Friday, July 03, 2009
The Mariners salvaged the final game of the series in the Bronx, boosting their record to 40-38 after 78 games. The 2007 team was five games better at this point. Still, 40 wins is one better than the 2006 pace, seven better than the 2005 pace, eight better than the 2004 pace, and 12 better than last year's pace. Forty wins is also six games worse than 2000, nine games worse than 2002, 12 games worse than 2003, and 17 games worse than 2001.
Seattle hitting went a collective 12-for-36 at the plate, walking three times and striking out nine times. Franklin Gutierrez had three hits while Ichiro, Kenji Johjima, Ryan Langerhans, and Chris Woodward had two hits apiece. Doubles were hit by Ichiro (twice) and Langerhans while homers were hit by Gutierrez and Russell Branyan (a mighty blast by him). Since I didn't give Branyan the gameball, I'll just say his homer in the ninth was a thing of beauty, just a cannon blast to the batter's eye in centerfield, basically breaking the game in favor of the Mariners. Ichiro also wasn't gameballed due to his weird error on a Hideki Matsui fly ball, but he did get two hits on the night and walked and stole a base as well. Ichiro is now hitting .370 on the season and is on pace for a 251-hit season. Kenji Johjima may not handle pitchers quite as well as Rob Johnson, but he can put up the odd 2-for-3 and gun down the odd baserunner. Johjima also scored two of the Mariners' runs in the game.
I didn't put any of the Mariner pitchers in the entries below, so I'll deal with them all here. Here's the starting pitching paragraph. Jason Vargas pitched despite flu-like symptoms, explaining why he was pulled after only four innings. Vargas had a really tough second inning as Alex Rodriguez and Robinson Cano were both in scoring position with nobody out. Luckily the next two run-scoring plays were fly balls to the outfield, though Ichiro dropped the second one. Vargas got the next two hitters to end the second inning. In the fourth inning, Vargas allowed Cano to single his way aboard, then Matsui drove one out to make it a 6-4 lead for the Mariners. Vargas got through the inning and was replaced by Miguel Batista. Vargas gave up four runs on four hits, walking one and striking out two in four innings of work. He threw 41 strikes out of 65 pitches, got three groundouts to six flyouts, and faced 17 hitters to get 12 outs.
Now for the bullpen. Batista came out for the fifth as the pitcher of record and allowed only a two-out walk in the sixth in his two innings of work. Batista struck out one hitter, threw 11 strikes out of 22 pitches, got three groundouts to two flyouts, and faced seven hitters to get six outs (and it held up for the win). Mark Lowe then threw the seventh and eighth. Matsui doubled to lead off the seventh, but Lowe got the next three hitters out. He then sliced through Johnny Damon, Mark Teixeira, and Alex Rodriguez in order in the eighth. Lowe also struck out one hitter, threw 15 strikes out of 22 pitches, got one groundout to four flyouts, and faced seven hitters to get six outs. Branyan's ninth-inning homer made it a non-save situation, but David Aardsma was brought in, which basically invokes a seemigly karmic law where the closer has trouble in a non-save situation. Robinson Cano fouled off three pitches with two strikes before leading off with a single. Then Nick Swisher singled off Aardsma. Matsui ran an 0-2 count full and fouled off four pitches with two strikes until flying out, and then it got easier. Melky Cabrera then flew out and pinch-hitting Jorge Posada struck out to end the game.
1) Franklin Gutierrez
The man's on fire. He's on a five-game hitting streak in which he's gone 12-for-21 (.571) with two doubles and a homer (slugging .810). It's been quite the five games for Gutierrez at the plate, that's for sure. He's taken a fairly good .258 season batting average to .285 in just those five games. Obvious mathematics shows that he's above .250, which means if he goes 1-for-4, his batting average goes down that night. I never thought he'd get to that point this season. Gutierrez has hit safely in 13 of his last 15 games, going 23-for-59 (.390) with three doubles and five homers (slugging .695). Gutierrez has hit five of his eight homers this season in the last 15 games, and he pretty much killed that pitch off CC Sabathia. The random awesome defensive play of the day was when Gutierrez ran to the wall to get a fly ball off the bat of Rodriguez to end the eighth inning. I thought the thing was gone when it left the bat, but this was one of the few occurrences where the new Yankee Stadium held the ball in the yard.
2) Chris Woodward
The Mariners' stand-in third baseman went 2-for-3 on the night, He drove in Kenji Johjima from third with a fly ball in the second inning for the Mariners' third run, making it 3-0 at that point. With two runners on and one out in the fourth, Woodward singled to drive in Gutierrez, making it 4-2 for the Mariners. Woodward also had a base hit with one out in the eighth, but was gunned down trying to stretch it into a double. Luckily the Mariners were already up 6-4 at that point, but it would have been nice to have some runs in the eighth (though they definitely got the insurance in the ninth). Woodward has hit the field in seven games as a Mariner and I'd have to say he's been largely defensively sound except for that first game after Adrian Beltre left. He's gone 8-for-21 (.381) at the plate and walked twice, but hasn't yet collected an extra-base hit, though he came very close in this game to his first double. What's great is that so far, I haven't had to complain about yet another bat weighing down the bottom third of the lineup. When it's Rob Johnson and Ronny Cedeno back there, the Mariners are punting two lineup spots already. Don Wakamatsu got the solution half-right in this game by starting Johjima over Johnson.
3) Ryan Langerhans
Other than the groundout that led off the eighth inning, Langerhans was really tagging the ball. He went 2-for-4 with a double in the game, though he was caught stealing at one point. I'd have to say after one game that the dividends from trading away Mike Morse are paying off already. Though I'd have to say the Mariners need another shortstop or another third baseman at this point, I was very glad to see Jack Zduriencik finally cut bait with Morse and get something worthwhile for him. As people have said regarding the trade, if Morse can't crack the Major League roster for the Washington Nationals, he's not going to do it at all. What I remember about Morse in 2005 involves him coming up for a couple of weeks and hitting well, then Yuniesky Betancourt came along and blew him out of the water defensively. Betancourt's ascension not only pushed Morse out of the shortstop position, people may have forgotten that it pushed Adam Jones into the outfield. Think about that the next time any of you are out there playing a what-if game.
If you compare what the Mariners are paying Griffey and what they're paying Sweeney, they're definitely playing Griffey like someone who's making as much as he is, and Sweeney is playing comparatively less. He hit .308 in April, .182 in May, and .323 last month. The bad news is that if that pattern holds up, he'll have a crappy July. Since the 4-for-4 game against the Padres on June 25th, Sweeney has gone 0-for-10 in the two games he's played. Sweeney's hitting .252 on the season, which is respectable. I won't deny that I'm still uncomfortable when I watch the guy swing since he looks like he has the most uncomfortable swing. He can be a bat coming off the bench, sure, but it's a little bit harder to do now since you don't have Endy Chavez to pinch-run for him after he gets on base. Sure, you could have Josh Wilson do the pinch-running thing, and I guess there's whoever's not playing leftfield that day, but you don't get the same trusted speed that you did with Chavez. If only Sweeney could kind of run, it'd be nice. There's no way he beats out an infield grounder.
A Felix night and a knuckleballer in the same game? That sounds like must-see television to me.