For as thrilling/exciting/fun as some previous games have been, today was...not that. To be fair, things could have gone much worse. Felix Hernandez had a miserable first inning in which he threw 31 pitches and faced eight batters, thanks to a couple first-pitch swings from the Aggro A’s. In retrospect, it was sort of amazing that the A’s only walked away with four runs in that inning, and that would be the only runs they scored all day on a particularly shrill and unpleasant day in the Coliseum.
There will be a lot of talk about the idea of the Opener after today, and I encourage you to read John’s piece on it if you haven’t. Basically, the idea is that if a reliever goes out and starts the game for one or two innings, you essentially turn the other team’s lineup upside-down, meaning your starter doesn’t have to face the top of the order as many times. It’s an idea that’s worth looking into for Félix, who, as John points out, hasn’t just struggled this year in the first inning, but since 2015.
However, that conversation disappears quickly into the rearview mirror when you consider the fact that after struggling in the first, Félix settled into a nice groove. After giving up hits off well-placed changeups to the first two batters, Félix panicked a little and started throwing his abysmal sinker, aka his safety blanket. However, after escaping the first inning, he re-introduced the changeup and started mixing his pitches more, to great results as he cruised through the next five innings. He potentially could have gone deeper, but the first inning alone accounted for about a third of the total pitches the King threw today. The bullpen finished up the game with feelgood story Ryan Cook posting another strong outing, Marc Rzepczynski throwing one pitch for an out, and Chasen Bradford somehow navigating through CB Bucknor’s floating strike zone to record two strikeouts. Despite the way the game started, the problem today was not the pitching.
No, the blame for today lies squarely on the shoulders of the offense. After a promising opening with the bases loaded and no outs against “starter” Josh Lucas, who seemed to have only a vague idea of where the ball was going, Nelson Cruz grounded into a double play and Kyle Seager struck out, meaning the Mariners only came away with one run. Seemingly every time they threatened against a shaky Oakland pitching staff, someone hit into a double play, killing any rally. All told, the Mariners hit into an astounding five double plays, tying a club record. The A’s managed their four runs on just five hits; the Mariners had twice that, but with just three runs. The Mariners also out-walked the A’s, taking four free passes against just one handed out by Mariners pitching. And for all the complaints that the Mariners were running out a B-squad lineup with Vogelbach, Freitas, and Romine, Freitas had one of the Mariners’ two RBIs, Romine had a hit and a walk and was seemingly the only player who didn’t GIDP, and Vogelbach...well, Vogelbach didn’t have a great day. It stinks because he’s actually looked pretty good at the plate as far as controlling the zone; he’s trying to be aggressive early if he likes a pitch, and then might fall behind, but his judgment is so good at the plate he’s then able to rebound and work himself back into counts. In the walk he took against Lucas he laid off pitch #3, a high fastball, that I think the earlier-season version of Vogey, the one who was pressing too hard at the plate, might have swung at. However, like everything else in this game it was all for naught, as the Mariners only scored three runs despite having traffic on the bases in six of nine innings (not, for the record, nice).
There are going to be days like this, and the important thing is to win divisional series, but losing a winnable game where the stat sheet—outside of the GIDPs—seems tilted in favor of the Mariners like this is undeniably frustrating. The team will have a blessedly short flight back home, where Paxton takes the mound in front of what will hopefully be a large and in charge crowd tomorrow night.
This game was such a bummer I didn’t make hardly any .gifs, but here’s Manny Acta thinking about being grateful to get back to Seattle and start eating home-cooked food again: