Allow me to paint you a picture.
It's a cool summer night at Safeco Field, and the Seattle Mariners are taking on a team from out of town. Their offense has been less than spectacular against a mediocre opponent, but it hasn't mattered, because their starting pitcher's been putting on a clinic. With hair-fine command and brilliant pitch sequencing, he's made the other team's hitters look wildly incompetent, racking up more than a strikeout per inning without walking a single batter. He hasn't allowed a single run. In fact, he hasn't even been threatened.
Until now. Late in the game, with the M's clinging to a one-run lead, the visitors have sequenced a ground ball hit and a well-placed line drive to put players in scoring position. With only one out, they have runners on second and third. A fly ball ties the game; a base hit yields the lead. The pitcher is going to have to reach way back, pull out his best stuff, and hold the line.
He stares down the first batter - then blindsides him with a breaking ball. The shocked hitter pounds it into the ground, not hard enough to bring the run in. Two down. The next man up isn't so easily retired. He lays off the first two pitches low, forcing the Mariners' pitcher to come into the zone, but a perfectly placed offspeed pitch and a foul ball get him to two strikes. Finally, six pitches into the at-bat, the M's ace rears back and hurls one home. It breaks hard away from the hitter - who is utterly fooled. As he waves weakly through it, the pitcher leaps off the mound, pounding his glove in celebration, letting the roar of the crowd wash over him, relishing in his triumph.
If it sounds like Felix, it should. Felix does that all the time. But tonight it wasn't him.
(GIF from the Fancred account of LL user bamassippi.)
Tonight it was Hisashi Iwakuma - and while he often lacks the King's dramatic flair, Kuma has been just as important to the Mariners of late. Among pitchers with more than 300 IP over the last two years, Felix and Kuma have the third-lowest and seventh-lowest ERAs. By FIP they are second and fifteenth respectively, while by xFIP they are second and eighth. Roenis Elias and Chris Young have been nice surprises, but let's not forget that the Mariners' rotation is fronted by two legitimate aces. Most teams would kill for a pitcher who can go eight innings, get into a single jam, then rear back and tell his opponents to sit their asses down. The Mariners have two.
Tonight's Twin killing moved Iwakuma's lifetime record against Minnesota to 5-0. In those five games, he has a 0.00 ERA. He is the first pitcher since 1966 to allow zero earned runs in each of his first five starts against a team.
Can you imagine this rotation in the playoffs? I can. And it's beautiful.
- It was overshadowed by Iwakuma's brilliance, but the Mariners' bullpen had another fantastic night tonight. Danny Farquhar and Fernando Rodney combined for two perfect innings with four strikeouts, a groundout, and a popout. Since June 6th, the M's 'pen has been the best in the sport, with 1.8 fWAR. That's 0.5 more than the next-best unit. They have a 1.65 ERA over that month-long span. This is crazy, you guys.
- In the top of the fourth inning, after Kendrys Morales reached on Logan Morrison's dropped ball error, the ROOT feed picked up a Mariners fan heckling the ex-M on first. Unlike 99% of ballpark hecklers, this guy actually had amusing things to say. A sampling:
TUCK IN YOUR UNIFORM, KENDRYS! YOUR SHIRT-TAIL IS SHOWING! IT LOOKS SLOPPY. JUST REACH BACK BEHIND YOU AND TUCK IT IN - THERE - ALMOST THERE - OH, NOW IT LOOKS WORSE! COME ON!He stopped shortly thereafter, but it was great while it lasted. We salute you, anonymous hero. Heckle on.
- In the bottom of the third inning, Corey Hart flew out to Oswaldo Arcia in right field foul territory. The ball landed right by the little corner of the stands that pokes out into the field of play, and there was a little kid right there. Arcia looked into the stands, saw the fans, said something indistinguishable... and threw the ball into the infield as hard as he could. I understand that there were only two outs, which meant that Arcia couldn't really have tossed the kid the ball, but I've been finding it difficult to hate the Twins lately, so... I, Logan Davis, hereby declare that Oswaldo Arcia is a dick to kids.
- In the bottom of the fifth, Kevin Correia centered an 84 MPH changeup to Robinson Cano. Cano, being an excellent hitter, crushed the ball to the right side. Unfortunately, what he didn't do was elevate it. The ball found its way through the right side of the infield for a single, but if you've been wondering, this is what Robinson Cano's power outage looks like. On the one hand, it's hard to criticize a guy for not hitting a home run. On the other, that was a Noesi-level meatball, and Cano's problem has been an inability to elevate the ball to right field. Something to keep an eye on.
- In the bottom of the first, James Jones hit a single up the middle. He then stole second, but it didn't count, because on the same pitch Robinson Cano walked to move him over. He then stole third, but it didn't count, because on the same pitch Kyle Seager struck out to end the inning. An optimist would say, wow, James Jones is even faster than the stats show! A pessimist would say, man, James Jones should probably start timing his steals a little better.
- In the bottom of the seventh, Michael Saunders provided a crucial insurance run by hitting a home run to center field. Except no one knew it was a home run until he got back to the dugout, because Sam Fuld did this. Credit where it's due. He didn't catch it, but that was incredibly impressive.
The Mariners have three games left against the Twins before Oakland comes to town. Tomorrow night's pitching matchup is the nastiest of the bunch, as Phil Hughes has been quite good this year. Luckily, the Mariners have Safeco!Young on the mound, so it should be a tense game. See you in the Game Thread!