Well, west of the Mississippi River, anyway.
It’s been a fantastic last three weeks, where the Mariners have played 19 games and have gone 14-5, which really puts that first homestand into perspective, where the Mariners started out losing their first five games. Here we are, a whopping 1.5 games up in the A.L. West, and things couldn’t possibly be better!
The ridiculousness of yesterday’s game is off the charts. For starters, I very much did call it, when I said a game featuring King Felix vs. Some No-Name would be a major disappointment for the good guys, because of course it would! Why wouldn’t it? The Mariners had just won a game with Iwakuma vs. the Athletics’ Ace, up is down, cats and dogs, and so on and so forth. Sure as shit, through four innings, Mr. No-Name was locking down our offense, and the A’s jumped out to what looked like an insurmountable two-run lead.
Then, in the top of the fifth, things started to get really interesting. After two quick outs, the Mariners got an infield single out of Aoki that jumpstarted everything. A double, a single, and a mammoth 2-run homer by Cruz to dead center field flipped the script and gave Felix a 4-2 lead. Considering he usually eats Athletics for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and Fourthmeal, I think we all thought this game was going right into the bag.
But, not so fast.
Felix was disturbingly off his game yesterday, in ways that didn’t include any walks whatsoever. But, some fielding blunders, combined with his propensity for throwing slow curveballs early in counts for strikes finally caught up to him, as the A’s bashed him around for 9 hits on the day, 8 runs, 4 earned, with 0 walks and only 1 strikeout. The bottom of the fifth was the crusher, as he couldn’t even get a single out, en route to gagging away our 4-2 lead. When it was all said and done, the A’s were up 8-4, and the last four innings seemed like a mere formality.
But, not so fast.
They don’t call Dae-ho Lee the Herculean Korean for nothing! (they don’t actually call him that, I don’t know why I put that out there). Someone who is fast becoming one of my all-time favorites, Lee mashed a homer to right center in the top of the sixth to get one back. The Mariners followed that up by manufacturing another run to bring the game back to within striking distance at 8-6. Then, the very next inning, we had another run pushed home to make it 8-7, with Seager standing at second base and Dae-ho Lee walking to the plate with two outs. With a mighty swing, Lee punished a ball out to left field to give the Mariners a 9-8 lead, and from there, it was hang-on time.
The bullpen, to their credit, did a masterful job. Nuno couldn’t help letting two of Felix’s runners get home when he relieved him in the bottom of the fifth. But, he didn’t add on to any of the damage out there. Mike Montgomery gave us two perfect innings to get the game to the usual suspects. Joel Peralta is going to be our 8th inning guy until Benoit comes back (whether we like it or not), and he managed a clean inning with two strikeouts. And, finally, Cishek worked around a walk to get his 8th save of the year. You don’t expect to need five innings out of your bullpen when Felix is on the mound, but you like to know it’s there just in case.
As for Felix, I just don’t know what to say. For whatever reason, it hasn’t clicked for him yet. Before, when he was predominantly throwing fastballs and changeups, he had some of his best seasons. I’ve always wondered about that curveball, though, as I’ve yet to really see a masterful pitcher who features a significant percentage of curveballs in his arsenal. When thrown for strikes, you hope to catch the hitter off-guard; the last thing you want to see is for them to swing at it, because they’re so hittable. When thrown out of the strikezone, they can be effective swing-and-miss pitches, but it seems like they’re easier to lay off of than a changeup (which looks like a fastball coming out of the hand, before falling off the cliff). All in all, I like a curveball as a change of pace pitch, something else for the hitter to keep in the back of his head, but if you throw it too much – which I feel like Felix has, to start the year – you can be burned pretty badly. Felix is a savvy guy, and I know he’s going to adjust, but I think that fire in him that we all love can sometimes get the better of him. He’s out there thinking he can throw anything, and no matter what he throws, he’s going to get the out. Well, hitters and scounting reports can be smart too. It’s the constant cat-and-mouse game that makes baseball one of the most difficult major sports to master. For now, we wait for Felix to get into that really good groove of a bunch of quality starts in a row.
As for the offense, what can you say? It’s been tremendous! Nine times this year out of 27 games, the Mariners have scored OVER five runs in a game. If they can somehow keep that pace up – 1/3 of their games scoring over five runs – my mind would officially be blown.
Pretty big 4-game series down in Houston starting tonight. We’re still catching them at their lull point. If we can find a way to take 3 out of 4 of these games, it’ll be a nice little head start for us the rest of the way. Especially since we don’t play the Astros again until the first week of July.