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63-77: Game Recap, and Ibanez Apologia

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The Mariners squander a miraculous Raul Ibanez home run, and the author comes to terms with that fact.

a congratulatory disaster in the making
a congratulatory disaster in the making
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

So I guess we should talk a little bit about Raul Ibanez.

This isn't easy for me. Ibanez evokes a lot of sharp, conflicted emotions. We've teased Raul in the past, lamented his spot on the roster and his use in the outfield. We called for his head in May, and again in August, and each time he dragged his rotting zombie corpse back to life. Yet despite the home runs, his miraculous 2013 season has been worth 0.3 fWAR, the result of a subpar OBP and a UZR that we can all, for once, agree with.

Most of those things don't matter today. Today, Wedge used Ibanez in the ideal situation, pinch hitting down a run with two outs, exactly the game state where you'd want to see a hitter with a .313 OBP and a .499 SLG. The result: a game-tying home run on a 3-2 count, about as dramatic a home run as you could want out of a meaningless September game. It was Raul's 26th on the season, three back of Ted Williams for the over-40 record.


So why does a basically league-average bench guy swollen with veteran leadership cause such conflict? Last year I wrote a short piece for NotGraphs about Lew Ford, who was seeing playing time with the contending Baltimore Orioles. Ford was done as a ballplayer, if he'd ever really started to begin with, but injuries and suspensions thrust him into the lineup. And despite his 63 wRC+, he managed to come up with more than one clutch hit like Raul's tonight. Here's a small paragraph I wrote about him:

Lew Ford knows himself, as well. He recognizes that we live in a universe of chance. He's spent plenty of time contemplating the unlikeliness of his own existence: as a professional athlete, as a prospective children's author, as a sperm. He understands our desire to feel secure, to feel as if the world around us behaves according to rules, and that he himself violates those rules. He knows that his own success can only diminish our conceptualization of success itself by adding to its randomness. Lew Ford understands that Lew Ford makes our existence, in some small way, less meaningful because of his own.

People felt the same way about Ford as they did the Orioles in general, neither of whom had absolutely no business being in the playoff hunt all year. They were incredibly lucky, winning 93 games with a +7 run differential and a 29-9 record in one run games. Every day it seemed like that luck had to run out, but the season ran out first, and they made the Wild Card.

The Orioles left people equally conflicted. We're trained, by statistics and our own fear of getting hurt, to see things as being too good to be true. We have the strongest of sabermetric forces - regression - to temper our expectations and keep us sane. It helps keep us sane, to keep from going over the cliff with the other lemmings. Most of all, it helps us create a world out of the randomness around us that makes sense, that we can feel comfortable in. The sun rises in the east each morning. You don't speed on the freeway on New Year's Eve. Forty-one year old outfielders don't hit two dozen home runs.

So when players come along and break these rules, it's exhilarating, and terrifying. We watch sports because we want to see the impossible, but that impossibility also threatens us, forces us to question our assumptions, whether what we know about the world is actually true. Raul Ibanez isn't exactly quantum physics, but it's still a sharp blow to the funny bone. He makes us feel like we know less than we thought.

We as Mariners fans have been burned by the bad process/good result quadrant, and we're rightfully skeptical. But at this point, Raul Ibanez might as well break the hell out of the game, because at this point, why not.

Also, there was a long baseball game, and a better one than you could have hoped for.

As with yesterday, the M's jumped on Royals starter Jeremy Guthrie early. Abe Almonte doubled, Morales plated him with a single up the middle, and then Justin Smoak homered to put the M's up by three. They scored two more on a fielding error by Hosmer and a double/groundout/sac fly combination, and led 5-0 at the halfway mark.

Saunders, meanwhile, had been working out of jams all game, working that crafty left-handed magic of his. Until he didn't, and he ended up getting bailed out in the fifth by a Brandon Maurer strikeout of Carlos Pena. His line, 4.2 IP, 11 H, 1BB, 3 R, is so very, very Saunders.

Maurer did pitched 1.1 solid innings and then pitched a real terrible 0 innings in the bottom of the seventh, allowing single-double-single-double and getting tagged for three runs. I don't know how Brandon Maurer's 2013 was supposed to look like, but this wasn't it. More and more, it looks like his handling has to be considered a strike against management for 2013. I realize no one wants to watch Hector Noesi do anything, but you can't help but feel like Maurer would have been better served in Tacoma.

The 6-5 score looked inevitable until Raul's little performance, the first run Greg Holland had given up in nearly a month and a half and the first blown save in four. After that, it was September baseball: the Royals used seven relievers, and the Mariners five, and things ground down to a halt for a few innings. There were a few quibbles: Wedge having Ackley sacrifice in the top of the 13th, only to have Franklin and Gutierrez make outs, and everyone's favorite pet peeve, leaving Danny Farquhar on the bench to save a lead that never came.

Chance Ruffin stayed in to pitch after making seven outs, and Mike Moustakas hit a walk-off home run in the thirteenth. Natural Law may have no effect on Raul Ibanez, but it holds firm on the Mariners. In the end, the tear in the spacetime continuum mended itself, and the M's went back to being the bad, losing team we know so well. Finally, things made sense again, and we are yet again wise.