Hello! Eric Sanford here again with another one from the LL archives in honor of Félix Week. Here’s a recap from April 19, 2012, a game that, among many, could serve as Exhibit A in the “Case of How the Mariners Wasted Félix’s Prime” if there were such an actual court case (note to self to ask LLawyer Tim if you can sue a team for such a thing). I mean, the headline alone would be etched in stone of the LL Style Book if such a physical thing existed. Anyways, this one is interesting to go back to because I remember it so well just for how pissed off we all were about it, but in hindsight it was just one of several forerunners that season to Félix’s perfect game. One of many fits and starts that lead to a pinnacle. But, during those especially fallow years of Mariner fandom, there was no greater sin than wasting a gorgeous outing by Félix, and this recap lays that all out plain as day. Tell us how you really feel, Jeff!
This was going to be a highlight. This was going to be the highlight. A lasting image, something shown in reels and on promotional material. Something that would replay in our minds over and over, and over and over, never fading while other memories fly by the wayside. When Felix Hernandez threw his Fenway one-hitter in Daisuke Matsuzaka's home debut, he roared a lion's roar after recording the final out, or maybe a dragon's roar, steam streaming from his mouth in the cold night he made colder. I remember that roar now, I remember the pitch that preceded it, and I remember the shape of the very cloud of steam. I don't remember what I had for lunch on Monday. Probably a sandwich. I'll never get that knowledge back.
The stage was all set. Sometimes, a problem in sportswriting when you're covering a game is that there are too many major angles, and you don't know how to approach. There wasn't any question of how to approach tonight. There was one story: Felix Hernandez, pitching like Felix Hernandez if Felix Hernandez got to pitch from 40 feet away. There weren't any competing stories. There weren't anything close to competing stories. The offense got out of Felix's way. It got him a run and then it shut up. There was nothing else amazing. There was nothing else all that remarkable. There was baseball that took place around Felix Hernandez, and he was in the spotlight.
It all came down to Felix's eighth inning. To that point he'd thrown a lot of pitches, but he was going to throw more. Tom Wilhelmsen needed the night off, and as Eric Wedge figured, and as Felix Hernandez agreed, why go to someone else when Felix is already pitching? There was an argument to be made that Felix shouldn't have lasted as long as he did. Felix got up to 126 pitches. The last three batters he faced were all left-handed, in critical spots, and a lefty was warm in the pen. It would've been a convincing argument. It probably would've been the right argument. Objectively and analytically, Felix should've been removed, and Lucas Luetge should've come in. That would've been playing the numbers, and the best a manager can do is to play the numbers.
But Eric Wedge didn't play the numbers. He played Felix, and as I sat here watching, I applauded the decision, even though I know I knew better. Eric Wedge appealed to my emotions. He appealed to everyone's emotions. He was probably just listening to his own emotions. I think Eric Wedge made a bad decision. But he made the only decision anybody wanted him to make, because we recognized that he couldn't pull Felix right then. He couldn't pull Felix without giving Felix a chance to clean up his mess. Without giving Felix a chance for one final triumphant roar.
When Felix stayed in, we recognized the potential. If Felix lost it, he'd lose it, and the good feelings would be gone. But if Felix got out of it, it'd be an instant classic. It'd be the moment of the season. It'd be the moment of a few seasons, maybe. You could bring in a reliever, and the reliever could slam the door, but the response to the reliever wouldn't be like the response to Felix. We wanted Felix to get a chance to reach his mountaintop, so we could have a chance to reach our mountaintops.
With one out, Felix loaded the bases. It wasn't all his fault, but it was mostly his fault. He even flubbed a chance for a double play himself. The batter was Jason Kipnis. The next batter was Shin-soo Choo. These were good, left-handed batters. Felix composed himself and he blew them the fuck away. With people watching as intently as they've watched, Felix blew Kipnis away with a changeup, and he blew Choo away with a changeup, and Felix's changeup might be the only changeup that can blow a hitter away in the first place. Felix roared. We roared. Pictures were taken, videos were filmed, memories were seared. This was the best. Felix is the best.
We wanted to see Felix look more like Felix. We wanted to see how Felix would handle a lineup that isn't Oakland's lineup. He faced a good lineup tonight, and he slaughtered a good lineup tonight. He had a walk and 12 strikeouts. He had groundballs. He had flashes of dominance, linked by other flashes of dominance, such that the whole of his eight innings was essentially a long flash of dominance. Have you ever wondered what a clap would sound like if you captured only the sound and extended it for three hours? Felix took a flash and he made a game of it.
Almost an entire game. All that was left after Felix was three outs, but we trust Brandon League to get three outs, because Brandon League is good, and three outs aren't hard. When Felix left the mound - when Felix shuffled off the mound, roared and lurched and pumped off the mound - that was it. It never even crossed my mind that Brandon League could blow it. I had forgotten blown saves. I remember them now.
It got blown. Everything got blowed up. Everything. For eight innings, it was perfect. It was better than perfect. It didn't matter that the offense didn't score, because the offense didn't need to score more than the one that it scored. The offense had looked good in games previous. It had earned a break. All that mattered was Felix, and after eight innings, it was a half-inning until we all had something to think about for a day, for a week, for a year. On the office desk of my memory, I'd bought this game a picture frame. I just needed to wait for the image to fully develop.
It's ruined. If this game were a fine rug, it's got blood on it. If this game were a page in a scrapbook, it's got blood on it. If this game were a trophy to put on our mantel, it's got blood in it. Brandon League and the Mariners didn't blow a baseball game. The hell with the baseball game. The Mariners are going to lose plenty of baseball games before this season is over. Brandon League and the Mariners blew a perfect evening and a perfect memory. This was going to be one of those little experiences that validates the whole bigger experience. Blood. It's impossible now to think about what Felix did without thinking about what happened after. They're irreversibly, hopelessly linked. The next time Felix takes the mound, we'll remember what happened tonight. When we see that Felix roar from the eighth inning in highlight reels, we'll remember what happened tonight. When we get to the end of the year and we think about the year's best moments, either we'll remember what happened tonight, or we'll have completely forgotten about what happened tonight, because the ninth inning will throw a blanket over the eighth inning and all innings before.
There's a part of me that wants to blame Miguel Olivo. It's not a fair part, or a rational part, and I don't want to give that part too much time at the keyboard. But Olivo didn't only ground into a critical double play with a runner on third. In the ninth, Olivo couldn't frame some Brandon League fastballs that looked like they could've been strikes. I never really notice catcher pitch-framing, and I don't know if it's fair that I noticed tonight, but I noticed tonight, and some iffy calls went against League at the worst possible time. I know I'm being too critical of Olivo. If I admit it I'm pretty sure that makes it okay.
There's a part of me that wants to blame Brandon League. I can't tell how big of a part, relative to the Miguel Olivo part. League gets the benefit of the doubt for having been solid earlier, unlike Olivo. League made a demonstrably negative contribution in the ninth, unlike Olivo. Jack Hannahan's game-winning single was just a groundball single, but before that, League didn't look good enough. Or he did, and Olivo made him worse. God, I don't know.
There's a part of me that wants to blame the position players. Pretty much all the position players who got Felix all of one single run. Michael Saunders is excepted, because he went 2-for-3. But in the second, the Mariners had a runner on third with one out, and they didn't score. In the fourth, the Mariners had a runner on third with one out, and they didn't score. There weren't enough other run-scoring situations in the first place. The offense gave Felix enough, but only because Felix was amazing.
The biggest part of me, though, doesn't want to blame anyone or any one group in particular. I just want to blame the Mariners. The Mariners had the moment of the season in their hands, and then they looked in the mirror, and they were like, wait we don't do this, we do the opposite of this. And then they lost. I exchanged some gleeful text messages and emails after Felix struck out Choo to end the eighth. I was looking forward to this game being over so I could go back to thinking about the game again. There's just so much unremovable blood. I remember a few years ago, and now I'm going back to the hockey well by the way, Ottawa was playing Buffalo in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Final. The game was in Buffalo. Ottawa led by a goal late in the third period, and then Buffalo scored to tie it with like five seconds left. Everybody flipped out. Everybody lost their shit. Ottawa won in overtime. The memory potential of the game-tying goal was destroyed, utterly destroyed but events that came afterward.
When Felix danced off the mound after the eighth, I had an epiphany. Maybe Felix isn't bitter about his offensive support because he enjoys low offensive support. He enjoys the challenge. He enjoys knowing that he has to be perfect, because if he's perfect, he earned that all on his own. It became clear to me. Where another pitcher might've been driven crazy by now, it's all a game to Felix, and it's a game he loves to play. I figured Felix loved to see what Felix could do. The way Felix came off the mound - I think he lives for that, and I don't think he feels like that if the Mariners are up 6-0 instead of 1-0.
Now, though, I can't help but think that sounds stupid. No, there's no way Felix isn't bitter about this shit. He's just mature and professional enough to keep it to himself, because he knows complaining won't get anything accomplished. Felix pitched his ass off. Felix pitched a few asses off. Felix didn't win. No, he can't enjoy this. He must want better. On some level, he must want better. The Mariners are going to drive him away. The Mariners have Felix's commitment, and they're going to give him second thoughts.
Just the other day - actually, yesterday - I ended the Word Learnin' post by writing "maybe somebody I'll feel this angry about something in a Mariners game." I had just seen an important player for my hockey team get injured by a hit at an unfortunate time. Right now, I'm not that angry about the Mariners game. That was viciously, embarrassingly angry. But I'm angry about this Mariners game. I'm not used to feeling emotions after these things, but now I've got them, and I don't know how to get them out. Blog, I guess.
More baseball tomorrow. Hopefully winning baseball tomorrow. Nothing the Mariners can do now but try to make sure they don't do this again, and try to deliver other positive memories. They'll have the chance to try to make up for this. But this isn't something any of us wanted them to have to make up for. This was perfect. This was a half-inning shy of being perfect. This wound up a Mariners game. I'm sorry, Mariners, but we've seen more than enough of those.
Just, shitty. The Mariners ruined a night that we could've pretended we don't root for the Mariners. We still root for the Mariners. This was as them as I think they've ever been.