Thursday, April 16, 2009
I didn't expect the Mariners to get a complete laugher against the Angels. That team may not have most of their rotation in proper working order, but the team's not chop liver. Jered Weaver was hit hard in terms of hits (ten), but only gave up four runs in his five-plus innings of work, leaving in the same half-inning with the Chavez and Griffey back-to-back homers. Still, even after that, the game was still very much within reach for the Angels. That was before Kevin Jepsen and Jason Bulger got rocked in the seventh. Jepsen cleaned up Weaver's mess in the sixth, but had some trouble and left some runners on, then Bulger couldn't get outs from any of the four hitters he faced. Bulger succeeded smashingly in having his ERA bulge and hemorrhage. The damage didn't stop until Justin Speier came in and grabbed the final two outs of the seventh.
As you might imagine, the hitting looks good in an 11-3 win. The only hitless games were on the bats of Adrian Beltre (0-for-4 with a run, strikeout, and walk each) and Franklin Gutierrez (0-for-1 scoring once, driving in a run, walking twice, and getting caught stealing once). Jose Lopez and Russell Branyan (a double) got one hit apiece, but Ichiro, Endy Chavez, Ken Griffey, Jr., Kenji Johjima, and even his injury replacement Rob Johnson (with a double) had two hits apiece. Yuniesky Betancourt held down the eighth spot in the lineup and went 3-for-5 with a double, scoring once. Chavez, Griffey, and Ichiro accounted for the Mariners' three homers. The team went 4-for-11 with runners in scoring position.
The Mariner pitching was good enough. Jarrod Washburn had a fairly good start against his former team. He threw 89 pitches through six innings and probably could have come out for the seventh, but it's early in the season, so I'll let that slide. Washburn gave up two runs, didn't walk anyone, and struck out four. He gave up four hits, but two of them were doubles (Juan Rivera and Bobby Abreu) and one was a Torii Hunter homer. Washburn faced 22 hitters to record 18 outs. Washburn got six groundouts and eight flyouts, which I think is a little less skewed toward the flyball end of the spectrum in comparison to vintage Washburn. As for the bullpen, Miguel Batista came out for the seventh (I'll get to that later), then Shawn Kelley came out and provided decent pitching to end the same inning to preserve a one-run lead, then came out in the eighth to protect a much more cushy eight-run lead. Mark Lowe threw a perfect low-pressure ninth to end it. Kelley and Lowe combined for a three-inning, two-hit, two-strikeout last three innings of relief.
Looks like the only thing that has a bleeding ulcer now is the starting pitching machine that got sent to the showers in the commercial. He may have missed the first eight games of the season, but Ichiro marked his return with a 2-for-5 night with a stolen base and a grand slam. He tied the record for hits by a Japanese professional baseball player (Isao Harimoto, who was present), and now has 198 hits to go to make it nine straight 200-hit seasons. His only blemish in the boxscore is that he grounded into a double play. The weird thing about the grand slam is that Ichiro's swing on that ball was not a prototypical Ichiro swing. It didn't seem quite as balanced as his usual swings, and the homer wasn't the usual screaming line drive over the wall that I'm used to seeing. This was as close to a nine-iron rainmaker as I've ever seen Ichiro hit. One look at the boxscore from this game also says that Ichiro is currently hitting .400! Can he keep it up? Is this a charmed season? Hahaha, let the rose-colored glasses be worn! Don't worry, I'm keeping the realism to myself.
2) Ken Griffey, Jr.
Griffey hit his 400th Mariner home run, something that came nine years too late. It was a crying shame that the 1999 season ended with the Griffey ticker on the rightcenter stairs stuck on 398 career homers. He hit his 400th career blast in Cincinnati, which seemed like a travesty to me. Anyway, he's become the first player in Major League history to hit 400 homers with one team and 200 with another. To me, it's somewhat a sort of obscure stat, but not a lot of players play their whole careers with one team anymore, so the good players having two or three long stays at cities over a long career are more the norm than they used to be. As for the homer itself, that was a classic Griffey shot, unlike the homer on Opening Day in Minnesota. You had the follow-through, the bat drop, the admiring of the fly ball, there was no doubt. It was great hearing the call of the homer and seeing and hearing the crowd go nuts, but as the ball came down, I saw a huge glut of empty seats out there in rightcenter. I know the second home game of the season is usually a hard sell since it's mid-week two months before summer starts and with school still in session, but that looked like every bit of an 18516 crowd out there for this game.
3) Endy Chavez
He had the front end of the back-to-back homers with Griffey. His homer was a laser of a line drive. It was a homer, of course, which means it wasn't a punch of a base hit that sort of found a hole just beyond the reach of an infielder. That's a good thing. With the return of Ichiro, it also signaled the advent of the Mariners' ultramega outfield of Chavez/Gutierrez/Ichiro. Chavez went 2-for-4 with the homer off Jered Weaver. He also walked once and struck out once. If you've got money on him finishing the season with a .400 average, he's hitting .405 right now. If you really have money on that, you should probably get some help because you're a compulsive gambler. Chavez was placed into the second spot for the first time this season, and Gutierrez was batting ninth. To credit Gutierrez, he filled the role of a nice on-base presence getting on in the ninth slot before the order rolled over since he walked twice (also bunted once). Maybe Chavez goes to the ninth spot eventually, maybe not. I like him at second right now until he gets cold.
Bringing a key principle back from my 2006 game pieces, this one is basically given to the highest crap-per-time ratio. Batista faced all of three hitters. Two of them got hits, with one of them being a Torii Hunter double. He recorded a strikeout but wasn't credited with 1/3 of an inning, which is probably where that Rob Johnson passed ball figures into his line. He threw four balls and five strikes and gave up a run along the way. It's definitely not the worst outing he's had, and now that I'm typing this paragraph I'm thinking maybe I should have gone with Beltre here, but I saw him make a throw to first from ten feet past the third-base bag down the line, so I'm not giving him the goat even with the 0-for-4. Beltre's too cool and too awesome to be wearing goat horns, his .206 average be damned. Besides, his .206 average also represents well for the local area code. In other words, it's Batista getting the goat kinda by default, but these are the depths to which you have to go when your team laid an 11-3 whuppin' on the other team.
The J-Man throws tonight. Or the C-Man. Or Big C. The Lithuanian Laser? If Ilgauskas is Lithuanian and Jakubauskas' name is a bit similar, maybe that'd work.