After a few games that some interpreted as a harbinger of a new era of Mariners offensive production, Game 4 (or 6, if you hold a more official perspective) was a splash of cold water. I think we can all agree that this felt much more like the past than our hopes for the future.
Itís easy to forget, since it seems like the Mariners have lost the last three seasons by 1-0 scores, but games like these are pretty rare. It turns out, for instance, that the Rangers have only won six games by a 1-0 score in their storied history (which still doesnít include a championship!). I suspect the Mariners tally of 0-1 losses is somewhat larger.
Considering our mediocre hitting and pitcher and their vaunted hitting and pitcher, I think itís fair to say that the Rangers ďoneĒ is somewhat more surprising than Seattleís ďzero.Ē I still canít completely explain how it happened, but Blake Beavan managed to give up just 1 run and 6 hits over 6.1 innings. From a certain perspective, this isnít completely surprising, since Beavan has done well against his former team, including an 8 IP shutout in September. From another perspective, itís tough to explain how Beavan's managed to do so well. Beavanís command is good, not great, and Iím not even close to willing to dig out the Lee or Fister crown. If Beavan has a change up, it's so uninspired that its existence has barely occurred to me. His curveball was better than I remembered, but it doesnít explain how he got induced 5 swinging strikes on his fastball in the second inning. Maybe heís ďdeceptiveĒ or benefits from his height, but I think he was just relatively lucky to induce such weak contact against a team that seemed to have 3:2 FB/HR ratio last night.
Beavanís performance was even more remarkable given the lackluster defensive support. Thanks to some luck with RISP, most of these miscues, including a pretty embarrassing relay involving Saunders and Ackley, didnít result in any Ranger runs. However, Olivo is probably responsible for the only and losing run, since he ought to have blocked a Beavan wild pitch that allowed Michael Young to advance to third. Young ultimately scored on an infield hit Ė and he certainly wouldnít have made it home without advancing on that wild pitch. I know that Jaso is supposedly pretty bad at defense, but Iím tired enough of Olivoís defense (and offense!) that Iíd like to see Jaso for myself. At worst, it might make Olivo marginally more tolerable, right?
While I still can't get my head around Beavan, no head scratching was needed when watching Feliz. Well, thatís not true. Iím sure that plenty of Mariners were left scratching their heads, but I didnít read anyone on twitter struggling to explain what was happening. In his first major league start, he easily maintained mid-90s velocity, and even added an impressive change-up that I didnít really remember seeing last year. Thatís not to say he was totally and completely dominant. For instance, the Mariners had four hits! Thatís infinitely more than the Mariners amassed in their first 48 at bats against Feliz. Actually, Feliz actually ran up the tally to 56 by the time Smoak knocked a hit Ė the equivalent of more than two no-hitters. Baby steps?
If the Mariners are only going to get four hits, I'm glad they went to Montero and Smoak, who have been the two slowest starting players relative to expectations. None of their four hits went for extra bases, but considering that the rest of the line up didnít get any hits at all, Iíll take what I can get. I thought Smoakís performance was particularly heartening, mainly because Iím still worried about his prospects going forward (if/when Monteroís career batting average drops beneath 250, Iíll vaguely entertain complains about his performanceÖ itís still over 300) and because I thought he genuinely showed signs of progress compared to last year. In his first successful at bat, Smoak fell behind 0-2 and then fouled off a fastball away that might have struck him out last year. Then, he laid off two low breaking balls that probably would have struck him out last year. Finally, he laced a fastball high and away for a single. Again, I donít remember Smoak hitting too many high and away 94mph fastballs. His second at-bat flashed similar qualities: hitting a tough pitch, staying off of low-breaking balls.
In a game largely devoid of offense, perhaps the most interesting saga surrounded Mike Napoli, who, in the seventh inning, hit a ground ball to third base which was subsequently ruled a foul ball off of his foot. Napoli didnít contest the ruling and didnít even run toward first, which may have been purposeful and relevant in precipitating the call. Instant replay confirmed that the ball wasn't hit off of Napoliís foot, which seemed to be the strongly held suspicion of Eric Wedge, who burned a few calories arguing with the umpire. Just two pitches later, Beavan beamed Napoli squarely in the head, right off of the side of the helmet covering the ear. The decision to pitch at Napoli was almost certainly intentional, especially considering that first base was open after a David Murphy double. Maybe most surprisingly, Napoli remained in the game.
Iím sure that someone is upset that Beavan hit Napoli in the head, but Napoli clearly earned it and, lets not kid ourselves, should have gotten out of the way. Itís not like Beavan has a 95mph fastball. On that same basis, I can't imagine Blake Beavan, with his 90mph fastball, seriously believing that if he could hit Napoli's head without Napoli getting out of the way. The bottom line: if Napoli was willing to ...whatever is just short of "cheat"... to get on base, then he should be content with a fastball to the head. Mission accomplished.