Following a productive series at the plate against Detroit, the Mariners continued their hot hitting, exploding for 7 runs and 19 hits. On the mound, Felix Hernandez looked like his dominant self and despite some shoddy relief work, the M's won handily against their division rival in a game that never really felt close.
Logan Morrison led off the bottom of the first with a homer and Robinson Cano nearly made it back-to-back blasts, doubling off of the right-center field wall. The rally was short-circuited when Cano was thrown out at the plate after a single from Kyle Seager -- tip of the cap to Kole Calhoun for a great throw -- but the M's tacked on another in the second. Dustin Ackley singled and Mark Trumbo doubled to start the frame, and after a Brad Miller groundout, Mike Zunino checked in with a line drive single to left. Ackley scored but Trumbo was thrown out at the plate -- there's the TOOTBLAN -- ending the threat.
Despite the base running outs, it was an encouraging performance and plan of attack from the Mariners hitters. From the beginning of the game they sat on Richards hard fastball and, on a night where he didn't have his best command, the M's pounced for four runs and 12 hits. The offense has struggled this year, and it was good to see them have some success against one of the better right-handers in the league.
The M's added to their lead in the fourth. Seth Smith and Ackley singled and Trumbo followed with a walk. Consecutive sacrifice flies plated two runs, and while the big hit with men in scoring position never came, four runs felt like more than enough with Felix on the mound.
One of the great things about having Felix on your team is that he has so many ways to beat hitters. Sure, he can pitch carefully. He can hit corners, throw diving curveballs and tumbling changeups as he piles up strikeouts. We've seen that approach, time and time again over the last six years. Today's game plan was a little different. He didn't have his sharpest curveball and he didn't reach for his best gas all that often. Felix knows more than one way to dominate though, and tonight he methodically worked the lower half of the strike zone with his two-seamer and changeup, striking out six but also generating eight ground ball outs and a bunch of defensive hacks from the Angels. Take a look at his pitch chart:
The negative space is beautiful. There's a hole in the center of the strike zone and save for a few pitches where he tried to get an Angel to chase a pitch above the letters, he left very little up and out over the plate. Other than a brief hiccup in the seventh, when he lost all feel for the strike zone and walked two batters, Felix's command was on point and the Angels never mounted a serious rally.
From there, the relief work from Fernando Rodney, Vidal Nuno, Danny Farquhar, and Carson Smith was sketchy but good enough. The M's added three more runs on a bag of bloops, gorks, and seeing eye singles in the eighth, rendering the Angels ninth inning rally more annoying than threatening. Between all of the offense, Felix's strong work on the mound, and an adorable promotion, tonight's game had all of the ingredients to be one of the best games of the summer.
But for all of the individual brilliance, the hard line drives off of Cano's bat, the opposite field hitting from Ackley, the terrific defense by Seager, the best of Morrison and Zunino, and the pure greatness of King Felix, it was still a very 2015 Mariners night. The M's stranded 11 on the bases. They had three runners hosed at the plate. Fernando Rodney gave up a homer. A game like this is just a bittersweet reminder of what we're missing, and how well this team can play when when everything clicks, embedded in all of the problems we've encountered over the course of the season. This game was like a happy night with a favorite, troubled relative: he still needs help, but for one night, you're with him, he's happy, you've had some beer, and being in no position to lecture or dispense life advice, you just smile, absorb his flaws, and enjoy the company.
We've got time for some bullets:
- Morrison has over 2,180 career plate appearances. Of the 36 first basemen who have batted at least 2,000 times since Morrison's debut in 2010, his career 106 wRC+ ranks 27th, tied with Mark Trumbo and behind guys like Michael Morse, Ryan Howard, and Adam Lind. His best year was all the way back in 2010, when he posted the best walk rate of his career and had a BABIP 70 points higher than his career mark. By any reasonable definition, he's a second division first basemen. But, just often enough, he hits the shit out of a ball and makes you wonder whether there's a little more left in that bat of his.
- For however much it's felt like the Mariners have run themselves out of innings, they're actually pretty middle of the pick. The average team has had runners thrown out on the bases 29 times, the Mariners 28. Of course, the Mariners have had fewer runners on base in general than most teams and they still lead the league in runners thrown out by at least ten feet, so maybe that's not much consolation. No I didn't make that last statistic up. Quit looking at me like that.
- Felix Herandez picked Mike Trout off in the fourth inning. The reason that you didn't already know that was because umpire Bill Miller missed the call and, thanks to the gimmickry involved in the challenge system, LLoyd decided that it would be more prudent to play on rather than risk losing his challenging rights on the whims of a camera angle or replay officials who are often reluctant to overturn their colleagues. The system should be improved, is what I'm getting at.
- The 19 hits were the most in a game for the Mariners since they busted out for 20 and 21 runs in May of 2012 down in Texas. Hisashi Iwakuma got the save that day. Alex Liddi and Chone Figgins started in the outfield. Jesus Montero, Dustin Ackley, and Justin Smoak all homered. It was a different world back then.
- Thanks to the more obscure components of the rules regarding the save statistic, Carson Smith earned his sixth this year, which we can all agree is a justified reward for throwing two pitches at the end of a five-run game.