brandon League hellscape that we're probably never going to forget, even after we've forgotten about Brandon League somehow. I don't know how that works but that's how it's going to work.

    In those starts, Vargas worked quickly and couldn't have looked more comfortable. Tonight was another one of those starts. Vargas probably could've gone the distance, and he stood at 90 pitches after eight innings, but I can't be too critical of Eric Wedge for going with a fresh reliever. I'm pretty sure that was the better decision, even if Eric Wedge made it for the wrong reasons.

    An incredible 66 of Vargas' 90 pitches were strikes. That's just about three-quarters. Historically, Vargas has thrown under two-thirds of his pitches for strikes, so tonight his location was sharp. His changeup was as good as it's looked, generating eight whiffs and eight groundballs. In fact, let's look at those groundballs. Tonight, Vargas generated 12 grounders on 21 balls in play. His groundball rate on the season is now over 45 percent. His highest previous groundball rate was 37 percent. This is something to monitor as we scrape for reasons to monitor Jason Vargas.

    In short, this was Jason Vargas at or near his best. He spun eight flawless innings, without a walk and with six strikeouts. Nobody looked particularly comfortable. The wind was said to be blowing in pretty strong and maybe that gave Vargas some extra confidence, but Vargas turned in a gem with John Jaso behind the plate. Say, Eric Wedge, are you reading this? Are you reading this, Eric Wedge? If you're actually reading this, hey there. Vargas turned in a gem with John Jaso behind the plate.

  • Today was Prince Fielder's 28th birthday. He got to celebrate it in Seattle, just like so many Mariners fans would've wanted over the offseason. As a birthday gift, he got a loss and an o'fer. In fact, he was given the opposite of a gift, as Brendan Ryan stole from Prince Fielder in the top of the seventh. Fielder lined a hard shot right up the middle to lead off, and off the bat it looked like a sure single, but Ryan was shifted over, and he was shifted over just enough.


    Look at where Brendan Ryan is. Look at where he made that play. And he did make that play, as he wheeled around and threw to first ahead of Fielder, who is not actually that slow. In immediate response, Mike Blowers remarked "that'll help his Ultimate Zone Rating" without a hint of sarcasm. The Mariners' TV broadcast hasn't only shown UZR in graphics. Tonight a broadcaster - an ex-ballplayer - mentioned UZR, entirely on his own. There were two amazing things about this play.

  • Before we fall in love too deeply with the broadcast, at one point they were talking about potential Hall of Famers, and a poll of broadcast people was unanimous in favor of Craig Biggio, and unanimous against Jeff Bagwell. There wasn't much of an explanation given and it seemed to be more about Bagwell's numbers than his alleged-but-not-really-alleged steroid use, but the problem is that Bagwell's numbers were fantastic. He had more career hits than Edgar Martinez. He had more career homers than Edgar Martinez. He had a higher career OPS and OPS+ than Edgar Martinez. He had more career RBI than Edgar Martinez. He played a defensive position, unlike Edgar Martinez, mostly. Would the people polled have been unanimous against Edgar Martinez? I'm guessing not. I'm going to hope that this was just a matter of people not being familiar with Bagwell's statistics off the top of their heads, because if you don't support Bagwell, you can't support Edgar, and then people in Seattle aren't going to like you very much.

  • Brendan Ryan contributed to a huge double play in the top of the ninth when he knocked down a low line drive off the bat of Brennan Boesch. Had Ryan caught it, it might've led to just a single out. Since the ball came out of his glove, he could go 6-4-3. But I think Ryan's greatest gem came in the third inning, with Austin Jackson batting with two outs. Austin Jackson is very fast. He rolled a slow grounder to short.



    Not only did Ryan barehand the ball - look at that throwing position. Brendan Ryan charged in, barehanded a baseball, and threw with strength and accuracy to first without ever setting his feet. The grace with which the play was completed belied the magnitude of the difficulty. It would've been perfectly acceptable had Ryan not turned that into an out. I think a lot of shortstops would've failed to turn that into an out. Ryan did it. Ryan effectively took a base hit away from Austin Jackson. Do you see how defense can be like offense? Do you see how Ryan turning this from an infield single into an out is the same as turning one of Ryan's offensive outs into a single? This is Brendan Ryan's strength. This is why Brendan Ryan doesn't need to bat .280 to be valuable.

  • Against a lefty in the bottom of the fourth, Kyle Seager got ahead 3-and-1 and turned on a centered fastball that wasn't supposed to be a centered fastball. He ripped it down the right-field line and off the top of the wall, a foot or three short of going for a dinger. It would've been nice had Seager hit a dinger, since Justin Smoak was up next and I'm so far beyond believing in Justin Smoak at the moment, but I was content with the double, and basically this bullet hole is just being written to point out yet again that no matter how disappointed you might be in some of the players right now, Seager's been so much more than he was supposed to be. When Seager comes to the plate, you get that feeling like he's going to hit the ball hard somewhere, like you do or at least like I do with John Jaso. And, this year, Ichiro.

  • The other day, Jaso came through with a game-winning sac fly off a lefty. Today, Jaso came through with a game-winning single off a lefty. Duane Below gave Jaso a 2-and-2 slider that got a lot of air and a lot of plate, and Jaso hit it over the shortstop and into left field to score Michael Saunders from third. Jaso actually rounded first and bolted for second, and Jaso was actually safe at second ahead of the tag, but Jaso was actually called out at second, because the umpire thought he had been tagged earlier than he was because the umpire had a bad angle. Umpiring is a very hard job. Playing baseball is a very hard job, and umpires are there to make decisions. There should be umpires for umpires, there to make decisions. John Jaso hit a clutch hustle double, the extra-base portion of which will in time be lost. How unfair and also ultimately irrelevant. John Jaso has an .866 OPS.

And that's how many bullet holes I could write before bolting for the airport. Thank you for playing, Jeff! Thank you for inviting me, Jeff. All right. The Mariners have a -4 run differential. They're on pace for a -20 run differential. Last year they had a -119 run differential. Of course after 33 games last year, they had just a -13 run differential. You never know when there might be a 17-game losing streak right around the corner. Remember that? Remember the 17-game losing streak?