Friday, July 10, 2009


This game had some dynamic. It definitely wasn't a laugher like two nights before, and it wasn't a complete late-inning letdown like the day before. It saw Felix Hernandez throw an absolute gem, but wondering if the offense was going to score any runs for him. It made you feel terrible when the ball got past Rob Johnson and the Rangers scored the first run of the game, and surely Felix couldn't pitch this well and lose, right? You'd like to think so, but Tommy Hunter was busy shutting down the Mariners through six innings. Then Ichiro doubled to lead off the eighth, so maybe a little hope. Russell Branyan could have put the Mariners ahead with one swing, but he grounded out to the pitcher. Jose Lopez, another power threat for the Mariners, flew out to right for the second out. Again, it looked bleak for the Mariners. Ken Griffey Jr. was green-lighted on 3-0 and whiffed, took a 3-1 strike, then fouled off a couple of pitches before working a walk. At this point, if you had $25 in the pool for the hero of the game to be Franklin Gutierrez, you cleaned it up. What was a dreary game suddenly turned into raucous celebration as Gutierrez connected on a CJ Wilson pitch and put it into the mass of inebriation over the centerfield wall.

The Mariners' first win this season against the Rangers lifted their record to 44-41 after 85 games. This record is five games worse than the 2007 pace, but two games better than 2006, seven better than 2005, 11 better than last year, and 12 better than 2004. Forty-four wins is also six games worse than 2000, ten worse than 2002 and 2003, and 18 worse than 2001.

Seattle hitters went a combined 6-for-28 in the game, walking four times and striking out five times. Ichiro doubled and Franklin Gutierrez homered (he absolutely did) for the Mariners' only extra-base hits. Gutierrez had two hits while Ichiro had three hits. The only other Mariner hit went to Rob Johnson. What was originally scored as a passed ball on Johnson was in the final boxscore as a Felix Hernandez wild pitch to let in the Rangers' only run of the game. The point being, Johnson's up with the big club because he handles the pitchers well, but I thought his defense was also part of that. The last couple times Felix has thrown, it seems Johnson has had more trouble than he should on pitches in the dirt. Anyway, the team went 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position (Gutierrez's home run being the one hit) and they stranded six runners in all. Simple math in the boxscore says that Russell Branyan, Jose Lopez, Ken Griffey Jr., Ryan Langerhans, Chris Woodward, and Ronny Cedeno combined to go 0-for-17 on the night, walking four times and striking out four times.

The Mariners' starting pitcher will be covered below. The only other pitcher was the man that got the save. David Aardsma threw a perfect ninth inning, slicing through the 1-2-3 hitters in the Texas lineup just one day after melting down against the Baltimore Orioles. I know closers and fielders who make errors say the same thing about this, that after they blow a save or miss a chance in the field, they want their next chance right away. Aardsma got right back up onto the horse. In a way, it was almost better he blew that game against the Orioles instead of a division rival. Sure, I would have liked the series win, but if this win against the Rangers means the Mariners have that much better of a chance to take three of four from the Rangers or, God forbid, sweep the Rangers, then I'm all for it. Aardsma threw four strikes (three fly balls in play) on six pitches in his one inning of work.

1) Felix Hernandez
The number-one gameball and the number-two gameball could almost be one and the same here. Felix Hernandez in this game did what Felix Hernandez does when he's on. Usually I'd see his two walks in the boxscore on a night like this and say he could have been a bit better (which is kinda true), but what I've been missing is that the dude has been throwing more innings per start anyway, so I'll cut him a bit of slack. It's too bad that what went in the books as a wild pitch (I'm saying passed ball, I don't care) is what ruined the shutout, but the team will still gladly take the eight innings and the win. Felix gave up one run on three hits, walking two and striking out seven. He threw 74 strikes (17 in play) out of 112 pitches, getting ten groundouts and six flyouts, a ratio which is vintage Felix. He faced 27 hitters to get 24 outs. I'm just glad Felix has realized more quickly than Freddy Garcia a few years ago that it's okay to use your sinking stuff to get groundouts, and it helps you get deeper into the games. Garcia spent a while trying to blow the ball past people before realizing his changeup was his best pitch.

2) Franklin Gutierrez
This kid has been absolutely unreal. The way he's going, I'm almost afraid for the All-Star break to come. I just have that typical Seattle sports fan cynicism that feels like he's going to hit .215 after the break because he'lll get thrown off by the break. I keep saying this, but I didn't expect this guy to do anything this quickly on offense, and I sure didn't expect to see him mature this quickly as a hitter in the span of three and a half months. He's really jumping on some pitches now. I don't look at him and think he has an outside shot at 20 homers this season, but some of the balls he's hit and how far they've gone might have me thinking otherwise. The CJ Wilson pitch he hit onto the landing was really teed up by Gutierrez. It was quite the emotional swing from a bleak game to a "is it gonna go?" feeling to doing some weird celebratory arm-shaking thing that I haven't done since the Canucks were in the playoffs a couple months ago. It also made Felx Hernandez go nuts in the dugout. On his 12-game hitting streak, Gutierrez is 23-for-48 (.479) with four doubles and three home runs (slugging .729). He's also hit safely in 20 of his last 22 games.

3) Ichiro
The Mariners' leadoff hitter had a six-game streak where he only got one hit per game, going 6-for-29 (.207), which is an Ichiro slump, sinking his batting average from .370 to a pedestrian .356. This was enough to make Ichiro mad, so he went 3-for-4 in this game with the double that led off the eighth and led to unbridled joy and celebration. This bumped his batting average up to .361, where it hasn't been since July 5th, where it was .362 after the Boston series. He's 11-for-37 (.297) in his current eight-game hitting streak with three doubles. Ichiro has never gone hitless in consecutive games this season. The closest he's come to a hitless slump was when he had an 0-for-4 night against the Tigers on April 18th, went 2-for-4 the next night against the Tigers, then went 0-for-4 after the off day in the first game against Tampa Bay on April 21st. He went hitless in two of three games. The guy's insane, and the bar is raised so high that he can still be on an eight-game hitting streak and not be awesome vintage Ichiro.

Jose Lopez
The Mariners' second baseman went 0-for-4. He grounded into a double play to end the first inning, popped out to short to end the third inning, popped out to first to end the fifth inning, and flew out to right for the second out of the eighth inning when he could have put the Mariners ahead with one swing of the bat. Lopez does this, though, over the course of the season. He'll have two or three games of awesome or two or three games of good, then sprinkle in an 0-for-3 or an 0-for-4. That's pretty much how it holds up in his game log. How much crap can I really give the guy when he had a vital home run the day before in a game the Mariners should have won? I'll go on to say that I hope the Mariners don't have to play the guy at third base, but I have a feeling that's what's going to happen. If it has to be a choice between Lopez playing third and Branyan playing third, I'm more afraid of Branyan's hitting mojo getting thrown off than I am of Lopez's hitting mojo getting shaken. Branyan playing third would allow a lot more versatility with the rest of the lineup and bench, though.

Hopefully Morrow is better against the Rangers in five or more innings tonight than he was in a couple of short appearances in mid-May.

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