Dale Webber gained a modest bit of fame a few years ago when he finished a long standing goal by surfing every single day for twenty-eight consecutive years. Webber surfed through brutal conditions and essentially had to tether himself to a body of water, but he completed his personal challenge. Asked what he was going to do on the day after he made it twenty-eight straight years, he responded by saying "I can't really see not going surfing tomorrow. It's another day, and that's what I do..."
I suspect that many people's excitement for an individual Mariners game can be gauged fairly reliably based on the month. For most, interest will be high early in the season, peak in late June or early July, dip throughout the dog days, and fall to nearly non-existent levels for the back half of September. For the diehards, it's a little different. I -- and I imagine many of you reading this -- can generally stay excited throughout the season. A game on April 17th is very similar to a game on September 17th.
For whatever reason, though, this summer I slid in to the pattern mentioned above. Maybe it was from blogging more than ever before. Perhaps it was from working in Everett, where the last thing I wanted to do after spending 10+ hours on the road and at the field was turn on a ballgame when I got home. Whatever the reason, my enthusiasm for Mariner baseball during the second half of the 2013 season had been as low as I can remember. I wasn't watching games, didn't check the box scores much, and in general, felt burned out on baseball.
I've bounced back over the past two weeks -- Taijuan Walker, James Paxton, and the end of Everett's season certainly helped -- and the stark turnaround made me wonder why my attitude towards the game and towards the Mariners shifted back so suddenly, particularly in the midst of such a lost season. Given where the Mariners are in the standings and the continuation of their perpetual rebuild, why was it so easy to jump back in?
Last night's game offers a clue for the inquisitive diehard, I think. Coming into a game like that, a contest in which nothing is on the line and at a time in the year when the performance of the young players is of little interest to most observers, there is only answer: the familiarity of routine. We watch, analyze, dissect, comment, blog, and tweet because we always have, and a break from that kind of routine would be jarring. Presented with a new game, we do what we always do: root for the Mariners and ponder how things could have panned out better.
- It didn't really end up mattering, but Eric Wedge's lineup construction nearly hurt the Mariners. By stacking lefties in the middle of the order, Wedge unwittingly gave Jim Leyland a navigable path through his bullpen. Heading into the top of the 8th, the Mariners trailed by a run, but were actually in decent shape with the middle of the order coming up and Anibal Sanchez out of the game. The Tiger bullpen, saddled with the third worst ERA in the American League already, was even weaker than normal, as super reliever Drew Smyly was unavailable after pitching three of the past four days. Joaquin Benoit had also thrown recently, and with no off day until next week, Leyland couldn't ask his closer to pitch two innings, and instead had to turn to his shaky middle relief crew to bridge the game.
Fortunately for Leyland, the Mariners were scheduled to send lefty Kyle Seager, lefty Raul Ibanez, and honorary lefty Justin Smoak to the plate. If anyone reached, lefty Michael Saunders was due up fourth. Leyland turned to Phil Coke, who has been pretty good over his career against lefties -- 2.96 FIP, 3.33 xFIP -- and replacement level when he doesn't have the platoon advantage. Coke didn't have a great outing: he retired one man, and left the bases loaded after two walks and a Jose Iglesias fielding error, but he was still able to get through the meat of the Mariner lineup without allowing a ball out of the infield. The M's were unfortunate not to score -- Mike Zunino's ground ball double play killed Seattle's chance to get back in the game -- but if Wedge had either Franklin Gutierrez or Kendrys Morales in place to break up the string of lefties, that inning has an entirely different complexion.
- It was encouraging to see Brandon Maurer surrender only two runs against a potent offense while also striking out six over five innings. Home runs remain a concern, but I'd actually give him a pass for this game. Don Kelly (of all people) cranked one of them on a fairly well located offering, and while I'd have liked to see Maurer make a better pitch to Miguel Cabrera with a 2-2 count, there are only a handful of players in the league that will deposit a 93 MPH fastball on the outside corner into the seats. Credit one of the best hitters on the planet for that one.
- The big offensive highlight was Raul Ibanez's 28th homer of the season, the 299th dinger of his career. The blast also puts him just one home run behind Ted Williams for the single season record for homers among players 40 or older. I'm rooting for him to hit two more homers, for three reasons:
1. Raul seems like a nice guy, and I'm not enough of a jerk to root against a nice guy reaching a milestone in the twilight of his career.
2. The sooner Ibanez hits another homer or two, the sooner we stand a chance of seeing a sustained Saunders-Ackley-Almonte outfield.
3. Perhaps I'm just sensitive to this in the wake of Greg Johns's piece today -- in which Ibanez expresses his desire to play another season -- but I have a nagging feeling that Seattle's Clemente Award nominee would be invited back for another season if he falls short of hitting #300. We all know how this will go:
October 3rd: Raul expresses his desire to return to Seattle for another season.
October 4th: Jack Zduriencik is mum on the issue, thanking Raul for his contributions, and vowing to assess his external and internal options in the outfield.
November 17th: Raul raises the 12th man flag before the Seahawks game against Minnesota.
December 8th: Giancarlo Stanton is traded to the Rangers.
December 22nd: A googly eyed Raul is videotaped wishing for two things this Christmas: world peace and a league minimum contract. He is wearing a Mariners hat.
January 9th: Jacoby Ellsbury signs with San Francisco.
January 10th: Hunter Pence is inked by the Yankees.
January 11th: The Mariners invite Raul to Spring Training on a minor league contract.
February 22nd: Raul gushes to reporters about all the young talent in the Mariner system and discusses how he knows he'll have to hit well this spring just to have a shot at making the team.
February 27th: Raul is spotted talking fly balls in center field. Eric Wedge raves about the 41-year-old's positional flexibility.
March 6th: Raul hits his 7th homer of the spring. The total is slightly inflated by his insistence in both starting every game and batting for each side in the team's split-squad contests, but hey, league leader.
March 9th: Raul is seen taking ground balls at second base. Robby Thompson chuckles and spits tobacco.
March 17th: Zduriencik holds a press conference and says that sickness and suspension have made it likely that Raul will make the team out of the spring. The press is confused, but prints the story anyways.
March 18th: Wedge, mistakenly assuming he is alone in the clubhouse, is taped poisoning Abe Almonte's lunch and loading Michael Saunders' coffee with illegal amphetamines.
March 19th: Almonte vomits while legging out a double. Ibanez scores on the play, and Dave Sims raves about the veteran's ability to stay in shape while teammates half his age are keeled over in the Arizona sun.
March 27th: Raul Ibanez formally makes the club.
Let's avoid all that. Raul: hit two more homers and take the record with you on your way out of Seattle. You'll always be loved here, but it's time to move on.
- I might have made this point before, but one of my biggest baseball pet peeves is Tom Hallion's loud, emphatic strike three punch out. I don't love the move on its merit -- the violent twist, uppercut, and loud bellow scream 'look at me' in an era where umpires should really be striving to draw less attention to themselves -- but I also feel like Hallion punches an abnormally high number of hitters out looking. I can't find a way to tell if he actually does ring up more hitters looking than the typical arbiter, but available data indicates that Hallion has a big strike zone and is susceptible to calling strikes on pitches off the plate. That's a problem for me: when I'm watching baseball, I'd prefer that the hitters, not the umpires, expand the zone with two strikes.
- Nobody in the Mariner bullpen -- including the normally solid Yoervis Medina and Charlie Furbush -- covered themselves in glory last night, but it's fair to say that Carter Capps shouldn't throw any more meaningful innings in 2013. Brought into the game trailing 3-2 with nobody out and runners on the corners in the eighth, Capps allowed the first two men he faced to reach base. They were the eighth consecutive hitters to reach against Capps, and the young flamethrower allowed another single and hit Cabrera before he was pulled (he did retire two batters in between). The M's don't have a deep bullpen, but Capps can't locate any of his pitches right now, and for both his sake and the good of the team, he shouldn't be pitching in close games.