Friday, September 04, 2009


The Mariners once again scored early runs against Oakland and held on for the win, though this game got a little more nail-bitey than the one on Thursday night. The win was the Mariners' fourth straight, making this their first four-game winning streak since the six-game winning streak that catapulted them to a 7-2 record way back in April. Ryan Rowland-Smith increased his stock toward a rotation spot for next year, and he threw so well that the Mariners were able to give David Aardsma the night off in a save situation in the ninth. Also, I know I'm up here in the Northwest, but whose half-cooked idea was it to close the Oakland Bay Bridge on Labor Day Weekend? They couldn't have picked any of the other 45-plus weekends out of the year where maybe it wouldn't be busy? Is Greg Nickels the secret mayor of Oakland or something? Is he running Caltrans? Anyway, Mike Sweeney started against a righthanded starting pitcher because Ken Griffey Jr. had his knee act up during batting practice. I'm left wondering how many games Griffey will actually play for the rest of the season. We've got about four weeks left, and the Mariners have every Monday off, so maybe half the games? I don't know. In what was almost a that's-why-you-keep-watching-the-Mariners-even-though-they're-out-of-the-playoff-race moment, Franklin Gutierrez nearly came down with the ball on Nomar Garciaparra's home run that made the game way too close and cut the Mariners' lead to 4-3.

The Mariners' fourth straight win(!) and ninth in 12 games raised their record to 72-64 after 136 games and it takes them to their new high-water mark of the season at eight games over .500. Playing .500 ball for the rest of the way would make for an 85-win season for the Mariners. Their record at 136 games is two games worse than in 2007, but eight better than 2006, 14 better than 2005, 19 better than last year, and 21 better than 2004. Seventy-two wins is also two worse than 2000, seven worse than 2002 and 2003, and 25 worse than 2001. Records of other new-millennium Mariner teams when getting their 72nd win: 72-60 in 2000, 72-27 in 2001, 72-45 in 2002, 72-47 in 2003, 63-99 in 2004, 69-93 in 2005, 72-79 in 2006, 72-53 in 2007, and 61-101 last year.

Seattle hitting went 9-for-36 on the night, walking three times and striking out twice. They went 3-for-4 with runners in scoring position and stranded eight runners in all. The Mariners' two extra-base hits were Bill Hall's double and a home run by Jose Lopez. Multi-hit Mariners included Ichiro and Hall, both with two hits. Other Mariners getting aboard more than once included Mike Carp, who had a hit and a walk, and Kenji Johjima, who walked twice and hit a sacrifice fly in the eighth that drove in Hall to give the Mariners some breathing room and a 5-3 lead. This is when I realize that Johjima's actually played back-to-back nights. Johjima and Adrian Beltre were the only hitless Mariner starters on the night. Jack Wilson shook his offensive doldrums with a two-run single that opened the scoring in the second inning. Probably the most disturbing thing about the offense was that they had Clay Mortensen on the ropes in the second inning, but then the Mariner bats hit the skids for the next five innings. The only hits Mortensen allowed in those innings were a two-out Mike Sweeney single in the fifth and a leadoff single by Ichiro in the seventh. The other baserunners were a one-out Beltre hit-by-pitch and a two-out Johjima walk in the sixth. Luckily the bats finally woke up in the eighth, though it seemingly took Nomar Garciaparra's home run to do it. There's no way Mortensen should have been able to last past four innings, let alone get through seven.

As for the pitching, it was very good. The starting pitcher will be covered below. That leaves the man who threw the ninth, Mark Lowe. Lowe threw because David Aardsma had thrown in each of the last three games and the Mariners wanted to give him at least a day of rest. A good way to look at it might be that Aardsma could go the final two games of the series if need be, and Monday's an off day. Anyway, the Mariners set up Lowe very nicely, not just with Rowland-Smith's magnificentness, but also by putting up another insurance run in the ninth (Lopez home run). Lowe got the first two hitters out fairly quickly before Garciaparra chimed in with a single. Lowe got ahead 0-2 on Mark Ellis but the count went full. Luckily, Ellis flew out harmlessly to center to end the game. Lowe threw 12 of 17 pitches for strikes, got a groundout to two flyouts, and faced four hitters to get three outs. This was Lowe's second save of the season.

1) Ryan Rowland-Smith
I know this is September, and I know Oakland is a terrible team, but I continue to be impressed by the Aussie. This was his ninth start since coming back to the big club in late July. Out of the nine starts, I'd say one of them was awful (at Kansas City), one of them was bad (at Detroit), three were good, and four were great. This start was one of the great ones. Mike Blowers said on the television broadcast that he could see this guy really eating innings soon, and even mentioned the number 200. I don't know if I'd go that far, but then again, he's the closest thing this team has to an innings-eater not named Felix Hernandez right now. Right now I can't see him as better than a number-three starter, and I'm hoping necessity doesn't make him the number-two starter...unless he just turns into something that good. Otherwise, the Mariners could use a number-two starter for next year. That is, unless they want Chris Jakubauskas, Jason Vargas, Garrett Olson, Doug Fister, Ian Snell, Luke French, and Rowland-Smith to fight for the final four spots in the rotation. At least there definitely won't be a shortage of arms. Rowland-Smith cruised through most of the first three innings until Ryan Sweeney doubled and was doubled in an out later by Adam Kennedy to make it 4-1. He retired the next 11 hitters before Scott Hairston singled to lead off the seventh, but that was immediately followed by the Garciaparra homer that Gutierrez nearly robbed. Rowland-Smith then set down the final five hitters he faced. He got nine groundouts to 11 flyouts, threw 63 strikes out of 106 pitches, and faced 29 hitters to get 24 outs.

2) Bill Hall
The calendar flipped over a page to September, and now Hall's catching a bit of fire. His second straight 2-for-4 night makes him 5-for-12 in three games this month with two doubles, a home run, and three RBIs. In this game, he played leftfield, though I wonder if someday the Mariners might just get tired of having substandard offense behind the plate and just throw Hall back there for the hell of it. It'd be fun. In this game, he didn't drive in any runs, but crossed the plate twice himself. He started the two-out rally in the second inning with a double and ended up scoring the first of four Mariner runs in the inning. He also singled with one out in the eighth and was driven home by Johjima's sufficiently deep fly ball, making Hall the fifth Mariner run, an important insurance run that made it 5-3 in the eighth. It's nice to see Hall be able to play different positions and play them pretty well, but it's also nice to see the Mariners have a versatile guy that can put a charge into the ball. He seems to jump on pitches.

3) Ichiro
Ho hum, it's just another two hits for the Mariners' leadoff hitter. The hit in the second inning was actually kind of hilarious. Clayton Mortensen had walked two hitters in the inning, and Ichiro saw 2-0 and 3-1 counts in the at-bat. He fouled off the 2-0 pitch, and took the 3-1 pitch for a strike. The full-count pitch was way high and outside of the zone, but Ichiro spanked it into leftfield anyway to drive in Johjima. There's the old adage about the Caribbean players that "you can't walk off the island," but I'm beginning to think it applies with Ichiro, and with Honshu as the island. I sat there watching the at-bat, and I ended up saying, "that's the one he ends up hitting?" Ichiro works in mysterious ways, but who can argue with the results? Anyway, Ichiro is now at 191 hits on the year, four away from 2000 Major League hits and nine away from his ninth straight 200-hit season. I guess the question remains -- is this season the beginning of Ichiro not being able to play 155-plus games per season? Keep in mind Ichiro never played less than 157 games in a season on American shores until this season. The ridiculous thing is that he's still on pace to outhit all but three of his prior seasons with the Mariners despite missing over a dozen games this season.

Adrian Beltre
This is just one of those nights where it has to be somebody. Beltre's the only guy in the boxscore who went hitless and didn't draw a walk. He did get aboard once on the night, but that's because he was hit with a pitch. By comparison, Johjima went 0-for-1 with two walks, drove in a run, and scored once. That said, Beltre did have a nice defensive play on a hard grounder in the second inning. Beltre's not hitting so hot since coming back from Testiclegate, though this was only the fourth game. He is now 1-for-15 with a double and an RBI since coming back from the painful grounder. What will I miss about Beltre? I'll miss the anchoring of the right foot prior to every throw to first base. I'll miss the all-arm hard slinging throws to first base. Lastly, I'll miss the patented Beltre play -- the charging barehanded play on a bunt that ends with an off-balance throw. It's no secret that Beltre hasn't lived up to the contract he signed after the career year as a Dodger, but was there really any way he would? It was a career year, and Safeco Field is a much bigger field with heavier air. I still maintain that signing Beltre and Richie Sexson that winter were moves the Mariners had to make. The Mariners had just come off a 99-loss season but also were just two years departed from a 93-win season.

The Aussie threw in this game, but Saturday night will feature French. Somehow, this makes me hungry for the Arby's Chicken Cordon Bleu sandwich. There's no number on that combo, by the way...you totally have to ask for it by name.

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