I was a little worried writing about Hisashi Iwakuma today. I'd been planning to praise Jack Zduriencik for the signing and subsequent extension of Iwakuma for a few weeks, but hadn't found the right time to write about it. Penning it today, hours before his start in an important game, didn't seem like the best idea, but I rolled with it anyway.
No curse today.
What the Mariners got was one of the best starts of Iwakuma's career. 8 innings, 4 hits, 11 strikeouts, zero runs. It was a masterful performance, as Iwakuma controlled everything at will throughout the entire game, throwing 74 of his 96 pitches for strikes. The split was devastating, the fastballs cut into the edges of the plate, and rarely did Iwakuma allow anything but weak contact. It's an absolute joy to watch Iwakuma when he's truly cruising, attacking hitters relentlessly but with nothing great to hit -- virtually every strike is either down or on the black.
It's games like today that justify that silly "machine" moniker Iwakuma gets tagged with sometimes -- efficient, fast, quiet, and balls that are never easy to hit. This was Iwakuma at his finest, the quiet artist who baffles opponents and gets through innings faster than bathroom breaks. Iwakuma's ERA is now down to 2.57. Iwakuma's game score of 85 ranks as the highest of his career. Sheer, utter dominance. He'll disappear after today, rarely seen in dugout shots and never in interviews. We'll forget about Iwakuma until next the next time he starts, but it almost certainly won't be better than this. This is everything Iwakuma can be and more.
Today's game started out with a dull thud for the Phillies, as A.J. Burnett promptly threw out eight straight balls, walking both Austin Jackson and Dustin Ackley to lead things off. Even though Burnett couldn't throw a strike to save his life, Jackson stole second base, and when Ackley reached, the two promptly executed a double steal, with Jackson sneaking past the tag at third. It only took nine pitches for Burnett to walk two batters and relinquish three stolen bases. Both Jackson and Ackley scored, but the Mariners got a little too cute when Logan Morrison was thrown out on a strange steal attempt to end the inning after he singled home Dustin Ackley. Four attempts in an inning was probably pushing it.
It wouldn't matter though, as Iwakuma didn't allow the Phillies to do anything for the rest of the game. Kyle Seager provided a mammoth solo homer on a 3-0 green light to get the Mariners a three-run lead in the 6th, and Mike Zunino added a few more insurance runs in the 8th by driving in two runners that reached the same way Burnett started the game -- consecutive leadoff walks.
Things got a little bit too interesting in the 9th, as Charlie Furbush and Yoervis Medina combined to allow a pair of runs after Iwakuma's exit, creating a need for Fernando Rodney to enter and get a one-out save, which he did without much fanfare.
For the scoreboard watchers out there, Tampa Bay blew a lead against Detroit and eventually lost 8-6 in extra innings, so the Mariners and Tigers remain tied for the second wild card spot. Kansas City won again, so the M's didn't gain any theoretical future ground on what could be the other wild card team, eventually. Seriously, KC. Stop.
- Logan Morrison and Chase Utley had a weird collision at first base in the 6th, as Morrison caught a cross-diamond throw that took him off the bag, forcing him to awkwardly slap a tag on Utley as he tried to sneak under the tag. Morrison more or less ended up putting Utley in a pseudo-headlock as he went by, all resulting in some sort of bizarre Chris Dudley/Shaquille O'Neal hanging on the rim kind of scenario (without the shoving).
- Robinson Cano got nailed by a pitch on the foot around, as he hobbled around for a bit before shooing away any medical attention in the 8th. All concern about his foot was wiped away pretty quickly as soon as Cano stole second just minutes later.
- Logan pointed out earlier that today's bean ball to Mike Zunino means he has more HBP than walks, a feat that hasn't been accomplished in a full season since 1918. Zunino is on pace for 17 walks compared to 161 strikeouts. But Z had two hits tonight, including a first pitch rip up the middle and two key insurance runs in the 8th.
- Dustin Ackley is starting to heat up again after a slow start to August, crushing a double that he *just* missed on a hanging breaking ball from A.J. Burnett in the 5th inning. It was right in Ackley's wheelhouse, but he couldn't quite barrel it up enough to coax it out of the park. Even though he didn't get all of it, it was an easy double, but the Mariners couldn't get him home.