Tuesday, April 03, 2007


AP photo -- Ted S. Warren

In 25 words or less: It's really too bad Felix Hernandez can only pitch every five days. It really is.

Here it was. Opening Day. Thousands of people in the Puget Sound area taking half-days or full days off from work to get to the ballpark for that 3:35p start. The smell of hot dogs, kettle korn, freshly-cut grass, all that stuff. Opening Day is always a great day to be a baseball fan. The roof was starting to open as everyone in front of a television in the Northwest was starting to get used to the sounds of Dave Sims and Mike Blowers on the FSNNW telecast. As an added bonus, the folks at MLB.tv didn't even block out the local commercials with their own boring text ads; I already bought MLB.tv for the season, what more do they want from me? Anyway, here's the piece for the game that led off Baseball Tonight. In unrelated Opening Day news, I really like what the Reds have done with their letter/number scheme on their home duds. The Dodgers put surnames back onto their road tops, which I don't mind, but they took the white lining off the numbers and the "Los Angeles" on the front, which I think doesn't look quite as good.

This one featured Dan Haren going up against Felix Hernandez.

I'd thought of possible changes to make to the game pieces I'm posting this season, and I don't know if I really thought of anything. I thought at points last year that my pieces were seeming a little robotic when I was typing them up. I guess the only thing I'll try to do is to put more of me into the actual during-game stuff. That's what I'll try to do anyway.

I usually throw photo credits into mouse-over popups on the pictures themselves, but I have to congratulate Ted S. Warren off the AP wire for the coolest Mariners wire photo I've seen in ages. Nice job.

Oddly enough, Sims turned it over to Dave Niehaus as the game started. I thought Niehaus was going to be strictly radio and Sims strictly television, but I guess not. A graphic went up on the screen saying Felix Hernandez is the youngest Opening Day starting pitcher since Dwight Gooden in 1987. Bruce Froemming behind the plate was starting his 32nd straight year of umpiring. Jason Kendall took a nice 2-2 breaking ball over the outside corner. Shannon Stewart fell back 0-2 but grounded hard to third on a 2-2 pitch. Milton Bradley was the victim of about three good breaking balls in his at-bat, unable to check his swing on a 2-2 breaking pitch down and in. The first inning for the youngster had gone swimmingly except for maybe the pitch count. Hernandez threw 17 pitches.

The first thing I noticed is that Dan Haren is wearing a number different from last season, now taking Tim Hudson's old number 15. The second thing is that I'm reminded that I don't know how Haren gets any pitch speed out of his delivery. Nonetheless, Ichiro grounded the second pitch slowly to short. Adrian Beltre got under a 1-2 pitch, lofting it to Bradley in shallow leftcenter. Jose Vidro grounded the second pitch to Ellis, who had to range a bit to his backhand to get to the ball and throw. Haren threw eight pitches.

It appears the feed they've put through MLB.tv has DirecTV promos over the local local commercials. Like that doesn't rub it in to anyone who wishes they'd had MLB Extra Innings but can't due to baseball's bullcrap exclusivity fetish and iron-fisted agenda bent on making people have the Baseball Channel, whenever that comes along. When it comes to stuff like this, I blame George Steinbrenner for starting this whole thing with YES against Cablevision. The NFL followed suit by putting regular-season games on the NFL Network, which is hogwash as well. Now we have Major League Baseball trying to play hardball with iNdemand. I'm on the side of the "why would you want less people to see your product?" bandwagon.

Mike Piazza took an 0-2 mega-fastball at the top of the strike zone for strike three. Eric Chavez grounded a 1-2 pitch to short. Nick Swisher whiffed over a wicked change to make it 1-2, but he was able to eke out a walk on a too-high offspeed pitch. Bobby Crosby watched the second pitch go off Johjima's glove and to the backstop, enabling Swisher to scoot to second, but it was no matter as Crosby grounded to short on the next pitch. Hernandez threw 19 pitches and had 36 through two.

Raul Ibañez flew out high and harmlessly to center. Looks like all home games on FSNNW are in HD this year, but it won't matter to me since I'm watching on MLB.tv, and even if I was back home, I still wouldn't be ready to make that kind of investment for HD. Richie Sexson whiffed on an offspeed pitch inside. Jose Guillen fell back 0-2 but got to a full count before fouling a high offspeed pitch (Niehaus called it a fastball, but we love him) into Kendall's glove behind the plate. Haren threw 14 pitches and had 22 through two.

If you've been away from home for a long time, you're not sick of Emerald Queen Casino ads, even if they're just for Randy Travis, Dionne Warwick, and Blue Öyster Cult shows.

Travis Buck (of Richland, Washington), up for an injured Mark Kotsay, took a nasty 1-2 breaking ball over the inside corner, the fourth looking strikeout for Hernandez out of four overall strikeouts. Mark Ellis nubbed out to second on the second pitch. Kendall whiffed over some unbridled 1-2 gas that was probably low. Hernandez threw 11 pitches and had 47 through three.

Remember, because Jack in the Box says it's okay, you can go cheat with your significant other by seeing someone named Jessica as long as you're not dipping.

Kenji Johjima popped up high to Ellis in very shallow right. Yuniesky Betancourt whiffed and let go of the bat on a 1-1 pitch, forcing third-base coach Carlos Garcia to run for cover. Betancourt exhibited warning-track power on the subsequent 1-2 pitch, a fly ball caught by Stewart in left. Also during the at-bat, some bargaining must have occurred as I noticed Betancourt was wearing number 5, which probably means Vidro bought number 3 off of him (Vidro's longtime number). Jose Lopez popped a 2-0 pitch to basically the same spot as Johjima did to start the inning, which was to Ellis in shallow right, who moved to his left to catch it. Haren threw 11 pitches and had 33 through three.

Sims came back into the booth. Stewart drilled the second pitch past a diving Betancourt and into left for a single. Bradley grounded the first pitch hard off of Hernandez' glove and to Lopez, who went to his knees to stop the ball before backhand-tossing it over to Betancourt to start what went in the books as a 1-4-6-3 double play. Piazza bounced to third on the second pitch. Talk about a quick inning. Hernandez threw five pitches and had 52 through four.

I hope Niehaus has something to say about Clyde the AFLAC duck chasing out the wannabe AFLAC sheep. I hope less Niehaus on TV doesn't mean we don't get to see his great moments talking to Clyde.

Oh no! Sims introduced the AFLAC Trivia Question! It's not Niehaus!

Ichiro waved over a second-pitch breaking ball and eventually flying out to Stewart in leftcenter on a 2-2 count. Beltre blooped the second pitch into shallow center that was caught by Ellis, who nearly had the centerfielder Bradley plow into him on the play. Vidro stung a 2-0 pitch through Haren and up the middle for a single for the Mariners' first hit of the season. Ibañez bounced an 0-2 pitch to the right side, where Haren gloved it on his way to the first-base bag. Haren threw 14 pitches and had 47 through four.

I'm seeing an ad for Qwest high-speed internet over the MLB.tv feed here. Just for the record, the cable counterpart here in Hawaii is Oceanic Time Warner Cable. The Qwest (DSL/phone) counterpart in Hawaii is...Verizon. If it seems weird, it is. I thought Verizon just did wireless stuff, but not here, apparently.

The roof began to close at the Safe. Chavez whiffed over a 2-2 change. Swisher (Sims noted Swisher is from the Ohio State University) grounded hard to first on a 2-2 pitch. New to the roof-closure phenomenon, Sims noted it'd be closed for the rest of the game, though he's unaware of the fact since it's policy that once the roof is closed, it stays closed (I think it's still a dumb rule, but whatever). Crosby defenselessly whiffed over an 0-2 heater that was quite high. Hernandez threw 13 pitches and had 65 through five.

Oh man, a Chris Myers Interview episode with George Karl? Wouldn't that cause something like an egotistic supernova? Would the set, studio, and videocameras all explode as a result?

Sexson routinely grounded a 2-2 pitch to short, but Crosby had it go under his glove and into left (error), enabling Sexson to reach first base. Guillen bounced to the left side, where Chavez had to charge to get Guillen at first as Sexson moved over to second. Johjima whiffed badly over the second pitch en route to an eventual hard groundout to third on a 1-2 pitch as Sexson held at second. Betancourt took two strikes, fouled off two more pitches, then flew out to Buck along the rightfield line. Haren threw 18 pitches and had 65 through five.

Buck blistered a second-pitch fastball off the base off the wall in center for a double, the first ball in the air hit off Hernandez all day. Ellis bunted the first pitch in front for a sacrifice (huh? What team is this?), so score it 2-3 to move Buck to third. Kendall checked his swing on a 1-2 breaking ball down and away before coming up empty on a full swing on the next pitch, a hard one up and in. Bradley whiffed over an 0-2 filthy breaking ball in the dirt (Johjima threw to first to finish the putout). Was that clutch or was that clutch? Hernandez threw 11 pitches and had 76 through six.

Lopez stung the second pitch right to third, but Chavez was able to stop it and make the play to first. Ichiro tapped a ball in front of the plate that rolled on the grassy side of the third-base line and stayed fair; just call it Ichiro's first hit of the season, a single. Beltre sorta tomahawked the first pitch into shallow left for a single to move Ichiro to second. Vidro tapped the second pitch back to the mound, where Haren threw to Crosby covering second, but the ball went off Crosby's glove and into rightfield, loading the bases (E6, fielder's choice). Ibañez rode his second pitch pretty well, but didn't quite reach the warning track in right with the resultant fly ball, but it was more than enough to score Ichiro and move Beltre to third.
Sexson crushed a hanging pitch down the middle over the centerfield fence in front of the hitters' backdrop. Sims' call? "GOODBYE!" I wonder if that's here to stay or if that's a work in progress. Either way, it's something different from Rizzs, and we don't have to hear Henderson or Valle afterward.
Guillen worked a 1-2 count for a walk. Johjima fouled an 0-2 pitch to the backstop and Haren lost his footing on his front foot, falling over it. The trainers came out and Haren threw some warmup pitches, staying out to finish the inning. Johjima took two more balls in the dirt before popping a 2-2 breaking ball to left.

Haren's line: 6 innings, 4 runs (unearned), 4 hits, 1 walk, 2 strikeouts, 91 pitches (61 strikes)

Bradley worked a 1-2 count for a walk (I thought the 2-2 pitch caught the inside corner). Piazza looked at the first two pitches for strikes and grounded the next one to third, where Beltre charged and threw to second to force out Bradley, but Lopez had trouble getting the ball out of his glove, and Bradley had slid into the play as well, so Piazza reached base. Chavez came to the plate and Sims noted of the fact that Chavez has won six straight AL Gold Gloves, and if that doesn't prove that the Gold Glove has too much to do with offense, nothing does. Jeff Cirillo once and Adrian Beltre at least once out of the last two years should have gotten that award, but hey, the Gold Glove is what it is. Chavez tapped a 2-2 breaking ball up the middle for a single to move Piazza to second. Swisher took two pitches to get down 0-2 and whiffed at dead red on the next pitch. Crosby took a 1-2 fastball over the outside corner to get himself out of another jam. Hernandez threw 21 pitches and had 97 through seven.

Banner Bank is a fairly local bank in western Washington. A tip if you're coming to Hawaii: there are no nationwide banks in Hawaii, everything is local. Not even Bank of America is out here.

Jay Witasick came in for Haren. Betancourt swing at the first pitch and didn't quite get warning-track power this time as Stewart made the catch just short of the track in left. Lopez bounced a 3-1 pitch to short. Ichiro took one of those horrible swings over an 0-2 inside breaking ball in the dirt, a swing that looks just hopeless like he's blatantly fooled. Anyway, Kendall threw to first. Witasick threw nine pitches.

Buck took an 0-2 change on the outer half that wasn't called for strike three, but Buck foul-tipped the next pitch (breaking ball) into Johjima's glove for strike three. Ellis grounded hard to Beltre's glove side, and he made a nice play to come up with it and throw to first. Kendall grounded fairly hard right to Betancourt at short, but he plain bobbled it, hopefully one of few errors to be tagged to Betancourt over the course of the season. Stewart grounded to Betancourt, who had it this time and threw to Lopez covering second for the out on Kendall.

Hernandez' line: 8 innings, 0 runs, 3 hits, 2 walks, 12 strikeouts, 111 pitches (77 strikes)

Beltre took a 3-1 pitch down and away for a walk. Vidro grounded a 1-2 pitch to second to start a tailor-made 4-6-3 double play.

Jay Marshall came in for Witasick. Ibañez fouled two pitches off of himself over the course of the at-bat before grounding to Swisher past the bag at first on a full count.

Witasick's line: 1 2/3 innings, 0 runs, 0 hits, 1 walk, 1 strikeout, 18 pitches (11 strikes)
Marshall's line: 1/3 inning, 0 runs, 0 hits, 0 walks, 0 strikeouts, 9 pitches (6 strikes)

Jason Ellison came in to play right for Guillen. JJ Putz came in for Hernandez. Bradley got ahead 2-0 and ended up cranking a fastball that was three feet short of a homer over the wall in rightcenter. Piazza nubbed the second pitch to Beltre, who charged, got set, and threw out the not-fast Piazza at first. Chavez chopped the first pitch over the middle, where Betancourt moved over to make the play as Bradley scooted to third. Swisher flew out lazily to shallow center to end it.

Putz' line: 1 inning, 0 runs, 1 hit, 0 walks, 0 strikeouts, 10 pitches (6 strikes)

Gameball: Felix Hernandez.
I guess the only problem with coming out on Opening Day and having a start like this is that we might be a little let down if he comes back in his next start and gives up four runs and throws 106 pitches and gets into the seventh. Is it still a good outing? More than likely, but this might have set the bar a little high. On the other hand, I know I feel a lot better about the team than I did 24 hours before the game. That's before I look at the probable pitchers for the rest of the series and realize that Jarrod Washburn and Miguel Batista are going up against Joe Blanton and Rich Harden, respectively. Then I don't feel so good. Taking that into account, it's that much better that Hernandez had this kind of start because the bullpen (save Putz) just got a day of rest. Granted, there's an off day after the series, but every little bit helps. Hernandez had thrown 97 pitches after seven innings. Some schools of thought and a voice in my gut might say pull him. Of course, many factors would go toward leaving him in as well. Say you pull him, you could say he's young, it's April, he's got the whole season to go. I might have let him throw to a couple batters in the eighth, then pull him and get him an ovation from the crowd. If Mike Hargrove had pulled him there, though, that would have raised questions not only with the fans, but also with Felix regarding how serious Hargrove was about pulling off the kid gloves when it comes to handling Hernandez. Of course, the main factor to leaving Felix in the game was that absolutely nobody was touching him. He was on fire. Twelve groundball outs plus twelve strikeouts equals 24 outs, which also equals eight innings, exactly the amount Hernandez threw.

Goat: Yuniesky Betancourt.
I don't have a lot of places to go with this since the offense as a whole only had four hits, so there were a lot of goose eggs in the hit column in the boxscore. Betancourt had an error in the field, so I have to tag him here. It was a pretty routine ball that he had go past him, though it didn't figure in the scope of the game. Still, he didn't get any hits, and I have to put someone here. Maybe the number switch has to do with it. Since becoming a Mariner, Betancourt was worn 46, 3, and now 5 on his back. He tripled in his first Major League at-bat wearing 46, and he hit .289 last year wearing 3. The last time anything good happened to a Mariner wearing number 5 was the last time John Olerud (hey, Deanna sponsors that page) was still hitting, so that's 2002. We saw how well number 5 treated Adrian Beltre in his first year with the Mariners. Needless to say, all this numerical stuff is stuff only I think about, so none of it matters, I'm just weird. In related news, it didn't matter whether he was wearing 9 or 7 as a Mariner, Jeff Cirillo still hit like Jeff Cirillo.

Yr W-L Pct GB Stk
2001 1-0 1.000 -- W1
2005 1-0 1.000 -- W1
2007 1-0 1.000 -- W1
2000 0-1 .000 1 L1
2002 0-1 .000 1 L1
2003 0-1 .000 1 L1
2004 0-1 .000 1 L1
2006 0-1 .000 1 L1

Two things are for sure. One is that the Mariners are halfway to equaling their 2006 season win total against Oakland, and they can't possibly be swept by Oakland in the season series. That might not seem big, but it is. If Oakland won this game, we'd be sitting here wondering when in tarnation this team was ever going to be the A's, and worse yet, we'd be pinning the hopes of a Mariner win on Jarrod Washburn and Miguel Batista, who are being put up against Joe Blanton and Rich Harden in their starts. If you ask me, Blanton and Harden are better than Haren, thus decreasing the Mariners' chances to win. The point is, I think if the Mariners didn't win this opener, they had a good chance of being swept. I'm not calling Haren chop liver by any means, and if it wasn't for Crosby's miscues in the field, what happens to this game then? The score's 4-0, but the Mariners still only scratched out four hits. I guess the good news is that the Mariners didn't lose because of a lack of offense. Richie Sexson came up with the timely hit du jour, and that definitely helped.

In that last paragraph, I never got to the second thing. The second thing is that the Mariners can't possibly get off to an 0-? start since they won the first game. Surely none of us forget how it went just three short years ago. An Opening Day loss became a sweep, then more losses started piling up, and before you knew it, the team was 0-5, then ended up losing eight of their first ten. I don't know what I'm trying to say here, maybe something a long the lines of a win on Opening Day being important not just because of what has happened (hey, they won a game!), but because of what can't happen as a result (Mariners never beat Oakland this season or Mariners end season with 0-162 record). There's only so much positive spin I can put on one game out of 162 games, and it's not like this is Daytona on the NASCAR circuit -- Opening Day isn't baseball's Super Bowl. Not to sound too cliché here, but another thing is that one win now counts the same as one win in August or September, they're not weighted differently or anything. Only the pressure to get the wins changes.

I took care of the pitching (Felix) in the gameball paragraph, so I guess now it's time to talk hitting. There wasn't a lot of it on either side in this game as both sides had four hits apiece. What helped the Mariners were the timing of the hits, namely Richie Sexson's homer, as well as the Bobby Crosby error that enabled such a thing to take place. Okay, that and the pitch that Dan Haren kinda hung to Sexson so he could in turn hit it out. Sexson having long arms also helps. Like I said earlier, what happens if Crosby doesn't make that error? Do the Mariners scratch out a run in this game at all? Let's just be thankful the chain of events turned out the way it did. If the Mariners were going to get any runs, I'd have to say it was going to be in this game. The Mariners have to hope Joe Blanton pitches like he's young or not quite into the swing of things yet and they'd have to hope for Rich Harden to be unusually wild or get up with his pitches. They could try to chain Harden to a fence by the Tuba Man and force him to face the music (pardon the pun) all day, but Harden's probably got a contingent from Victoria that would prevent that from happening. Canadian style. I could talk bad about the Mariners' offense, sure, but it's only been one night. I'd have to give them an incomplete. No letter grades. Yet.

Blanton. Washburn. Tonight.

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