Before this morning's game started, I allowed a sampling too large of early season optimism to take its hold on me. The Mariners had just won an extra innings baseball game the night before in which they scored 8 total runs, they had a record better than .500 and Felix Hernandez taking the mound. There was reason to feel not terrible and so instead I decided to feel great. I felt even better after turning on my television and learning that Felix was within reach of two milestones: 1,500 career strikeouts and 100 career wins. Now, I'm not one to get all worked up over accomplishments dependent on pretty round numbers, but the potential of reaching two in one game held a certain undeniable romance. My heart is not quite that empty. I also have to imagine that such things are exciting and meaningful to Felix, and I'm in favor of anything that makes Felix happy because I love Felix like he's a member of my family.
Early in the game, Felix looked sharp-ish. He threw a lot of pitches in the first inning but was generating a good deal of movement, making Kelly Shopach jump around a lot and generally look kind of silly and uncoordinated. In the subsequent innings he got his pitch count back on track, inducing a lot of defensive swings and weak contact with White Sox hitters not looking all too comfortable at the plate. Felix did not allow a hit until the fourth inning when Adam Dunn decided not to homer, strikeout or walk, but rather single to shallow right center.
Thanks to a Jeff Keppinger error on a funky Dustin Ackley ground ball, the Mariners led 1-0 entering the bottom of the fifth. The White Sox were able to score their first run of the game after Conor Gillaspie scored on a sacrifice fly following a leadoff triple hit over the head of the immovable force Michael Morse. It wasn't the easiest play in the world, and maybe this is just my undying loyalty to Felix talking here, but I imagine a good defender catches that ball, a mediocre defender limits it to a double, and Mike Morse does what he did.
In the next frame Kyle Seager worked a walk and Morse singled, giving the Mariners runners on first and second with two outs and Raul Ibanez coming to the plate. White Sox manager Robin Ventura had called in a left-handed pitcher and I would have loved to see Wedge counter by pinch-hitting with Franklin Gutierrez. This did not happen. I know the plan for Guti is to ease his fragile body back into the grind of the regular season but nearing the final third of a close game and in need of a right-handed bat, a manager could do a whole lot worse than to call on a starting caliber hitter who also happens to double as the greatest defensive replacement of all time. If that seems unreasonable, Jason Bay was also available and I'm pretty sure he's right-handed and made the team for some reason. Ibanez struck out but at least Wedge managed to keep his reliable defense and stellar throwing arm in the outfield for the rest of the game. Now would be a good time to bring up Casper Wells but you've already been thinking about him this whole time and I don't need to tell you about things that you're already actively mad about.
Felix's biggest mistake of the game came in the sixth inning when he hung a breaking ball in the middle of the plate to Alex Rios in a 0-2 count. Rios launched it for a 2-run homer giving the Sox a 3-1 lead. I'm searching for a way to blame this on Morse, Ibanez or Wedge but haven't quite worked the whole thing out just yet.
After a couple of deflating hits and an intentional walk to load the bases in the seventh inning, Felix got his final out of the game on a pop-up to shallow center. Charlie Furbush came in and did what he was born to do, getting two outs against two lefties and only allowing one of Felix's runners to score on a sacrifice fly to left. On the throw home, Ibanez was able to avoid spiking the ball directly into the ground in front of him, instead skipping it towards the catcher five times at an unremarkable pace. To open the eighth inning with the Mariners down three runs, Brendan Ryan literally threw his bat at the ball and managed a base hit to left field. Matt Thorton was then brought in to face Michael Saunders at a considerable advantage. I'll admit that I was allowing my pessimism to take over at this point, but then the left-hander left a fastball near the middle of the plate and Saunders was able to muscle it opposite field for a classic U.S. Cellular Field home run that I'm in no mood to snark about or diminish because holy shit Michael Saunders hit a two-run homer off Matt Thornton. When Saunders was flashing signs of being a regular contributor last season it had a lot to do with his improvement against same-handed pitchers. A continuation of that trend is something that I would not be unhappy about.
A few more things happened, the Mariners lost. A game rife with potential eventually devolved into bitterness, anger, and resigned disappointment. There was a flash of hope that was eventually extinguished. We're used to this sort of thing.
- Dave Sims and Mike Blowers were looking forward to watching Felix Hernandez pitch early and then heading back to the hotel to watch the Final Four games on a big screen TV. The two sports junkies bonded and chuckled over how irritated their wives would be to hear them so excited. Sims and Blowers are good friends.
- Only Walter Johnson, Bert Blyleven, and Dwight Gooden have managed 1,500 strikeouts and 100 wins before the age of 27. Felix Hernandez will soon join them. Update: Just kidding he'll be 27 before his next start damn it all to hell.
- I haven't even mentioned Kelly Shoppach trying to bunt with two runners on and no out. Kelly Shoppach tried to bunt with two runners on and no out, pushing both attempts foul. He eventually struck out and the Mariners did not score any runs in the inning.
- Felix has a fresh tattoo right on his effing neck and while I might not be crazy about the design specifically, I am generally pro neck tattoos on athletes because it makes them look mean as hell and it's not like they're ever going to interview for a job in the customer service industry.
- The Chicagoan wind was swirling all day, making every pop-up and flyball something of an adventure. It also threw up a ton of dirt and dust and sent garbage flying all over the field all day. There's a joke or twelve in there that I'll allow you to make in your mind and/or the comments where I'm free of all responsibility.
- About that Rios home run on an 0-2 count:
You don't see that often. Only the 5th time in Felix's career he has allowed a HR on an 0-2 pitch (131 total HR allowed in his career).— Jeff Evans (@jeffrevans) April 6, 2013
- Does Matt Thornton look like Jim Carrey? I think Matt Thornton looks like Jim Carrey.
- At least this way, Felix will be once again be chasing the career 1,500/100 during his next start, at home, in front of 25 thousand Supreme Court attending Mariners fans wearing yellow t-shirts and chanting his name very loudly and with great enthusiasm.