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Mariners Run Into Whoever Wei-Yin Chen Is

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I'm going to let you guys in on a little secret. As many of you should know by now, I write here and at Baseball Nation, and at Baseball Nation, I'm supposed to help cover all of baseball. And I write about pretty much everyone, except the Mets, because the Mets are just right in my blind spot. The Mets are my blind spot. I have to come up with several ideas for things to write about all the time, and for so many weeks I've been toying around with the idea of writing an article titled something along the lines of "Who The Fuck Is Wei-Yin Chen?" It wouldn't be titled exactly like that but I can get away with more shit here. Look, I did it again!

I've known about Chen's existence, but he's seemed like a fairly invisible starting pitcher on a surprisingly visible team. Chen was never the most compelling topic I had in mind, but I've long had him in mind as a guy worth exploring. As long as the Orioles matter, people should know as many of the Orioles as possible, and people don't know Chen, yet.

It's July, and I haven't written that article. That article wasn't just going to be for the public's benefit. It was going to be for my benefit as well, because by researching and explaining Wei-Yin Chen, I could've learned about Chen for myself. I never got to know much about him, because I never committed to the topic. For a while I kept confusing him with Tsuyoshi Wada, another Orioles pitcher, which I know is terribly racist. Since April, I've thought about writing about Wei-Yin Chen, and I haven't, so I know little about him, and most of you, in turn, know little about him.

A night like tonight makes me think it's better that way. Chen retired the first 19 Mariners batters he faced. He was out-dueling Felix Hernandez, and he had people thinking about a perfect game. This wound up, however briefly, on the ESPN MLB front page. The Mariners had already been perfect game'd once this season, so this wasn't breaking new ground, but Chen closed to within eight outs of a perfect game, and I didn't know enough about him to know whether or not that's embarrassing. Watching him tonight, I thought, "wow, yeah, he's good at mixing his speeds and missing bats and ... well he's good at pitching, basically." Chen looked tremendous, and because I didn't come in with any prior impressions of Chen, he could be anything. The Mariners didn't try to get perfect game'd by Armando Galarraga. I mean, maybe they did, but I didn't know that going in. Wei-Yin Chen was mental Play-Doh that he himself could shape.

Chen, ultimately, didn't get his perfect game, or a complete game. Casper Wells saw to the former, and other dudes saw to the latter. One of the odds things about this game is that at different points, Felix Hernandez was the story, and then Wei-Yin Chen was the story, and in the end neither Felix nor Chen was the story. This game ran through a number of main stories, which meant I ran through a number of recap ideas, which meant I was left unsure of any one recap idea. Instead of following one idea, I'll write about all of them, even the ideas that should be discarded.

This recap could've been about Felix Hernandez. Felix came in riding the hot streak we'd been waiting for, and he was pitching at home in front of maybe the largest King's Court in King's Court history. From the beginning, Felix was just about untouchable. He turned himself up to 11 and the early results were comical. Felix struck out two batters in the first. He struck out two batters in the second. He struck out the side in the third, albeit around a couple singles, which I wasn't sure the Orioles would be able to hit. He struck out another batter in the fourth. There were no strikeouts in the fifth, but there were quick outs, in theory allowing Felix to work deeper.

At the outset, it was King Felix who had us thinking about a no-hitter. We always think about a Felix no-hitter every single time until it's broken up, and they've always been broken up, but sometimes the no-hitter feels more likely than others and tonight the Orioles just weren't making much contact at all for a good while. Felix's odds of a no-hitter were pretty good if he kept striking out two batters an inning. Ryan Flaherty got the Orioles into the hit column with one gone in the third, which was early, but prior to that I thought Felix would take the effort deep. And he continued pitching well.

Then things came apart in the top of the sixth. The Orioles opened with three consecutive line drives. Then a single, then an out, then a line drive, and Felix was out of the game with the Mariners behind 4-0. It happened so suddenly and all of the energy was sucked out of what had been a reasonably electric crowd for a Tuesday night game against Baltimore. I want to say that Felix was the victim of some bad luck, and he did finish with eight strikeouts, zero walks, and eight singles allowed. Matt Wieters' two-run single that knocked Felix out came on a tailing fastball outside off the plate. But the hits were legitimate. The sixth inning was loud, louder than the King's Court, and so we're left to reflect on Felix's latest outing as a mixed bag. The strikes and the missed swings were there. The grounders weren't, and the O's hit seven liners. I don't know what to make of what happened to Felix, if anything did.

This recap could've been about Wei-Yin Chen. It actually was, for the first while. I'll repeat that Chen was perfect until there was one out in the seventh. To tell the truth, when I say this recap could've been about Chen, I mean this recap could've been about Chen's accomplishment, so it would've been about a perfect game or no-hitter. And it would've been about how the second one doesn't feel anything like the first one. I can't say that for certain, since the Mariners didn't actually get no-hit tonight, but as it was building I realized how much less I felt about it. When Humber was doing it, I was thinking "oh my god, he's doing it." When Chen was doing it, I was thinking "ha! He's doing it." It's a lot more casual the second time.

We just flew through the first season of Girls. One of the characters, Shoshanna, is a student at NYU and a virgin. There is all of the awkwardness and drama you'd expect there to be upon intimate or potentially intimate encounters with men. The other characters aren't virgins. Very much so. They're more casual about their sex lives, as most people are, and if you're having trouble picking up what I'm putting down, I'm saying we're not no-hitter virgins anymore. The Mariners had been no-hit before, but not for a long time, and I don't know how many people were close fans back then. I know I was in another city and couldn't follow on TV and was a child. That no-hitter meant nothing to me, and then at last I saw the Mariners get perfect game'd. So now they can be casual. We've been through it. We know what it's like. We know the best parts and the worst parts. The mystery of the act of getting no-hit is gone; all the mystery that remains is who might do it next.

I was still thrilled that the Mariners didn't get perfect game'd. I cheered when Wei-Yin Chen challenged Casper Wells and Wells took him deep to spoil everything at once. Getting no-hit or perfect game'd again would've been unpleasant, and unusually embarrassing. Had it happened, though, it would've been different from the first time. It would've been easier to take than the first time. We would've gone to bed thinking "I can't believe that happened again!" and then we would've woken up and then it would've been Wednesday.

This recap could've been about the Mariners' late-inning offense, and John Jaso and I guess Jesus Montero. After 19 Mariners had come to the plate, the score was 4-0 Baltimore, and zero Mariners had reached base. The game was over. Wells made it 4-1, but it was 4-1 in the bottom of the eighth, and the first batter in the eighth flew out. The game was over. There was not a single person who expected the Mariners to rally, and I dare say that includes Eric Wedge, who's seen enough of the Mariners and who isn't an idiot. Wedge is a good motivator, which often requires that he be a good liar, a good actor.

Michael Saunders doubled, and Justin Smoak singled. Dustin Ackley singled, and John Jaso singled, because every time John Jaso comes to the plate he draws a walk or gets a hit and that's why he's batting 1.000 with an OBP of 1.000. John Jaso so frequently looks like the perfect hitter. The rally could've ended there, as Ichiro followed with a force out that was nearly a double play, but Casper Wells got hit by a two-strike fastball at 99 miles per hour, and then Kyle Seager walked on a one-strike heater at 97. Thanks in part to their own ability and in part to Pedro Strop's wildness, the Mariners turned a dead game into an even game. Upon Seager's walk, few could remember that Felix or Chen had ever pitched, and had pitched so remarkably.

The next batter was Jesus Montero, and he was tasked with trying to reach base against righty specialist and side-armer Darren O'Day. One hit, one walk, even an error would've been enough, and Tom Wilhelmsen would've recorded the save. But Montero fell behind 0-and-2 and flew out. You can't really blame Montero for this one particular at-bat. O'Day is a dreadful matchup for any right-handed hitter, which is why O'Day can still tell ladies he's a pitcher in the Major Leagues if he actually does that. For his career, O'Day has held righties to a .593 OPS. The odds were something like 75-80 percent that he'd get Montero out, and he got Montero out. It's just been a while since Montero unloaded or came through with something meaningful. He hasn't looked like a productive or even particularly talented hitter lately, causing frustration that I can't tell whether or not it's fair. Montero's a rookie, but he's also Jesus Montero, savior of the Yankees, America's franchise.

This recap could've been about Charlie Furbush, but I don't want it to be. It was Furbush who wound up costing the Mariners the game, as he left a two-strike fastball over the plate to Robert Andino. There are hundreds upon hundreds of players I'd less rather Furbush leave fastballs over the plate to than Robert Andino, but Andino did the damage, and he managed that because he knew Furbush wouldn't come at him with his breaking ball. Because Furbush had just missed wildly a few times with his breaking ball, immediately before the fastball. Furbush has been so good for so long that he's earned a night like this, but as much as it's better to be reminded that he's human, we always wish that they weren't. We always want the good ones to be good enough for unwavering faith. I think only Mariano Rivera has ever accomplished that. I guess maybe Charlie Furbush isn't Mariano Rivera. One notes that, after Furbush's home-run problems a year ago, this was just the third he's allowed in 2012.

This recap could've been about other things. I only just noticed tonight that Orioles closer Jim Johnson is an extreme groundballer. That's how he survives and thrives with an ordinary strikeout rate. In the bottom of the ninth, Miguel Olivo grounded out, Michael Saunders grounded out, and Justin Smoak grounded out. Johnson isn't classically dominant, in that he doesn't come into the game and blow everyone away, but he does often make the opposition look feeble, which is the same thing in a way. When a batter swings and misses, you might say he got tricked. When a batter beats the ball into the ground, you might say there was nothing else he could've done with the pitch he was given.

What this recap was actually about is all of those things. Felix Hernandez came out of the gate virtually unhittable, for six and a third innings Wei-Yin Chen was literally unhittable, and so much was packed into the final few innings that not many came away thinking about the first or middle ones. This was a Mariners loss in the end, and a frustrating one, but this was not in any way an uninteresting baseball game. For a team in the Mariners' position, at this time of year, that's not an easy thing to deliver.