Mariners Tidbit 19: Huge Early Turnaround

That was some kind of memorable series down in Oakland, as far as first-week series go.  Kick it off with the drubbing to end all drubbings – and yet another example of the Mariners being totally inept against left-handed starting pitchers – to drop our record to 1-3.  If you weren’t freaking out after Friday, then you’re better than I am.

On Saturday, we got a surprising quality start out of J.A. Happ.  Yet, going into the 8th, we were down 2-1 and staring into the hopeless pitch-black maw of our crushing reality.  Then, with two outs and two runners on, Nelson Cruz did what we all expected him to do:  jack a 3-run bomb to change the course of the game.  And to think, it almost didn’t happen, but for an error by the short stop to keep the inning going.

Of course, that lead would be promptly given up in the bottom of the inning, making it 4-4.  Some nifty bullpen work and defense (including the winning run getting thrown out at the plate in the bottom of the 10th) got us to the 11th, where LoMo scored on a Brad Miller double, with Rodney locking down the save.

You have to like the scrappiness of this Mariners team after Saturday’s comeback victory, but they were back to their old tricks on Sunday.  With Felix on the mound, of course the Mariners were no-hit through five innings.  Felix was dealing with some lower body issues that sapped some of his ability, resulting in three runs scored in the bottom of the fourth.  It appeared to be another one of those games where Felix gets nothing from his offense (against a pitcher I’d never heard of before yesterday).

But, don’t forget, these aren’t your slightly older brother’s Mariners!  These guys are here to play, and frankly, no lead by the other team should be necessarily considered safe.

The Mariners knocked Jesse Hahn out of the game in the 6th thanks to 3 hits, 2 walks, a sac fly, and a crucial 2-out error on the right fielder.  The Mariners ultimately managed to score 4 to take the lead and put Felix in line for the win.  Three more were tacked on the very next inning thanks to a pinch-hit Rickie Weeks bomb to dead center, and all looked very right with the world.

That is, until we got to Fernando Rodney with a 4-run lead in the bottom of the 9th.  Never send a closer into the game in a non-save situation unless ABSOLUTELY necessary.  That’s one of those adages you hate to hear and hate even worse to say – because what is a “save” but a useless stat that has no meaning in the real baseball world?  But, there’s one thing about baseball you can’t deny, nor can you explain away with all the stats in the world:  it’s primarily a mental game played by individuals who are all out on their own little islands.  For whatever reason, a closer just isn’t going to be as invested in a non-save situation.  That doesn’t mean he’s out there not trying, but I would argue the sense of urgency isn’t there.  We’re talking about a guy who’s used to going in with a 2- or 1-run lead most of the time; to him, a 4-run lead must feel like a million.  So, once things start steamrolling, it’s hard to find that sense of urgency again.  By the time the lead’s been cut in half, you’re essentially in a sinking lifeboat trying to bail out the water with your hands.

Plus, you know, the A’s just have one of those annoying offenses that will give a guy like Rodney fits.  Patient, able to lay off the balls, and secure enough to take what the pitcher gives them, even if it’s dinking and dunking singles and doubles to the opposite field.  They’re not out there trying to hit a home run with every swing, which is what teams tend to do when confronted with a deficit and the other team’s hard-throwing closer.

Anyway, yeah, Rodney gave up the lead, pushing us into extras.  Would I have given the ball to Rodney with a 4-run lead?  Probably not.  If it’s me, I’m either letting Furbush go out there and pitch until he gives up a baserunner (and, essentially, turns the game into a save situation), or I’m going straight to Medina.  Either way, I probably get Rodney up so he can come in if we need him, but I’d be okay with him warming up and never pitching if that’s the way it shook out.

But, I can see why he was used.  The rest of the bullpen has been severely over-worked in the first week (as is usually the case, with starters still trying to build up their arms).  Before yesterday, Rodney had only made two appearances this year.  To the point where he entered the game, he’d pitched the fewest innings on the team.  It makes SOME sense to try to spread out the burden.  But, at the same time, he’d just pitched on Saturday, and you’ve gotta figure there will be opportunities in the Dodgers series.  Now, who knows if he’s ready to go tonight?  If he does, he’s almost surely not available tomorrow.  So, putting him in the game yesterday probably does more harm than good (but, who can predict how the next series is going to turn out?).

Then again, we would’ve missed out on more Nelson Cruz magic, with his 2-out solo homer to put us ahead in the top of the 10th.  Medina locked down the save, so ultimately it all worked out.

I’ll say this:  the 2014 Mariners almost certainly would’ve lost Sunday’s game.  And, I would argue they’d also lose Saturday’s!  I’ll also say this:  if I’d written this post after the top of the fifth inning yesterday, this would be one long diatribe with no end to my bitching in sight.  What a difference some timely hitting makes!

We made it through the first week with a 3-3 record.  It’s not ideal, but guess what:  we’re officially tied for first in the A.L. West with the Houston Astros.  Yeah, can you believe it?  The Angels went and got swept by the Royals over the weekend, while our series win dropped Oakland to a game behind us in the loss column.  The first week could’ve been a helluva lot worse, and ultimately I still think there’s more to like about this team than the other way around.

Of course, there’s almost nothing to like about what we’re all forced to read on Twitter each and every game.  If it’s not fans bitching about every little thing, it’s the local sports media bitching about all the bitching.  But, I suppose that’s a topic for another day.

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