What this was was a Saturday night game in the summer between a team in last place and another team in last place. One of the teams in last place was to start its best starting pitcher, but that team's best starting pitcher was whoever Scott Diamond is, and the Mariners weren't countering with Felix. The Mariners were countering with Jason Vargas, who's fine, but who doesn't offer much in the way of walk-up appeal. There's nobody who's looking for something to do, and then he hears that Jason Vargas is starting, and he decides "I better get to that baseball game." There's nobody who goes to a baseball game because he's really excited to watch Jason Vargas. Additionally today, the Sounders played, and the Seahawks played, the latter at the same time as the Mariners. The Seahawks' game was meaningless, but, funny thing about meaningless games.
Basically, this wasn't a game that many people had circled on their calendars. It would be easy to say "you must be a hell of a Mariners fan if you watched this," given the circumstances and the timing, but that wouldn't quite be right. I'm sure this game was watched by plenty of serious and more casual Mariners fans alike. But the total number of watchers would've been down, because, obviously. And yet, for those who watched and stuck around for the full 203 minutes, the Mariners delivered an exciting conclusion that hinted at future possibilities. I guess one would've needed only to watch the final one minute to get the ending. But the Mariners took a nothing game and made it a positive experience.
It's hard to keep track of this team right now. It put together that seven-game winning streak. It then immediately lost six of the next seven. It then immediately won six of its next seven, pending tomorrow. Jack Zduriencik warned us that this team was going to be streaky, and now this team is alternating streaks, but a neat thing about sequential small samples is that you can put them together, and the Mariners are now 21-13 since the All-Star break. There's a reason why, as Michael Saunders scored the winning run on John Jaso's sac fly, the Safeco crowd was roaring its approval instead of granting polite applause. This has always been a fan base willing to cling to a glimmer of hope, and the Mariners are presently glimmering like the vampires in Twilight. People will buy into a rebuild if they can see the promise, and one can see the promise.
Here's a fun fact for you: as of this moment, the difference in the standings between the Mariners and the Angels is five games. This has as much to do with the Angels slumping as it does with the Mariners playing well, and if you'd told me that Mariners would be five back of the Angels on August 18 back before the year, I might've fainted, because I just couldn't imagine this Angels team falling so far short of expectations. And this Angels team even has Zack Greinke now, and Mike Trout playing better than I assumed he would play. That the Mariners are five back of the Angels doesn't mean the Mariners are close to their destination.
But it's critical to understand that the competition is mortal, because before the season, we were looking up at the Rangers and the Angels and people didn't know how the Mariners would ever be able to compare any time soon. These things aren't impossible, as one could also confirm by observing that the Angels are three games behind the A's. Those same A's who were supposed to hang out with the Mariners around last place. This is a time to both laugh at the Angels and embrace a sense of positivity because if not now, then when? I haven't thought this through, but maybe a good philosophy would be to treat every moment as the best moment you're going to have. It's like a more responsible YOLO. If you're wondering what the hell is going on with this recap, I am too, but it's late on a Saturday night and I just don't have a whole lot to say about this baseball game.
As usual, some potential building blocks turned in encouraging performances, and some potential building blocks turned in discouraging performances. So it's up to you to decide where you come down on this game through the lens of rebuilding, but Dustin Ackley, Justin Smoak, and Michael Saunders did good, while Jesus Montero, Trayvon Robinson, and Casper Wells did bad. Kyle Seager earns an "undecided" because while his one hit was an average grounder hit to a good spot, he got Safeco'd on a deep fly ball, and he also played strong defense at third. We move on to the others.
Not only did Ackley finish 3-for-4 - in the bottom of the ninth, he turned a bunting situation into a walk. Now, what that required was a pair of foul bunts, so Ackley wins no points for his bunting prowess. But against a left-handed pitcher, Ackley went from giving himself away to move the runner up to moving the runner up without giving himself away. Ackley's average is up to .230 for the first time since July 19 and I'm not going to linger on this sentence because I don't want to let it sink in. Stop sinking in! Float! Float, god dammit!
Saunders singled twice on a pair of line drives and as with Ackley, maybe it's for the best that we don't look at the overall season numbers right now. Maybe it's better to just concentrate on seeing improvements, and lately Saunders has done a slightly better job of making better contact, even if he's still a good distance away from that incredible hot streak earlier on that vaulted his numbers way north. I have to imagine it's a struggle for Saunders to maintain his reworked swing over an entire season without working with the instructor who designed it, so hopefully Saunders leaves us feeling better by putting together a strong September. Hopefully all of the Mariners put together strong Septembers. If they all put together Septembers that are strong enough, they could still make the playoffs! They tell you to go big or go home, and, wait, hold on, that's also terrible advice, probably created by the same people who created YOLO. If a lot of people say something it's probably dumb and we'll refer to that as a rule of thumb. I intentionally had that sentence rhyme with itself so you wouldn't forget it.
And, Smoak. If one were to just look at the box score, he'd see that Smoak finished with a double and a homer. It wasn't quite that terrific; Smoak's double was a sharp grounder down the line. He didn't drill a gapper off the wall. But he did hit a ball out, and he did it in a big spot in the bottom of the seventh leading off against Diamond. Smoak went deep on the tenth pitch of the plate appearance, and he went deep from the right side, clearing the left-center power alley. This was, at last, a Justin Smoak dinger that left you thinking "that guy is strong." It wasn't a low line drive. It was a home run, a slugger's home run, the sort of home run many of us expected Smoak to hit more of.
Oddly, two pitches before the dinger, Smoak fouled off an 89 mile-per-hour fastball at the belt over the center of the plate. I thought that was the pitch that Smoak had to punish, and Smoak though the same thing. Smoak should've punished it, and the fact that he fouled it off was a mistake. But he homered anyway moments later, on a 90 mile-per-hour fastball at the belt just a few inches over from the center of the plate. Some people like to say you get one hittable pitch in any given at-bat, and you better hit it. That is demonstrably untrue. Again, if a lot of people say something...
Smoak fouled off a meatball fastball. In the eighth, against Jared Burton, Eric Thames fouled off a meatball fastball. I'm certain other mistakes were left unpunished but those are the two that stick out to me. This is a good reminder of an important lesson: not all bad pitches get hit, and not all good pitches don't get hit. This goes back to results-based analysis and how results-based analysis is terrible. Justin Morneau's RBI single in the top of the first came on a great pitch by Jason Vargas. Two of the Twins' three hits in the top of the seventh came on great pitches by Jason Vargas. I wouldn't say that Vargas was outstanding but he probably deserved fewer hits than he allowed.
As I saw it, there were two glaring moments of Mariners frustration, left less relevant by the fact that the Mariners still won. With the game tied in the bottom of the seventh, Montero batted with the bases loaded and two out. The first pitch he saw was a low slider, that he popped up. A more disciplined hitter probably doesn't swing at that pitch but I suppose it's hardly news that Jesus Montero could stand to be more disciplined. Then, with the game tied in the eighth, the Mariners had the go-ahead run on second base with two outs, and Eric Wedge pinch-hit Thames instead of John Jaso for Casper Wells. Eric Thames has the potential to be a useful hitter against righties while John Jaso is already among the very best hitters against righties, but Jaso remained in the dugout. I'm guessing Wedge didn't want to use Jaso and immediately lose him by inserting an outfielder. But Jaso pinch-hit for outfielder Trayvon Robinson in the ninth, so, man, I just don't know, I just don't know. I'm torn between wanting to read a bunch of recaps so I can see if Wedge provided his reasoning and not wanting to read any recaps on the off chance that Wedge provided his reasoning.
It could've been a very different ninth. Tom Wilhelmsen pitched to Josh Willingham with two outs and the bases loaded, and Willingham lined a low fastball to right field, right at Eric Thames. It wasn't a bad pitch, but Willingham is a very good hitter, and he generated very good contact. Then, in the bottom, while there was nothing weird about Saunders' leadoff single, Brendan Ryan followed with a sac bunt that Justin Morneau turned into a single by double-pumping on a throw to first base. That's twice in a short period of time that a veteran first baseman has fucked up an important bunt by a Mariner. Then Dustin Ackley walked after twice failing to successfully bunt. And John Jaso won it on a sac fly that wasn't even that deep, and on a sac fly hit to Ryan Doumit, who used to be a catcher, but there are some catchers who have strong, accurate arms and there are some catchers who turn into utility outfielders. Thames ambushed Jaso with a revenge shaving-cream pie because you can't let a good hero go unpoisoned. Angie Mentink asked Jaso how it tasted in his mouth. "Not very good," he said, because shaving cream isn't meant to be ingested. There are carcinogens in everything! The heroes should be the ones beating up and poisoning everyone else! "Be more like me and you won't get beat up or poisoned!" Does nobody understand motivation or poison!
Tomorrow the Mariners go for a sweep with Blake Beavan against Samuel Deduno who Baseball-Reference tells me has a 3.38 ERA to go with 30 walks and 28 strikeouts in 40 innings. So basically Samuel Deduno is bad and the Mariners have an excellent shot at winning another baseball game. Alternatively they will make Deduno look better than he is because it's not like we're out of that phase yet. We might never be out of that phase. I wouldn't know how to behave if we were. I should also mention before closing that during tonight's game Bob Wolcott was a special guest in the broadcast booth. He threw out the first pitch, then he joined Mike Blowers and Dave Sims for a few minutes of incredible discomfort. Wolcott didn't seem to want to talk at all. He basically admitted that he doesn't follow baseball. He did talk a little bit about bikes. So if you see Bob Wolcott, ask him about a bike before you ask him about baseball. If you recognize Bob Wolcott, which you would not. What an odd player for me to know I'll never forget as long as I live.