Wednesday, September 02, 2009


Was it a pitchers' duel between new Angel Scott Kazmir and the Mariners' ace Felix Hernandez? It certainly played out that way on the scoresheet and in the boxscore, but I can't help but think of how much of the early-inning pitching dominance was due to the shadows generated by having a 3:40pm start time. Of course, shadows are the problem now, but if you remember when Safeco Field was in its infancy, the whole batters' eye thing wasn't sorted out, and some hitters were afraid they might get killed because the immense glare would be so bad they wouldn't be able to see a blazing fastball coming toward the head. Now, however, it's just the shadows that wreak havoc. I don't think the pitchers were completely in the shade until about the fourth or fifth inning. Ichiro struck out with Kazmir in the sun (third inning), but the remaining 57 feet to the plate was in the shade. As for how the game ended up, it's just ironic that the Mariners snapped an 18-inning scoring drought in the first inning of the middle game of the series, and now the Angels are taking a 16-inning scoreless drought into Kansas City. That's beautiful stuff. I think I officially hate the Angels as a Mariner fan just as much as I hate the Rams as a Seahawk fan. Too bad the Mariners can't dominate the Angels like the Seahawks dominate the Rams.

The Mariners' seventh win in 10 games raised their record to 70-64 after 134 games. This pace is three games worse than the 2007 pace, but is seven better than the 2006 pace, 13 better than the 2005 pace, and 19 better than the paces of 2004 and last year. Seventy wins is also two wins worse than 2000, seven worse than 2003, nine worse than 2002, and 26 worse than 2001. Records of other new-millennium Mariner teams at win number 70: 70-55 in 2000, 70-27 in 2001, 70-44 in 2002, 70-46 in 2003, 63-99 in 2004, 69-93 in 2005, 70-77 in 2006, 70-52 in 2007, and 61-101 last year.

Seattle hitting went 5-for-28 on the day, walking four times and striking out 11 times. The team was 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position and stranded six runners in all. They are now 1-for-16 with runners in scoring position over the past four games. The multi-hit Mariners on the day were Ichiro and Franklin Gutierrez, who turned in two hits apiece. Two of the five Mariner hits were doubles, hit by Bill Hall and Gutierrez. Scott Kazmir exacted the bulk of the strikeout barrage upon the Mariners, and the multi-strikeout Mariners were Mike Sweeney, Adrian Beltre, Hall, and Michael Saunders. The Mariners' futility in the first inning (i.e., bases loaded with nobody out followed by three strikeouts) led to the high left-on-base numbers for Sweeney (six), Beltre (four), and Hall (six).

Usually right here I do a little writeup on the pitchers that don't land themselves into the gameball entries. In this game, two Mariner pitchers threw, and I put both of them in the gameball entries. Beltre and Hall had the two Mariner RBIs, but that first inning really stuck out in my mind, so I didn't feel like throwing them in with the gameballs. Props to Hall for that throw from the seat of his pants, though, as well as stealing third base and scoring on the play. Damn, maybe he does deserve a gameball?

1) Felix Hernandez
I'd have to say his best start of the year was the two-hit complete-game shutout in San Diego on June 16th. My only problem with his line in this game was the three walks. Harping on walks -- it's what I do. Still, Felix threw eight innings of shutout ball, and that's many kinds of awesome. Believe it or not, Felix hadn't recorded an out in the eighth inning of a start since he went eight innings on July 17th in Cleveland. To his credit, he didn't suck crap from then to now, going seven innings in six of nine starts. I first heard this stat on Softy Mahler's KJR show, and I'll update it -- in his nine no-decisions, Felix has given up three earned runs or less all but once, and he gave up two or less earned runs in six of the nine starts. His season record is 14-5 right now and he could easily be pushing 20 wins on a team with even a slightly below-average offense. Unlike the May 19th start against the Angels that turned Felix's season on its ear, this time the running game was snuffed out immediately as Chone Figgisn legged out a ground ball and broke for second base two pitches later, only to be gunned down by a pretty good margin by Rob Johnson. Felix had issues in the third, starting with a Mike Napoli one-out single. One out later, he walked Figgins, then walked Bobby Abreu to load the bases before stepping it up to get Torii Hunter to go down swinging to end the threat. That was pretty much his diciest jam of the afternoon. He retired the next seven hitters before Figgins led off the sixth with a single, and that inning ended with Vladimir Guerrero flying out with Abreu on second. In the seventh, Kendry Morales singled to lead off and was pushed to third by two groundouts before Napoli grounded out to Beltre at third. In the eighth, Felix allowed only a two-out walk to Abreu before finishing off the inning. He gave up four hits in eight shutout innings, walking three and striking out six. He got 12 groundouts to five flyouts (vintage Felix), faced 30 hitters to get 24 outs, and threw 67 strikes out of 114 pitches.

2) Ichiro
Just another day and another two hits for Ichiro. It's almost like he was never hurt. Well, you think that until you see him run and discover that he isn't quite all the way there with his legs, but his legs were still a factor on one of the hits. In the eighth, with the Mariners ahead 2-0, Ichiro came to the plate with one out. He took the first pitch for a ball before taking two pitches that looked to be a bit off the plate outside, but both of those pitches were called for strikes. The next pitch was even further outside the zone, but Ichiro cut some bat on it and nubbed it toward the third-base side, where neither Brian Fuentes nor Chone Figgins could get to it quickly enough to make a play. Ichiro scored later that inning on Beltre's bases-loaded walk. Oddly, the ESPN.com play-by-play log doesn't jive with the MLB.com boxscore or the AP wire article. The article mentions an infield hit by Ichiro in the first, and the boxscore credits him with two hits, but ESPN's log says Morales was charged with an error that got Ichiro aboard. Whatever. That makes two hits that Ichiro legged out even though his calf isn't 100% yet. Impressive. Again, he's seven hits away from 2000 Major League hits and 12 hits away from his ninth straight 200-hit season.

3) David Aardsma
I was a little more anxious to give gameballs to the offensive stars of the middle game of this series, though much praise was due for Aardsma, who had to go through Abreu, Hunter, Guerrero, and Morales to get that save. The task wasn't quite as daunting this time as Aardsma had a three-run lead to work with and Guerrero and Morales were followed up by the mighty Maicer Izturis. All told, this was his first save opportunity since July 23rd where Aardsma didn't give up a hit or a walk. In other words, he had 11 straight save opportunities where someone either got a hit or got walked. He still nailed down the save in all but two of those appearances. Though a closer's awesomeness doesn't necessarily mean he throws a 1-2-3 inning every time out, you'd much rather have him do that instead of letting the leadoff hitter aboard every time and raising everyone's blood pressure. Aardsma has struck out 72 hitters this season and walked 32 hitters, which makes for a nice strikeout-to-walk ratio of 2.25:1. This is after walking 35 and striking out 49 last year with the Red Sox. I hope someone's making a highlight DVD of Aardsma's season and gives him a copy because he'll be very hard pressed to replicate a season this magical for himself. He's converted on 33 of 37 save chances, and the guy wasn't even officially the closer for the first month and a half of the season. Just ridiculous.

Adrian Beltre
Like I said, he's been a big part of why the Mariners have been able to get so many one-run wins this season. Unfortunately, if he blows a save, there's a good chance the Mariners are losing by one run, and that's exactly what happened in this game. He gave up a leadoff walk to Carlos Guillen to start the downward spiral. Raburn relented from his endless battering of the Mariners by popping out to Johjima. Cabrera was not so kind, drilling a double into the rightfield corner and pushing Guillen to third. Magglio Ordonez was intentionally walked to load the bases and put the double play in order. Inge got under a ball and flew out to center. Gutierrez made the catch in center and appeared to take an extra crow hop on his throw to the plate. That may have been the difference as the ball two-hopped Johjima and got to the plate a wee bit too late, and Guillen scored to make it 6-6. Then Thomas ripped a bal past a diving Branyan at first to end the game. The blown save was Aardsma's second in his last four outings and second in his last three save chances. I blame Major League Baseball's decision to remove the Spartan helmets from the bullpen.
For me, it's almost a given that one of the guys that failed with the bases loaded in the first inning was going to end up here. It's kind of tough since all three of the guys figured into the win somehow -- Sweeney scored from first on Hall's double, Hall hit the aforementioned double and made a nice fielding play while sitting down on the ground while playing second for the first time since 2007, and even Beltre drew a bases-loaded walk which gave the Mariners their third and final run. The Mariners loaded the bases with nobody out in the first inning. Sweeney worked a 10-pitch at-bat, but took strike three on the final pitch. Beltre then came up with one out, looked at strike one, missed on strike two, took a ball, and swung at strike three. The carnage ended with the coup de grace of Hall striking out to end the inning, leaving the Mariner offense wallowing in a pool of futility from which they wouldn't escape until the seventh inning. The same hitters who failed with the bases loaded in the first also were the only three hitters in the fourth inning, going away 1-2-3. Beltre was the second out of that inning, fouling off one pitch before missing on the next two. In the seventh, he flew out to center right after Sweeney led off with a four-pitch walk. Hall was the next hitter, and he doubled to open the scoring. Beltre took the bases-loaded walk the following inning. I had to take one of the guys from the first inning because I can only say the same stuff about Michael Saunders striking out a bunch and having no power so many times before I get tired of it.

Don't anyone out there hold your breath, but Snell is gunning for his fourth straight win, and he'll have to do it in Oakland.

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