The first seven innings of tonight's game were probably the best baseball the Mariners have played in two years, sans Felix's perfecto. That's a really fun sentence to type, and I'm glad I got it out of the way so I can just dig right in and start talking about this baseball game.
In the first inning Felix took a few pitches to get through Sam Fuld, Jed Lowrie, and Josh Donaldson. Then the Mariners came to bat in the bottom of the first and it only took them three pitches to score a run and get runners on first and second. Abraham Almonte doubled on the first pitch from Tommy Milone, Brad Miller drag bunted his way on to first base, and then Robinson Cano barely beat out an infield dribbler as he hustled down the line. That joke is going to get old really fast but you know someone in New York was watching tonight's game and then threw over their beer in disgust. Despite loading the bases with a Corey Hart HBP, the Mariners didn't get out of the first with an extra run, and the game commenced with Felix, Felix, Felix.
Something is going on. I don't know what it is. I've never, ever seen Felix pitch like this, or anyone for that matter. I mean, Felix has always been insane. It's been only three games, and his stats are ABSOLUTELY going to regress, but they are nothing short of ridiculous right now. After three starts and three wins, he's got 30 strikeouts. A 12.66 K/9. 0.84 BB/9. His xFIP is 2.17 which is itself kind of inflated because he pitched two batters too long in the past two games, giving up well hit fly balls only because he was tired. But when he's on, he's slaughtering.
And it was a massacre out there tonight. Felix had 11 strikeouts and only gave up four hits. He was charged with two runs because of hi, bullpen!, but we'll get there in a minute. One of the greatest parts of all this is that the offense matched him with runs in the first, second, and sixth innings. You could almost have added the fourth to that list, after Kyle Seager rocketed a screaming foul ball that was initially called a home run but then overturned on an umpire-mandated review. Kyle finally got his first single of the season an inning later, but you have to wonder how annoying it must have felt to finally hit the ball out of the park, run into the dugout to take a few gulps of gatorade, and then immediately dart back out to an 0-2 count and swing your way out of a batting helmet. Kyle Seager is by no means broken. But man that dinger would have been nice to build from.
The M's had a great sixth as well, following a leadoff single from Dustin Ackley (who by the way had three hits tonight) and an authoritative home run into Edgar's from Mike Zunino. Check it out here:
It was enough to end Tommy Milone's night, and Bob Melvin took out his lefty starter to replace him with a lefty reliever, ostensibly because hey these are the Mariners and they can't hit left handed pitching. Except for some reason they have been, and a second later Brad Miller got on the board with a line drive home run off Drew Pomeranz to tack on the sixth run of the game.
Felix made it through the seventh and spent the bottom of the inning in the dugout chatting with LLoyd and Rick Waits, arguing for, I'm sure, another inning. It's early, and you have to think they are really trying to be conservative with his pitch count, but when Felix Hernandez tells you he's going to go pitch the eighth after racking up 11 strikeouts, I think you let him. LLoyd wouldn't say as much in the postgame interview of course, because it was all his decision. He's the boss. So after Felix came out to pitch in the top of the eighth, stuck in the high eighties and clearly a little fatigued, he put Daric Barton and Eric Sogard on base pretty quick.
It was a disastrous inning. After the game, ROOT played a bit from LLoyd's press conference, and instead of asking questions about his bullpen management, which seemed a bit confusing and rudderless, this following exchange happened, exactly as I type it:
Reporter: Lloyd, was there ever a conversation about when you thought Felix should come out of th-
LLoyd: Well when do you think I should take him out?
Reporter: /melts in between woven fabric lines in chair until nothing remains but a notepad without notes
LLoyd: That's what I thought.
No hyperbole. Hit up your DVR. It was brutal.
But seriously, the Mariners were 6-0 going into the eighth and the A's had looked nothing but lost at the plate. Felix made two quick mistakes (maybe one, I'm still not sure Daric Barton was hit by the pitch that awarded him first base), Lucas Luetge came in to make his 2014 Mariners debut by immediately throwing four balls to Sam Fuld to load the bases. It seemed it wasn't until Luetge threw his third ball that LLoyd called to get Danny Farquhar warming up, so by the time he emerged from the dugout pointing to his right arm, you kind of have to wonder what he was thinking. Clearly Luetge wasn't ready, or something. LLoyd didn't feel comfortable with him pitching, and I don't really blame him. But Farquhar had thrown only a handful of pitches, and walked in a run on his first batter. I'm not sure this was the best answer either.
I really don't think Farquhar walked in a run because of nerves. Farquhar didn't walk in a run because he was having a bad night spotting the ball. I honestly think Farquhar walked in a run because he pitched only a handful of warmup pitches in the pen, because a second later he was back up and running, striking out Josh Donaldson to get the first out of the inning. But then LLoyd walked out of the dugout again to put in Charlie Furbush, who promptly got runs two, three, and four on the board for the A's with a single to Brandon Moss, a force that Yoenis Cespedes barely beat at first, and a wild pitch to Callaspo before he popped out.
I don't really get it. I get that LLoyd likes his matchups, and apparently puts a lot of value in playing the splits. But Moss hits left handed pitching just about as well as he hits right handed pitching (.240 vs .258), and Yoenis Cespedes hits lefties better than righties, even though he often gets platooned the other way. But pulling Farquhar for Furbush here, especially considering the circumstances, was just bizarre. The Mariners don't have a day off again for almost two weeks, and they are probably going to need a number of relievers on Sunday, because even if Chris Young is okay he sure as hell isn't pitching eight innings. And with this on the calendar, they had to use four relievers tonight in two innings. Not good.
Look. I love LLoyd, and I'm ecstatic he's the skipper of the M's. There are about four hundred thousand places I'd rather be before confronting him in his press conference after the game. He knows a whole hell of a lot more about managing a baseball team and calling relievers into the game than I do. It's easy to criticize what happened now that we know the outcome, but it was still a bit weird, and it almost cost the Mariners the game. Well, no. That's wrong. The Mariners' bullpen almost cost the Mariners the game. But they sure had it made easy for them.
You know what though? Felix got win 3. The Mariners won, and are back in first place. Mike Zunino and Brad Miller hit dingers, Dustin Ackley has a wRC+ of 125 on the season, and Fernando Rodney has yet to blow a save, including tonight's. This could have gone a lot worse, and for seven full, intense, exciting, beautifully wonderful innings, we had some goddamn incredible baseball. We have a lot to be thankful for.
So thanks, LLoyd, and I mean that. Thanks Mike, and Dustin, and Brad, and all the 40,000 that came out to Safeco tonight.
But Felix--don't ever leave us. This year could really be something special.