So we all know that Felix Hernandez won't continue to go out every fifth day and be dazzling and amazing and wonderful with all of his pitches, keeping runners off base and hitters off-balance. Sooner or later, he will throw a clunker. And that's okay. However, during his recent/ongoing run of brilliant baseballing, it's been so hard to remember that the King is an imperfect, mortal being with weaknesses and shortcomings. I just went and looked and Felix has given up 5+ earned runs 46 times over his 10 year career. Given his previous string of 15 games, this is more or less beyond my comprehension. Five runs??? Felix doesn't give up three runs! Felix Hernandez is so good at what he does and we're all so lucky to get to watch him.
Listen: Savor Felix's outings. If you can, go to Safeco. Don a yellow t-shirt and sit (or stand!) in the King's Court. Wave your K-card with pride and vigor. Try and win a turkey leg! Revel in the fact that Felix's changeup has the ability to turn the average Seattleite into a raving Seattle Mariners fanatic. Marvel at the fact that the Mariners are playing meaningful baseball... in August! Celebrate these times, my friends. They won't last forever.
- From a run-scoring perspective, tonight's game hinged largely on plays (not) made in the outfield. In the top of the second, with Justin Upton standing on second base, Chris Johnson singled sharply to left field. Dustin Ackley charged the ball aggressively and looked to have a chance (noodle arm and all) to throw Upton out at the plate. Unfortunately, he bobbled the transfer and Upton scored without a throw. When this happened, a small (but vocal) part of each and every one of us cried out. Oh no! Too many times during the past few weeks a small mistake early in the game has ultimately cost the Mariners a victory. This team has had such a hard time scoring since the All-Star break that we've grown increasingly accustomed to the idea that three runs is tantamount to an offensive explosion; scoring two runs is certainly not a given and it would feel heartbreakingly familiar for a small bobble in left field to cost the Mariners (and Felix) the win. Thankfully, due in large part to a misplay by Braves second baseman Tommy La Stella, this did not happen.
Here, we see the immediate aftermath of La Stella's attempt to catch a towering popup off the bat of Chris Taylor (close to the line in shallow right field). After taking a herky-jerky route to get into position, the ball clanked harmlessly off of La Stella's glove, allowing two runs to score. I do feel a little bad for the guy; that wasn't the easiest play for a second baseman (Heyward should've called him off and made a simple catch), but still... you can't drop a ball that hits you squarely in the glove. Use two hands! Those two additional runs ended up being all the Mariners would need, as they went on to win 4-2.
- In the fourth inning, Kyle Seager was hit solidly in the back by an 80 mph changeup. This pitch certainly wasn't fireballing in at Seager's head/hands, so maybe it's not the best pitch with which to make this judgement, but I thought that he took the HBP so smartly. I don't mean to imply that he leaned out and prudently "took one for the team" to get on base; I mean that he turned, tucked his head, and took his right hand off of the bat, all in one smooth motion.
All of these things serve to severely mitigate/diminish the chance of severe injury. Maybe this is what players always try and do, but over the past few seasons so many players have been sidelined for months after being hit on their hands; it's wonderful to see one of the Mariners best offensive players get out of the way so efficiently/effectively. I forget who it was (maybe Buhner?), but last week someone on the Mariners telecast said that players today don't know how to get hit by a pitch. Maybe this isn't the most useful skill to have, but I sure am glad that Seager seems to know what he's doing.
- Pat Hoberg's strike zone tonight was pretty tight. Looking at the strike zone map, we can see that Hoberg didn't call a single lefty strike and the majority of fringey "strikes" were called as balls.
Nonetheless, as he is wont to do, Zunino still managed to get Felix a couple of calls on the corners and several on pitches that were down a bit below the zone. Laird did not seem to fair as well; there were ~10 pitches in/within an inch of the zone that failed to go the Braves way. This could've simply been due to an inconsistent strike zone from Hoberg, but a quick check of the catcher framing leaderboard shows that while Zunino is wonderful (third from the top), Laird is a poor pitch framer (fourth from the bottom). This seems to suggest that these missed/inconsistent calls were likely caused, at least in large part, by the framing prowess of the catchers. Reminder: Mike Zunino is a 23-year-old defensive whiz kid.
Finally, Chris Taylor had another solid game tonight, smacking a ground rule double to deep center field in the third and playing snappy defense throughout the game at short. Also, while he certainly didn't do anything special with his pop up in the fourth inning (that scored two runs), sometimes all you have to do is PUT THE BALL IN PLAY (cc: Mike Zunino and Brad Miller). It's still way too early to make too many definitive statements about Taylor's game, but we do know that 1) he's fast and 2) he seems to have a laser beam where his right arm should be. He's also managed to smack four doubles in 29 plate appearances so far this year and made sure that Felix's outing tonight ended with style. I can think of no better send-off for the King.