Thursday, July 23, 2009


In the early going, this one looked pretty grim. The Tigers got hits on the first two pitches in the bottom of the first. Three broken-bat weak hits and a stolen base resulted in the Tigers scoring in the third inning, and they had run up Felix Hernandez's pitch count pretty high. Additionally, the Mariners didn't tally their first hit of the game until Ryan Langerhans singled in the fifth. In the early part of the game, I couldn't help but wonder if this team could be screwed for a week -- Felix might not get deep in the game, he might not stop the streak, and the bullpen would be screwed until he took his next turn in the rotation five days later. It turns out that after Langerhans' hit, the Mariners only collected one more hit on the night...but oh, what a hit it was.

The Mariners' seventh win in their last ten games has run their record to 50-44 after 94 games. This pace is four games worse than that of the 2007 team, but six games bebtter than 2006, nine better than 2005, 13 better than 2004, and 14 better than last year. Fifty wins at this point is also five worse than 2000, eight worse than 2002 and 2003, and 18 worse than 2001. As for the records of the other post-millennium Mariner teams at win number 50: 50-35 in 2000, 50-14 in 2001, 50-29 in 2002, 50-25 in 2003, 50-80 in 2004, 50-67 in 2005, 50-53 in 2006, 50-36 in 2007, and 50-82 last season.

Seattle hitting went an awful 2-for-29 on the night, walking five times and striking out three times. Since there were only two Mariner hits, and by two different people, obviously no Mariner collected multiple hits. The only extra-base hit was the winner, the home run by Russell Branyan. The team went 0-for-2 with runners in scoring position and stranded five runs in all. If I could give a fourth gameball, on this night I'd give it to Ryan Langerhans not just for getting the first Mariner hit of the game in the fifth inning, but also for drawing two walks on a night when baserunners for Seattle were at a premium since Armando Galarraga rendered the Mariners punchless. Langerhans drew a two-out walk in the second, broke up Galarraga's no-hitter with a one-out single in the fifth, drew yet another two-out walk in the seventh, and popped out foul with Wladimir Balentien on first and one out. Since I don't have the guy listed as a goat tonight, I've got to roast Jack Hannahan on the baserunning blunder that nearly cost the Mariners the game. Hannahan drew a leadoff walk and was moved to second on a ground ball by Ronny Cedeno (hitting streak snapped). Ichiro then rolled a ball to short, and Hannahan took off for third with the play right in front of him. Former awful Mariner Ramon Santiago threw to third and had Hannahan by a mile. It's known that Hannahan's a Don Wakamatsu guy, and I hope he gets straightened out for that play. If the Mariners lose this game, the Northwest is letting Hannahan have it.

Mariner pitching had what turned out to be a great night. Since two of the pitchers are mentioned below, that leaves Mark Lowe out of the bullpen for the eighth inning. With the Mariners just having leapfrogged the Tigers for the lead, Lowe came in and had to face Placido Polanco, Miguel Cabrera, and Clete Thomas, the 2-3-4 hitters in the Detroit lineup. He got flyouts from the first two and a swinging strikeout from the third. Lowe threw seven strikes on ten pitches in his 1-2-3 inning that very effectively bridged the starter Hernandez to the closer David Aardsma.

1) Felix Hernandez
Like I mentioned in the opening paragraph, I really feared the next week for the Mariners with the way it was going early in the game. Tuesday's game was just an avalanche of suck with Garrett Olson crapping the bed and Franklin Gutierrez crashing into the scorewall and having to leave that game. This game started out with Detroit singling on the second and third pitches of the first inning, then Ichiro dropped what looked to be a pretty easy catch in foul ground down the rightfield line. That's what Hernandez buckled down, striking out Miguel Cabrera and catching Clete Thomas looking. Felix had Marcus Thames 1-2 but walked him, then got Josh Anderson to fly out and end the inning. Disaster averted, and a 1-2-3 second inning followed. Then came the third inning, which had three broken-bat singles and a stolen base. The Polanco steal made me think in the back of my mind that maybe Felix should have been holding the runners on better (i.e., the Wakamatsu talk that turned his season around). Then Thomas singled on the next pitch (with two out) and it'd have been a shame if that was the difference in the game. In addition, Rob Johnson couldn't corral strike three to lead off the fourth inning, and Ryan Raburn was aboard as a result. Luckily by this point Felix was locked in, and Johnson even gunned down Raburn at second to help matters. Hernandez retired 11 of the last 12 hitters he faced. Not his best start, but the way he worked through the early adversity was incredible. He gave up one run on six hits, walking one and striking out eight in his seven innings of work. He got eight groundouts to five flyouts, throwing 75 strikes out of 112 pitches. He faced 28 hitters to get 21 outs.

2) Russell Branyan
The guy's had a pretty awful month of July. With more than a week to go, Branyan has struck out 26 times in July, and he could easily top his 31-strikeout May. Oddly, he hit .317 in May. My exact words after Hannahan was thrown out due to his boneheaded baserunning: "this one's over unless Branyan hits a home run right here." Branyan then proceeded to destroy the second pitch he saw from Bobby Seay, sending the baseball's tattered remains somewhere beyond the fence in rightcenter. I guess that's the scary thing with Branyan -- even when he's having a .174 month of July, when he does manage to get a hit, it could go for extra bases. Branyan has exactly 12 hits this month, with three of them being doubles and five of them being home runs. That's eight of his 12 hits in July that have gone for extra bases. The .317 month of May that Branyan had was unreal and it'd be stupid to expect that out of him, but if Branyan had do something more along the lines of his .265 month of June in the months of August and September, this team will be pretty well off.

3) David Aardsma
Someone's got to close it out. Who'd have thought that two soul-crushing blown saves by Brandon Morrow could lead to one of the Mariners' biggest success stories of the season? With the Mariners unable to take advantage of a one-out walk in the top half of the ninth, Aardsma only had one run's worth of cushion with which to work. He had the 4-5-6 hitters in the Detroit lineup coming to the plate. He got a harmless fly ball to center off the bat of Thames. Anderson took two pitches and came up empty swinging at the third. Inge came to the plate and Aardsma sneakily dropped in two splitters for strikes before simply blowing a fastball past him. The setup during the Inge at-bat was just beautiful. They've brought it up on the broadcasts, but it bears repeating -- Aardsma's only been the full-time closer of this team since mid-May (Brandon Morrow's two blown saves were May 13th and 14th), and he's still made good on 23 of 25 save opportunities. Aardsma threw nine strikes out of 11 pitches. Not to rub it in, but does anyone miss JJ Putz right now?

Ken Griffey Jr.
For all the seemingly innocuous walks he's drawn this year that somehow start rallies, the emeritus Mariner really wasn't working the count on this night, and it helped the unhittable Armando Galarraga get into the eighth inning. Griffey flew out on the second pitch to lead off the second, popped out to third on the first pitch to end the fourth, tagged a 1-2 pitch but lined out to right to lead off the seventh, and flew out to right on the second pitch to lead off the ninth. Griffey saw nine pitches in four at-bats in the game out of the cleanup spot. Jose Lopez saw only ten pitches one spot ahead of him, so Griffey wasn't alone in his lack of count work. By way of comparison, Balentien saw 19 pitches, Langerhans saw 20, and Ichiro saw 23 pitches on the night. When Griffey's throwing hitless nights out there, it makes me glad Mike Sweeney came back off the disabled list. It also makes me glad that the team designated Josh Wilson for assignment instead of moving Chris Shelton off the roster. By the way, Griffey hasn't homered since Canada Day, July 1st. He's in a 15-game homerless drought, his longest of the season.

Who's rooting for a two-hour, 15-minute complete-game shutout for Washburn? Aren't we all?

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