Saturday, April 10, 2010
This was one of those games where you wonder why you're even watching, but in the end, you got rewarded. I know after Nelson Cruz homered off of Felix Hernandez in the sixth to make it 3-1, I wasn't feeling too good about the game. Worse yet, the Mariners had two on and one out in the seventh, only to have Chone Figgins strike out on three pitches and Franklin Gutierrez fly out (on his otherwise massively awesome day). Thankfully, the baseball gods threw some mana the Mariners' way, paving the way for a 4-3 Mariner win and a free ticket for all Ranger fans to ride The Frank Francisco Experience. Now they'll long for the days when he threw folding chairs into the crowd.
-- The blown chances started early for the Mariner offense. The Mariners had runners on the corners in the first with one out and Jose Lopez at the plate. A wild pitch scored Chone Figgins and moved Gutierrez to second. Lopez singled to left, Mike Brumley didn't throw up the stop sign at third, and it had all the makings of a bad play once you saw Josh Hamilton come up with the ball in left. Gutierrez was gunned down at the plate, though the play turned out a lot closer than I thought it would. Instead of first and third with one out, it was a runner on second with two out. In a way, it was probably all a wash since Milton Bradley was on deck. In the second inning, a Rob Johnson double pushed Mike Sweeney to third with one out. As great as it is to have those two guys get aboard, it isn't exactly opportune to have Jack Wilson be the guy on deck. Unfortunately, he was that guy, and he flew out. Ichiro tapped back to the pitcher to end the inning. Wilson singled with two out in the fourth, and eight straight Mariners were retired until Wilson's turn came up and he again singled. Ichiro singled as well before Figgins and Gutierrez did their thing (opening paragraph).
-- For as high as we hold the Mariners' defensive play, there have been some weird plays here and there that end up hurting them. There was the fly ball at the wall in Oakland that Milton Bradley couldn't corral, though I'll cut some slack because there are fielders that probably don't manage to get all the way to the wall, and that wasn't the easiest play. In that same series, shortstop defensive whiz Jack Wilson booted a key double-play ball. Also, there was the play where Casey Kotchman blocked the ball and couldn't find it. Today, Chone Figgins threw wide of the plate with runners at second and third, plating both runners to give the Rangers a 2-1 lead. While I'm not sure a clean throw would have had the lead runner, it would have kept the other runner on third and preserved a tie. I'll have to admit the Mariners did catch a break when the first-base umpire called the neighborhood play when Kotchman's foot was definitely not tagging the bag on a play at first.
-- Felix threw a ball in the dirt in the first inning, and Josh Hamilton moved from first to second. While ultimately the play was inconsequential, I can't help but think that having Rob Johnson back there failing to block balls is going to hurt the Mariners more times than it should this year. If Johnson could block balls have a good as Dan Wilson did, I'd feel better with him out there. For now, the only reason I can see for Johnson to be playing is to be calling games for Felix and that's it. Frankly, I wish he could throw Adam Moore the signs from the dugout and Moore could catch Felix, but then that would make Johnson a waste of a roster spot.
-- The Mariners exploded for 12 hits on the day, one of them for extra bases (double by Johnson). This pushes the team to 44 hits in six games, and average of 7.3 hits a game. Four more runs brings the team total to 19, an average of 3.2 runs per game. This was only the second game this season where Ichiro and Figgins scored in the same game. The other game was on Opening Night, and both were wins. I don't think I'm going out on a limb when I say the Mariners will win a lot of games this year if both Ichiro and Figgins are scoring runs. Also from the offense: 4-for-11 with runners in scoring position? Preposterous! Three of those hits were strung together in the ninth inning to vault the Mariners into the lead. One very helpful contributor: Ken Griffey Jr. and his pinch-hit single to tie the game in the ninth. I thought Don Wakamatsu's decision to pull Chone Figgins and send Griffey to the plate was a curious one, just like I thought it was curious when Griffey apparently was in the on-deck circle for Wilson until Johnson got aboard with the walk.
-- Mark Lowe walked two hitters in the eighth, but didn't give up any hits. David Aardsma got the whiff from David Murphy, got the very long fly ball to centerfield off the bat of Elvis Andrus (big hand to Gutierrez), and grinded out a nine-pitch strikeout from Julio Borbon.
-- I'll mention Jack Wilson here because I don't have him in the gameballs. He was 2-for-3, proving himself to not be completely worthless at the plate. Though we always hype up how Ichiro and Figgins set the table for everyone else, the fact that Wilson hits right before Ichiro every time the lineup turns over is something that flies under the radar. We already know how well Ichiro hits, but if anyone's on when Ichiro's up, that's pure gravy. Wilson didn't score, but he did bunt the two runners over in the ninth before the mini-hit parade started.
1) Franklin Gutierrez
He was 3-for-5 with an RBI in this game. Probably the only negative thing I remember him doing was getting tagged out trying to score on a single to left, but I'll put that on third-base coach Mike Brumley for sending him. In addition to the three hits, Gutierrez ran a very long way to rob Andrus of at least a double in the ninth inning. Gutierrez is 10-for-23 on the season with two doubles and two RBIs on the season. After Friday's game, he had seven of the Mariners' 32 hits on the season, and now he has 10 of the Mariners' 44 hits of the season. I'm just enthused that pinballing back and forth from third to seventh in the lineup doesn't seem to be bothering Gutierrez at all at the plate.
2) Felix Hernandez
This guy should be 2-0 right now. How many times are we going to have to watch an inept offense cost Felix a win this year? If there's any solace, it can be taken in the fact that he didn't end up having to take a loss in this game. Solace can also be taken in the fact that he didn't come out of the game injured in the first inning. Who out there wasn't freaked out when they saw Felix landing funny and saw Rick Griffin coming out to the mound to see if he was fine? Felix threw 110 pitches (74 strikes) in his seven innings of work. He walked one and struck out five, which is a lot nicer in terms of walk-to-strikeout ratio than his first outing. More importantly, Felix gave most of the bullpen some rest. Going into Sunday's game, Shawn Kelley and Sean White will have had a day of rest, Jesus Colome and Kanekoa Texeira will have had two days of rest, and Brandon League will have had three days of rest. Lowe and Aardsma threw 20 pitches each, which probably doesn't preclude them from throwing in Sunday's game if need be. I'll again suggest that Felix was partially undone by Figgins' error.
It may have happened semi-quietly, but Ichiro has put together back-to-back multi-hit games. He is now 7-for-24 (.292) on the season with a double and an RBI. This amount of hits still only puts him on pace for 189 hits. Again, we're still only six games into the season. Still, Ichiro started the string of three straight clutch hits in the ninth that enabled the Mariners to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Going back to what I said yesterday, I guess you could say some of the Mariners' best players were their best players. Ichiro and Felix did their part, and depending on your expectations of him, you can put Gutierrez in that group as well. I'm still expecting more from Figgins, Bradley, and Kotchman.
I actually had a bit of hope after the first game of the season. Bradley went 0-for-2 but drew two walks and saw 30 pitches. That's a key to getting into the opposing bullpen. Surely there was something there with which to work. Through six games, he's 1-for-21 (.048) with four walks and nine strikeouts. The one hit was a home run, but .048 is what it is, and it's bad. After Bradley got into it with the fans in leftfield on Friday night, Wakamatsu put him right back out there. Frankly, I think the guy needs to ride pine for at least a game. Hitting .048 does not help a team win, and though I admire how much he wants to win, he's got a funny way of showing it so far in terms of results. All in all, he led the early parade of Mariners making Matt Harrison look like Walter Johnson out there. At least the Mariners ramped up Harrison's pitch count and eventually pushed him out of the game.
Snell. Feldman. Tomorrow.