Sunday, October 04, 2009


So it ends. Felix Hernandez looked dialed in at times and slightly wild at others, but he got his 19th win nonetheless. His start wasn't drop-dead awesome, but in a way that enabled Don Wakamatsu to pull him in the top of the seventh and get a raucous standing ovation. Still, the moment everyone was waiting for was what could have been Ken Griffey Jr.'s final at-bat as a Major Leaguer. After he'd been robbed earlier in the game on a single past the pitcher's mound, Griffey tagged a pitch into the same spot, but came out roses this time, singling into centerfield. The crowd erupted, Wakamatsu lifted him for a pinch-runner (Michael Saunders), and the long ovation began. He hugged everyone in the dugout, came out for a curtain call, and was visibly emotional. It's a totally small beans comparison, but I remember the night I drove around after my final Legion game when I was 18, and I cried knowing it was the end of organized baseball for me. That's not the only reason I think Griffey's done, though -- I think it was hard enough for him to leave his family behind in Florida this season that I don't think he could possibly do it again.

The final win of the season and fifth in six tries raised the Mariners' record to 85-77 at the season's end. This record is three wins worse than the 2007 record, but seven better than that of 2006, 16 better than that of 2005, 22 better than that of 2004, and 24 better than that of last year. Eighty-five wins is also six worse than the 2000 record, eight worse than the 2002 and 2003 records, and 31 worse than the 2001 record. Records of other new-millennium Mariner teams when netting win number 85: 85-66 in 2000, 85-33 in 2001, 85-64 in 2002, 85-62 in 2003, 63-99 in 2004, 69-93 in 2005, 78-84 in 2006, 85-74 in 2007, and 61-101 last year.

Seattle hitting went 8-for-31 on the night, walking once and striking out eight times. They also went 3-for-8 with runners in scoring position and stranded five runners in all. Franklin Gutierrez had two hits and Josh Wilson had three hits as the only multi-hit Mariners. Gutierrez and Jose Lopez doubled to account for the entire Mariners' extra-base hit output. Only Josh Wilson and Rob Johnson out of the Mariner starters didn't strike out. Ichiro went 1-for-3 with a walk, meaning he got aboard twice. The Mariners' leadoff hitter finished with 225 hits on the season, a hit total surpassed only by Ichiro's 2001, 2004, and 2007 seasons. Ichiro finished with a .352 batting average. Supposing he would have gotten 64 at-bats over the 16 games he missed, and extrapolating his .352 average over those 64 at-bats, Ichiro could have ended up with around 22 more hits. Add that up to his actual total this year and you end up with 247 hits, a hit total which would have only been surpassed by his crazy record-breaking 2004 season. Also, the .352 average is better than every year other than Ichiro's 2004. What people may not have realized is that Ichiro slugged .465, his best mark yet in the Majors. I won't give Jose Lopez half a paragraph of space, but he finished with 25 home runs and 96 RBIs, which is still a very solid season, no matter how short of 100 RBIs it is.

Mariner pitching had a very good day. The starting pitcher will be covered below. Randy Messenger came into the game with two out in the seventh inning and the bases empty. Craig Gentry lined out to left, and the inning was over. Messenger threw two strikes out of four pitches, retiring the only hitter he faced. Despite having a one-run lead in the eighth, Don Wakamatsu decided to go to the well again and see if Miguel Batista could hold a one-run lead for the second straight game. To start the eighth, Batista promptly fell behind 2-0 on leadoff hitter Esteban German, but got him to pop out to short. Julio Borbon bunted himself aboard as Jose Lopez did a barehand charge (or he "died" on a do-or-die grounder) and came up empty. The threat was quickly put out when Borbon was gunned down at second base (I thought he was safe after I saw the replays) and Elvis Andrus lined out to Ichiro on the next pitch. Against the odds, Batista did okay. He gave up a hit in his scoreless inning, throwing seven strikes out of 10 pitches. After a night off, David Aardsma had good results. He got David Murphy to ground out. Hank Blalock saw an 0-2 count but it fell full before he grounded out to second. Ian Kinsler saw an 0-2 count break even, but Aardsma mowed him down with a fastball to end the game and the season. Incredibly, Aardsma notched 38 saves despite not becoming the Mariners' closer until mid-May.

1) Franklin Gutierrez
A 2-for-4 day capped off a great season for the Mariners' latest man to carry the torch of awesome Seattle centerfielding. He struck out on three pitches in the first inning before his day got better. In the third, with runners on the corners and one out, he lofted a fly ball to shallow right on which Craig Gentry had to dive to make the play, but the ball shorthopped into his glove, enabling Josh Wilson to score from third and for Ichiro to move to third. Anyway, that put the Mariners on the board and in the lead at 1-0. In the fifth, with runners on first and second with two out, Gutierrez drove a ball to rightcenter and bounced it over the fence for a double to score Josh Wilson and put the Mariners in the lead again at 2-1. In the seventh with a runner on second, Gutierrez flew out to end the inning. With that, Gutierrez ended the 2009 season hitting .283 with 18 home runs and 70 RBIs. While putting Russell Branyan in the number-two slot in the lineup was one of the master strokes of Don Wakamatsu's rookie season as a manager, I felt he went with it about two or three weeks longer than he should have. It became apparent to me who the real number-two hitter in the lineup should be. Gutierrez also finished with an on-base percentage of .339 and a slugging mark of .425.

2) Felix Hernandez
Naturally, I hope this won the guy the Cy Young Award. CC Sabathia got tagged in his final start, Zack Greinke lost his final start, and Felix didn't quite weave a masterpiece, but he was still very good. He allowed a two-out double to David Murphy in the first, but that didn't add up to trouble. Hernandez set down 10 straight hitters until Josh Wilson muffed an Ian Kinsler grounder to lead off the fifth inning. Chris Davis got aboard with an infield single to move Kinsler to second, Taylor Teagarden bunted the runners over, and a Gentry groundout to short (fielded cleanly this time) scored Kinsler to tie it at 1-1 before Hernandez got the final out. Hernandez had retired six straight hitters before walking Hank Blalock to start the seventh. Kinsler doubled him over to third, then Davis groudned out to score Blalock and move Kinsler to third, making it 4-2. A Teagarden groundout then scored Kinsler to empty the bases and chase Felix from the game. I thought there would be nothing to lose by leaving Hernandez in the game to finish out the seventh, but pulling him then and there would have gotten a well-deserved standing ovation from the crowd. That's what Wakamatsu did, and the ovation was what Felix got. Hernandez gave up three runs (two earned) on three hits, walking one and striking out six over 6 2/3 innings of work. He got nine groundouts and five flyouts, threw 72 strikes out of 107 pitches, and faced 25 hitters to get 20 outs.

3) Josh Wilson
The one strike against him was the error that led to the first run (unearned) with which Felix Hernandez was charged. I won't lie, there was another hard grounder that went off of him that was scored as a base hit, though I thought that was another error. That would have made the Hernandez line a lot more spectacular if he'd only given up two hits instead of three. Anyway, Josh Wilson went 3-for-3 on the final day of the season and scored two of the Mariners' four runs. In the third, he singled with one out and the bases empty, and later scored on a Gutierrez single to open the scoring at 1-0. In the fifth, he singled with one out and the bases empty and came around to score on the Gutierrez ground-rule double to put the Mariners back into the lead at 2-1. Lastly, he singled to lead off the seventh inning but the Mariners failed to add him as an insurance run, settling instead for a 4-3 lead. Luckily, that held up to the finish. The FSN broadcast remarked that maybe Josh Wilson and Rob Johnson have a future with this team, and to that I say this -- if those two guys are still on this team next year and they're everyday players, this team won't be improving on an 85-win season. Again, it's all speculation without knowing the plethora of things Jack Zduriencik could do to this roster.

Adrian Beltre
An 0-for-4 day wraps up his worst and most painful season as a big-leaguer. He finished hitting .265 with eight home runs and 44 RBIs with an on-base percentage of .304 and a slugging mark of .379. He played in 111 games as a Mariner this season, though it almost seems like he was out way longer. He definitely suffered injuries that would have felled lesser players into playing way less than 111 games. The .265 batting average and the .304 on-base mark are still better than his 2005 numbers (.255 and .303), which I guess reminds us of just how bad that 2005 season was. Of course, Red will be bummed, but we'll all miss the charging barehand play on the swinging bunts down the third-base line. I guess if there's anything for which the other 24 guys in the clubhouse will remember him, it's that he played a couple days longer than expected before he went in to have the bone chips removed from his left shoulder, and also that he finished out an extra-inning game after taking a baseball to the testicle. I really wish it could have worked out here for Beltre and I wish he didn't have to be on three of the four crappiest Mariner teams of the new millennium.

So it ends. Maybe these pieces will return in April. Maybe not. I have no clue, but if anyone read these, I hope you found a modicum of enjoyment.

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Thanks to a good start by a certain Australian guy (not Austrian...Jim Carrey might say "G'day, mate!" to an Austrian), the Mariners were able to even up the series heading into the final game with Felix Hernandez on the mound. The Mariners tallied single runs in the fourth and fifth innings and held on for the 2-1 win. They were completely awful with runners in scoring position, stranded too many runners, and Don Wakamatsu decided not to go with David Aardsma in the ninth inning because he'd already worked in the previous two games. With Mark Lowe having been a bit shaky lately, who Wakamatsu chose to close was a surprise unto itself. I know if I was sitting there watching the game, I'd probably have been dumbfounded, but after it was all over, I'd probably be laughing with glee wondering how the Mariners just got away with it. It's a one-game lightning-in-a-bottle, I guess. Or as Spider-Man says when he appears on Family Guy, everybody gets one.

The Mariners' fourth win in five games pushed their record to 84-77 after 161 games. This pace is three wins worse than 2007, but seven wins better than 2006, 15 better than 2005, 21 better than 2004, and 24 better than last year. Eighty-four wins is also six worse than 2000, eight worse than 2003, nine worse than 2002, and 32 worse than 2001. Records of other new-millennium Mariner teams when getting the 84th win: 84-66 in 2000, 84-33 in 2001, 84-58 in 2002, 84-62 in 2003, 63-99 in 2004, 69-93 in 2005, 78-84 in 2006, 84-74 in 2007, and 61-101 last year.

Seattle hitting went a combined 10-for-33 in the game, walking twice and striking out six times. They also went an awful 2-for-17 with runners in scoring position and stranded 10 runners in all. Josh Wilson had two hits and Ichiro had three hits as the only multi-hit Mariners. Ken Griffey Jr. went 1-for-3 with a walk, so he got aboard twice. Adrian Beltre, Josh Wilson, and Jose Lopez all doubled, and Griffey homered to round out the Mariners' extra-base hit output. Griffey's homer was the 630th of his career. If he came back next year and somehow hit 31 homers to pass Willie Mays, I would probably soil myself.
Griffey has 19 homers on the season with 57 RBIs as a part-time designated hitter. Also, Franklin Gutierrez drove in his 68th run of the season to go with 18 home runs, a .282 batting average, and incredible all-galaxy defense.

Mariner pitching had a great night, as one might expect if they gave up only one run. The starting pitcher will be covered below. The bullpen finished it out with 2 1/3 scoreless innings. Shawn Kelley entered the game with a runner on third and two out in the seventh inning. Kelley promptly walked Ian Kinsler, but then got Michael Young to fly out on the first pitch. Kelley threw two strikes out of six pitches. Garrett Olson gave up a one-out single to Marlon Byrd, but got Chris Davis to line into a double play to end the inning. Olson gave up a hit and didn't strike out or walk anyone. He threw six strikes out of nine pitches, got a groundout and a flyout, and faced three hitters to get three outs. The closer will be covered below.

1) Ichiro
Make it three more hits for the Mariners' leadoff hitter, making it 224 on the season. Of his nine seasons in the Major Leagues, only three have surpassed 224 hits. Again, Ichiro has done this despite missing 16 games this season. Ichiro is a .352 hitter going into the final day of the season, and if that holds up, it'll be his second-best season in terms of batting average, with only 2004 being better. I'm really wishing he could have had 16 extra games. One of Ichiro's streaks that will get broken, however, is the streak of seasons where he's scored 100 runs or more. He'll need to score 13 runs in the final game to keep that streak alive, so basically, that streak is broken. It's amazing to think that since the Gillick era ended, this year's team was the second-best team Ichiro's been on, yet it's with this year's team that Ichiro sees the run-scoring streak broken. It's just nuts knowing that this ballclub has managed to win 84 games despite having such an anemic offense. As we all know, the runs-scored stat says even more about the team than it does Ichiro.

2) Ryan Rowland-Smith
The Aussie made 15 starts at the big-league level this year with 14 coming after his most recent call-up, a week before the trading deadline. He completed at least seven innings in eight of his starts this season. Only his first start back in April and his first start in the month of August saw him not finish at least five innings. Rowland-Smith averaged 6 1/3 innings per start, though if you throw out the anomalous start in April, he averaged 6 2/3 innings per start. Overall, Rowland-Smith's average game saw 2.87 runs (2.67 earned), 5.8 hits, 1.8 walks, 3.5 strikeouts, 6.9 groundouts, 8.8 flyouts, and 100.1 pitches (64.3 strikes). I didn't expect much out of the Aussie when they recalled him in July, but he's been a pleasant surprise. Unfortunately for the Mariners, I think slotting him as a number-two starter behind Felix Hernandez next year is asking way too much from him because I think he's a number-three starter at best. Again, this is where Jack Zduriencik comes in and gets something unexpectedly awesome off the trade market or waiver wire that turns out awesomely. Rowland-Smith in this particular start gave up a run on six hits, walking two and striking out four in 6 2/3 innings. He got eight groundouts and eight flyouts, threw 64 strikes out of 104 pitches, and faced 27 hitters to get 20 outs.

3) Miguel Batista
Why is this guy getting the number-three gameball when Josh Wilson got two hits and probably had his last good game as a Mariner? Well, who the hell holds a 2-1 lead going into the ninth inning and brings in Batista to close it out? On this night, apparently Don Wakamatsu was that guy. Very unexpectedly, what we then saw out of Batista was a 1-2-3 inning. He sandwiched an Elvis Andrus groundout between two swinging strikeouts (Andruw Jones and Taylor Teagarden) to end the game. Since his Roberto Clemente award nomination and this game are probably his only shining moments of the year (okay, maybe I'll give you that murder novel he wrote and released), I'd be remiss not to at least give him the number-three gameball on his way out the door. I'm not sure if the obvious answer to the question is "winning," but why weren't there many engaging personalities with the Mariners after the Gillick era ended? It's like there's no connection like we had with the guys like we did with Edgar Martinez, Ken Griffey Jr., Jay Buhner, Dan Wilson, Jamie Moyer, Randy Johnson, etc. When I know Miguel Batista's going to go, I'm like, "meh," like 90% of the Mariners' existence from 2004 to the present day has been completely faceless.

Kenji Johjima
It's probably not the worst day Johjima ever had as a Mariner, but it wasn't one of the best. He went 0-for-4, has a number five next to his name in the LOB column, and stranded three runners in the game with two out. What's the anatomy of a day of suck for Johjima? He was caught looking with the bases empty and one out in the second. He grounded out for the first out in the fourth inning, moving Beltre from second to third. He flew out on the second pitch with the bases loaded to end the fifth inning. Lastly, he popped out to the shortstop to end the seventh inning with Jose Lopez still standing on second after a leadoff double. It's a really good thing the Mariners won this game, because that 2-for-17 stat with runners in scoring position is a really damning stat, though the 10 runners stranded is a damning stat as well. Come to think of it, how does your team still win despite posting numbers like that? Thank goodness for the pitching in this game. The Aussie and three guys out of the bullpen won this game for the Mariners.

One final 2009 kick at the can for Felix.

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