Seattle Mariners posts
Wednesday July 27, 2022
Mariners Beat the Heat, Rangers
For the first time in a long time, I showed up at the park early just to hang out.
At first I thought the magic was back. And then I thought, OK, maybe not. Then it was. Or was it? Umps? Guys? Pause... Pause...
That was the roller-coaster ride at last night's Mariners game, played in the 90-degree heat against Texas.
Reminder: Before the All-Star break, the Mariners, my Seattle Mariners, the only franchise in baseball without a pennant and the professional sports team that has the longest active postseason drought (21 years of fun), had been on a roll, winning 14 in a row and 22 of 25. We'd swept Toronto, we'd swept San Diego. We couldn't be contained.
And then our young, fun superstar, Julio Rodriguez, center field, #44, showed up on the national stage for the Homerun Derby and blew everyone away. He didn't win—he lost in the final round to Juan Soto—but he hit more homeruns than anyone; and he lit up the stage. Everyone was like, “Who's this guy? And where can we get some of that.”
And when we returned from the All-Star break, for a weekend series against the Houston Astros, we didn't have any of that. Julio was out. Wrist soreness. From the game last Sunday and probably exacerbated by all those HR swings. And we got swept by the 'Stros: 5-2, 3-1, 8-5.
On Monday, Texas rolled into town and we eked out a victory against them. But no sign of Julio.
Until last night when my friend Jeff and I went to the game. Julio was leading off.
I expected not much. There's talk that the Homerun Derby ruins guys for the second half, it messes with their swing, and besides he'd just missed four games. Well, really, almost 7-8 games. He played a week ago Sunday, did the HR Derby Monday, played a few innings on Tuesday's All-Star Game, and that was it until last night. He'd been out a week. So I assumed rusty.
And in that first at-bat in the bottom of the 1st, he looked rusty. Texas pitcher Dane Dunning got two quick strikes on him, and Julio just seemed off. He worked the count to 2-2, fouled off a pitch, and then rocketed a linedrive homerun into the left-field seats. The magic was back.
The rest of the inning was near magic. With two outs, we drew two walks, the Texas mucky-mucks closed in around Dunning, probably telling him to challenge us, and the Mariners rose to the challenge. Kyle Lewis, our frequently injured 2020 Rookie of the Year, also finally back in the lineup, rocketed a single to left for a run. Then team leader J.P. Crawford rocketed a single to right, but he rocketed it too much and Jesse Winker couldn't score from second. And we left the bases loaded. But we were up 2-0.
And that's how it stayed for six innings. And some part of me kept thinking, “We really should've scored more in the 1st when we had the chance.”
In the 8th it was 3-1, and the game kind of seemed over. We had Paul Sewald on the mound, our kinda closer, who got two quick outs. Then he walked two guys. “Sewald never does good when I'm here,” I warned Jeff. Which is when Adolis Garcia dribbled a ball just inside the bag at 1st and down the right-field line for a WTF 2-run double.
And they weren't done. In the top of the 9th, iit went single, sac, single, and they had the lead. And it felt like the magic had left the room.
Until J.P. Crawford led off the bottom of the 9th with a single, and catcher Cal Raleigh followed with a double in the center-right gap, and J.P., our man J.P., tore around the bases and scored. Then it was our turn to sacrifice. Which brought up Julio again.
“It began with him and maybe it'll end with him,” I said.
Nope. They intentionally walked him. Him and Ty France. “They're walking all of our All-Stars,” I said. That brought up Carlos “Not that Carlos Santana” Santana, who, in a month with the team, has come up with a lot of big hits, and who could hit a deep fly ball in his sleep.
But why did we still have Cal Raleigh at third? That's what I wondered. Didn't we have anyone on the bench faster than our catcher?
“We used our pinch runner in the 8th,” Jeff said.
Yes, in the 8th, after a two-out walk to Winker, we'd brought in Sam Haggerty to pinchrun and Abraham Toro to pinchhit. “Our pinchrunner is hitting 100+ points higher than our pinchhitter,” I said. “That make any sense to you?”
“Maybe it's a lefty-righty thing,” Jeff said.
And now the speed of Cal Raleigh was putting the game on the line.
“If he hits a sac fly,” I said, “I hope it's deep.”
It wasn't. It was midrange, center field. Raleigh began chugging home ... the throw came in ... SAFE! Excitement. Jubilation. Full-throated cries from the people around ... Wait, what was this? ... Why were the Mariners pausing in their celebration? Why were the Rangers not exiting stage right? Why were the umpires conferring? Was there a challenge? Whose? The Rangers were out of challenges.
But there was a challenge. Did someone say Raleigh left early? Did someone say he didn't touch the plate? Or that the throw beat him? Whatever it was, it went for naught. Play stood, Mariners won, and Julio picked up Santana in celebration. I'll take it. I'll take delayed magic rather than none. I suppose Raleigh chugging home was part of the magic. With Haggerty, we wouldn't have been in doubt. With Cal, we had nothing but doubt. It shouldn't have happened but it did. That's what magic is.
I found this interesting: One of the lead stories on ESPN.com is about the game. Except not really. This was the hed: Julio Rodriguez back in Seattle Mariners' lineup, homers in first at-bat. It's been a while since any Seattle Mariner created headlines like that.
Sunday July 10, 2022
The Revenge of St. Felix
On Friday night a friend texted me her great view at the Mariners game against the visiting Toronto Blue Jays. The next morning we had the following conversation:
- Nice! And looks like you saw a good game. Or a long one anyway.
- All the games I go to seem to be extra innings these days.
- What was the % of Blue Jays fans to Ms fans? And how annoying was that?
- It was about 70% Blue Jays fans. We passed a pile of 9 stuffed tour busses on the way out! But they’re polite drunks anyway. I’ll take them, happily.
- I don’t go to Mariners-Blue Jays games for that reason. I just find it embarrassing they do that in our park. This was the last time I went. (Link)
- I love fans that will drive 1300 km for a game! You can’t argue with their determination to go to a ball game!
- Aww, just read this… you are a certifiable curmudgeon! 🤣
- Curmudgeon is my default. When all those BJ fans come to town, I become certifiably psychotic.
Indeed, that game in Sept. 2016 is the last time I went to a Mariners-BJs game at our park. I hate them turning it into their park. Drives me nuts. Can't deal.
But this weekend did much to wipe that shame away, with the M's winning 8-3, 5-2 (11), 2-1 and 6-5 for THE SWEEP. Recent pickup Carlos Santana struck the big blow Sat. night and the two big blows Sun. afternoon for the wins. To be honest, I didn't get trading for him on June 27. I looked at his recent numbers and went “Why?” I hope to keep being wrong.
I hope to keep being wrong about the Mariners. At the beginning of the season, my friend Tim over at GrandSalami.com asked a bunch of us to make predictions for the season, and I was the only one who didn't put the M's in the playoffs. Everyone else had them winning 90+ while I figured 84-79 seemed about right. A month ago, that looked horribly optimistic. Right now, after a 16-3 run, the best record in baseball during that time, I seem gloriously wrong. Please let me keep being gloriously wrong.
Over the weekend, including to my above friend, I texted or tweeted that 2016 gif of Felix Hernandez shutting down the BJs in the 2016 getaway game—two days after my horrific experience—and telling the polite, assembled Canadian crowd, “This is MY house!” and I loved him forever for it. But they kept coming. This weekend, despite their presence, it was our house.
Thursday June 30, 2022
M's Beat O's in Fun Fashion, and How OBP Can Be Lower than BA
Yesterday I saw my first in-person M's win of the season (I was 0-3), and it was pretty definitive, 9-3 over Baltimore. All the damage was done in two innings.
In the second, off starter Austin Voth, whose name sounds like something out of “Star Wars”—some mix of Hoth, Darth Vader, and the western themes of “Boba Fett”—we got a one-out double from Abraham Toro, and then relied upon pee-wee baseball from the opposition: E-5, E-5, and the O's catcher hoping J.P. Crawford's dribbler would go foul. Add a sac fly and we're up 3-0.
Two innings later, it's 3-1, and the O's sub out Voth for another V pitcher, Vespi, Nick, a 25-year-old rookie who sported a nifty 0.79 ERA and a similar 0.794 WHIP in 11.1 innings. So I guess he was due because the M's made it seem like he was throwing batting practice: double, single, double, SF, HR, single, double, and that was all she wrote for Vespi. In came Bryan Baker, who promptly threw a wild pitch plating another run. Then a walk and another sac fly made it 9-1. Toro, who began the inning with his second double, finally ended it with a pop-up to second. It was a fun inning. The homer, by the way, was from rookie Julio Rodriguez and it was a jaw-dropper: upper deck, left field, and not just down the line, either. It was halfway to center. The kid's fun.
This team is fun. M's are still, whatever, five, six games below .500, with seemingly no shot at the postseason, but I actually look forward to seeing players now. You have a choice as to favorites. Hell, they're having fun with the music at the park. The walkup music for journeyman Sam Haggerty (28 years old, .580 OPS) is the theme from “The Godfather,” they riffed on Paul Simon's “Me & Julio” for our rookie star, while we got a nice mix of Seattle icons: a couple of Hendrix songs, a mashup of Nirvana's “Smells Like Team Spirit.” More Seattle, please. And less John Fogerty. They played his '80s hit “Centerfield,” whose opening riff always make me think we're about to get “La Bamba.” (Did the Ritchie Valens estate ever sue?) Just play “La Bamba.” Go to the source.
By the way: those E-5s in the 2nd inning? That was O's third baseman Jonathan Arauz, a recent waiver pickup from Boston, who, for the season, sported the statistical oddity of having an OBP lower than his batting average. I'd forgotten how that was possible until I looked it up online. It's the sac flies. They don't count toward BA but do toward OBP. Add in zero walks in 24 plate appearances and you get that anomaly. Sadly, for him, none of his numbers were any good. At the start of the game, his line was .136/.130/.273, and then he went 0-4 with two errors. Ouch.
Thursday June 16, 2022
0-5 for Buxton, 5-0 for the Twins
I went to the Mariners game yesterday, a Wednesday afternoon getaway game against the Minnesota Twins, expecting not to see Byron Buxton.
You see, whenever I've gone to Twins games in the last few years—in Seattle when they're playing the Mariners, or in Minnesota, which I visit often—no Buxton. He's injured or resting or something. They've been resting him a lot this season, too, hoping he doesn't get injured again, and DHing him even though he's one of the best defensive center-fielders in the game, so I expected more of that. He'd played Monday and Tuesday, Wednesday was a getaway day, so I assumed no Buxton. If I'd checked I would've seen he actually played the entire previous series against the Rays, and the series before that against the Yankees. The last game he'd sat out was Sunday, June 5, against Toronto, which is an eternity in Buxtonville, an unbreakable Lou Gehrig-like string of consecutive games played. The point is I'd been chasing Buxton, one of the most exciting players in the game, for years, and never caught him.
Yesterday I finally caught him. Not only was he in the lineup, but he was leading off and playing center field. I felt like I'd been handed a gift.
And then he went 0-5: groundout, strikeout, groundout, strikeout, groundout. He did make a nice catch in center field early in the game, but he was one of only two Twins who went hitless. I was bummed.
“Are you rooting for the Twins?” my friend Hal asked early on.
He knew I was from Minnesota. And it made me wonder: Am I rooting for the Twins?
“Well, the Twins have a better shot at the postseason,” I said. “They're leading the AL Central, while we're near the bottom of the AL West.” Pause. “I guess I'm rooting for Buxton.” Another pause. “Also Luis Arraez, this kid from Venezuela who's leading the league in hitting. He's kind of a throwback. Hits singles everywhere. I don't get why he's not leading off, to be honest. They got him batting fifth? He doesn't have much pop. You'd think you'd want him to bat before Buxton and Correa and Sanchez so they could drive him in.”
Arraez's position in the batting order was just one of the things I didn't get about the game. I also didn't get why they closed the roof in the middle of it. It wasn't raining and wasn't scheduled to rain. Was it the glare? It was vaguely glarey out. Did someone complain? Some hitter? So they could hit better. If that was the case, it worked—for the Twins. In the top of 7th, shortly after they closed the roof (which always closes to the sound of the Imperial March/Darth Vader theme in my head), the Twins broke up the scoreless game with a two-out single. Starter Marco Gonzalez had begun the 7th, but with one out he gave up a single and a walk, then, I think, he nearly got a double play but just got the force at second. Either way, it was two outs, men on first and third, and they pulled him for Paul Sewald. Who gave up the tie-breaking single to Twins catcher Ryan Jeffers. This was almost a replay of the last M's game I went to, Sunday, May 29 against Houston, when Marco was pitching into the 8th in a 1-1 game, gave up a one-out double, and was pulled for Sewald, who untied the game with a two-out single. Marco got the loss in both; they were his runners.
But it made me wonder why we kept going to Sewald in those situations. (I guess his 0.85 WHIP, Erik.) More, when I got home, it made me wonder why “Inherited Runners Scoring” isn't a more easily findable stat for relief pitchers. It's often the whole ball game.
This game was lost in the 8th when M's manager Scott Servais tapped double-unique reliever Penn Murfee and his sterling 0.79 ERA to keep the game tight. He didn't: single, K (Buxton), RBI double (Correa, forever booed), 5-3, BB (Sanchez), which brought up the oddly placed Luis Arraez. A wild pitch moved both runners into scoring position.
“This isn't good,” I said, apparently rooting for the Mariners at this point. “I saw footage of a game where Arraez just kept hitting singles to left. One of those here, it's 4-0.”
He hit one of those there. It was 4-0. So maybe fifth in the order for him was a smart move?
By the 9th, my main wish was just to see Buxton again. He was due to bat fourth in the inning so the Twins just needed one un-erased baserunner. And they got him and more: walk, double. And Buxton was announced by the Mariners PA announcer Tom Hutyler.
“Wait, Buxton?” I looked at the scoreboard, the runners on base, then back to the scoreboard. “Didn't they just get two guys on? And nobody out? So how could that be Buxton?”
It wasn't. It was the Twins No. 9 hitter Gilberto Celestino.
“That's embarrassing,” I said.
To his credit, Hutyler sounded a bit embarrassed when, after Celestino's RBI groundout, he announced Buxton again—correctly this time. I think it was Hutyler's second slip-up of the game but I don't recall the first. I know my friend Tim has complained about Hutyler in the past, and I guess I have, too. He seems like someone paying nominal attention. I guess in this way he seems like the typical Mariners fan: someone rooting more for hydro races than pennant races. But you want more from your PA guy.
Anyway, that was the final score, 5-0. Nice seeing Buxton, even if he went 0-5. Nice seeing Arraez. Good luck, Twins. It's June 16 and you're the only team this month to beat the New York Yankees, who are on pace to win 120 games.
Tuesday May 31, 2022
I took my wife to the Mariners game Sunday afternoon but forgot to tell her about MLB's new bag policy. Basically, you can't bring most bags, including purses, into the park. Patricia's purse was smallish but not small enough for the gatekeepers at T-Mobile Park, who measured and said no. When we told them we'd walked to the park from First Hill, so we had no car to return the purse to, a storge locker on Occidental was suggested. “It's just over there,” we were told. “On Occidental.” Once we found it, we also found out it cost $10. That's when Patricia put her foot down, hid her purse beneath her jacket, and we went in via another gate. But man was she steamed. Don't come between a woman and her purse, MLB. Just asking for trouble. Just asking for it.
The policy, I guess, is for security reasons and to speed up the entrance process, but it delayed ours. By the time we got to Section 327 it was the bottom of the 2nd and the M's were down 1-0. And that's where it stood for a while. M's didn't get a baserunner until the 5th (Suarez, walk), a hit until the 6th (Torrens, single), and a run until two outs in the 6th (France, RBI single, scoring Torrens).
“I don't know any of these guys,” Patricia said.
“It's a young team,” I said. “Doesn't help that I don't watch the games, because we don't have cable.” Then I told her what I knew about our starting lineup:
- Ty France is among the league leaders in hits. “He's hitting .340,” I said. “I can't remember the last time we had a guy hitting .340.”
- J.P. Crawford is a great defensive shortstop, a team leader, fun to watch.
- Julio Rodriguez is our highly touted rookie who began wobbly, is righting himself, has wheels and steals, and wears an iconic number (44) at an iconic position (CF).
- We got Jesse Winker in a trade with the Reds but he's hitting about 100 points below what he did last year.
- We got Eugenio Suarez in the same trade, he was supposed to suck defensively at 3B but hasn't been bad.
- Adam Frazier I don't really know.
- Mike Ford I don't really know.
- Luis Torrens I don't really know.
- Taylor Trammell I don't really know.
In the 7th, the M's had a chance to go ahead after two leadoff singles and a sacrifice. But the Astros went to a reliever, former Mariner Rafael Montero (M's ERA: 7.27; Astros ERA: 0.35), who got two quick Ks on two bottom-of-the-order dudes hitting below .200 (Ford, Torrens).
“Why do we use a guy who can't hit as DH?” Patricia asked of Ford.
“I guess because he's better than our other options?” I said, shrugging.
Top of the 8th, we again sent out our starter, Marco Gonzalez, but he couldn't finish off their bottom-of-the-order dude hitting below .200, Martin Maldonado, who doubled on a 3-2 pitch. And then our reliever, Paul Sewald, who arrived with a tidy 16-2 strikeout-walk ratio, got sloppy. He walked two before allowing a two-out single. That put the Astros up again, 2-1. In the bottom of the 9th, the M's loaded the bases with one out but Torrens ground into a double play to end it. Yuck.
On the plus side, we didn't see that last part. We left after 8 because it was low 50s, rainy, and we were freezing. Plus my wife was still a little pissed about the purse. She might not be back anytime soon. But I get it, M's. When you're selling a product that has never won and seems unlikely to in the near future, featuring relative unknowns playing in often chilly temperatures, and in a stadium paid for by us but named for a corporation, with high-priced goods that are bad for you, well, in circumstances like those, you get to make your own rules.
Thursday December 30, 2021
Kyle Seager Says See Ya
Longtime Mariners third baseman Kyle Seager announced his retirement yesterday, which I first heard through retweets of his wife's Twitter account. That seems to be the way they announced it. Seager, who always seemed sensible, doesn't do social media.
I'm seeing a lot of commentary about how he went out with a bang, hitting 35 homers with 101 RBIs in 2021, both career highs, and how the 35 dingers are the second-most in baseball history for a player's final season—after David Ortiz's 38 in 2016. That is impressive. Less impressive, and less commented upon, is Seager's career-low 2021 batting average, .212, and the second-lowest OBP of his career, .285. He also set a career low in hits over a full season (128) and a career high in strikeouts (161). He became a kind of two-outcome guy: 24% of his plate appearances were strikeouts and 27% of his hits were homers.
His saddest record, though, isn't on him: For players who played their entire careers in the 21st century, Seager is second to Adam Dunn in games played without ever making the postseason. And with Dunn you can spread the blame around; he played for six teams. Seager just played for the M's. The onus is on them. And if you expand the parameters to players who played their entire careers in the post-1969 playoff era? Seager is 15th on the list, but, again, every player above him played for multiple teams. Think of that, M's fans. In the playoff era, no player has played more games for just one team without ever making the postseason. Unleash the mojo.
That mojo was apparent from the beginning. I'd forgotten this, or never knew it, but Seager made his Major League debut on July 7, 2011, after only two weeks in AAA, and went 0-4 in a 5-1 loss to the Angels. At that point, the M's were only two games below .500 and 4.5 games out of first place in the weak AL West. They still seemed to have a shot. Instead, they would go on to lose the next 15 in a row, setting a team record with 17 straight losses, and Kyle started in seven of those games before being reassigned to AAA Tacoma on July 21. That was his intro to the club: lose, lose, lose, lose, lose, lose, lose. It was a horrific team, finishing dead last in almost every major offensive category. And the reason Kyle was rushed to the Majors the way he was? Our everyday third baseman was a guy named Chone Figgins. Yeah, that team.
But Seager showed us something. He was brought back in early August and was hitting .111 on August 6. Three weeks later, he was hitting .310. In a 10-game stretch from mid-to-late August, he hit .500 with an .816 slugging percentage, and the Mariners future suddenly seemed more than just hoping Dustin Ackley might finally turn things around.
Did Seager ever live up to that promise? He was a solid .200/.300/.400 guy with a slight upward trajectory in his early years. His batting averages, for example, went: .258, .259, .260, .268. We were hoping at some point he'd bust loose, and the M's, probably hoping the same, took a gamble. In December 2014, a year after we'd shoveled a ton of money at Robinson Cano, and a day before we signed Nelson Cruz to a four-year deal, the M's inked Seager to a seven-year, $100 million contract. In 2014, he'd made the All-Star team and won a Gold Glove, and maybe the M's were banking he'd keep doing that, but he would never do either again. For a few years, though, the upward trajectory continued, and in 2016 he went .278/.359/.499 and finished 12th in the MVP voting with the 8th-best bWAR in the American League: 6.7. And he was only 29. But all of those would be career highs. He would never hit over .250 again and would retire with a .251/.321/.442 line.
He's all over the M's record books, particularly in the counting stats, firmly lodged in fourth place in Games Played, At Bats, Hits and Total Bases, with the same triumverate ahead of him: Edgar, Ichiro, Junior. He's fourth in homeruns and RBIs, with Jay Buhner replacing Ichiro. He's third in strikeouts. Seager has the seventh-most bWAR in M's history. One asumes he'll make the Mariners Hall of Fame. One assumes no one wears #15 again except the fans in the stands.
Sunday October 03, 2021
Well, so much for that.
What did I write a few weeks ago about the M's playoff chances?
If we went 10-2 [the rest of the way] maybe we would make the postseason for the first time since 2001.
We wound up going 10-3 (I forgot a game) and lost out on the playoffs on the final day, as we fell to the Angels, 7-3. (Moot point, since both the Yankees and BoSox won their games to take the wild card spots regardless of what we did.) Shohei Ohtani hit a homer on the second pitch of the game, Angels scored four runs in the first two innings, and we were never really in it. By the end, Mariners announcer Rick Rizzs kept telling us if we could only load the bases—we're just a grand slam behind. Yes. If only. Just.
Last March, my friend Tim asked a few of us to make predictions for the Mariners season and this is what I wrote:
Erik: 83-79, 2nd place, will miss a Wild Card berth by one game.
They did better than I thought (90-72), with less than I thought (last year's Rookie of the Year Kyle Lewis was injured), and they made this city care about baseball again. It's been a while. Twenty seasons, basically.
On Twitter, someone mentioned how the Mariners were imploding today, and sportswriter Howard Bryant trotted out the usual SABR/common-sense response, which is: Yeah, they're not that good. To which I would say: Yes. And that's exactly the point. They're not that good and yet they won 90 games. They took it to the final game of the season. Among their regulars, they have zero .300/.400/.500 guys. Wait, scratch that. Not only do they not have one player with that batting line, which Edgar did regularly, but they don't have any player that fits any of that criteria. We don't have a regular who hit .300. We don't have a regular with an on-base percentage of .400. Nobody on our team slugged .500. Instead, we had this:
- .200/.300/.400: Mitch Haniger, Ty France
- .200/.200/.400: Kyle Seager, Luis Torrens
- .200/.300/.300: J.P. Crawford, Tom Murphy (Murphy barely on two of those)
- .100/.200/.300: Jarred Kelenic, Dylan Moore
It's not a recipe for success; it's actually a recipe for disaster. And yet somehow these guys won 90 games. That's the story. How did they do it? I hope the Mariners are trying to figure it out.
I like these kids—particularly J.P. Crawford and Mitch Haniger, and I have every finger crossed for Jarred Kelenic. I just wish I could've seen them more often. I have the MLB.TV package but don't have cable, which means I can watch pretty much any team at any time except for the Mariners. There's a blackout on local teams. Makes zero sense if you have any kind of long-term vision for the sport. But that's who's running the sport: people without long-term vision.
Anyway, here's to the kids. I don't know how you did it. But thanks for doing it.
Sunday October 03, 2021
Turns I went to the wrong game.
That wasn't an issue in '95, when I went to all the games, practically. I remember when I missed one because I had to work the cash register at University Book Store on a Sunday, and that turned out to be the Tino Martinez walk-off homer to the bunny-hopping fan in right field. I still regret missing that one. Back then I had little money but a lot of time, and spent both on the M's.
Last night, it was reminiscent of all that. M's went up 1-0 in the 3rd, Angels tied it in the 5th, M's went up by two in the bottom of the 5th. Then in the 8th, the usually reiiable Paul Sewald couldn't find the strike zone and walked the first two batters, then Jared Walsh went deep to put the Angels on top and take the air out of the stadium.
Momentarily. The fans got their second wind.
It was all bottom of the 8th. We started off with the bottom of the order and got a HBP and a BB. Then for some reason we sacrificed. Sure, scoring position, but c'mon. You give up one of your three outs. So the Angels intentionally walked J.P. Crawford then forced Kelenic at home on the next play. (And it was close.) Two outs, bases still juiced, and the batter was Mitch Haniger, who had driven in all the M's runs at that point: one-run single in the 3rd, two-run HR in the 5th. And he worked the count and worked the count. And at 3-2 he lined a base hit through the left side, plating two, including J.P., the IBB, who slid into home and popped up and exalted like Lo Cain in 2015. Then Kyle Seagar followed with an RBI single to center, a dunker that fell in. We had a slight scare in the 9th when David Fletcher doubled with two outs, but a lineout to second ended the game: M's 6, Whatstheirfaces 4. It was our 90th victory on the season, the most the M's have had since 2003.
I didn't see any of this live, btw. No cable, so the M's and MLB give me no way to watch my local team. I listened on the radio. (I still have one of those.) And when things got exciting, I was texting friends. That's how I'm doing it these days. It's a system. Until the main system corrects itself. If it corrects itself.
Meanwhile, the Yankees got crushed by the Rays, while everyone else won. It's the last day of the season and the AL Wild Card is wild:
Either the Yankees or Red Sox have to lose for the M's to have a chance. But they still have a chance. #Believe.
Saturday October 02, 2021
Did a portly Venezuelan with a 5.49 career ERA end the dream?
Well, that was brutal.
Last night was my sixth Mariners game of the season but the first where the park was packed—sold out even. And it was sold out because this young, surprising Seattle Mariners team was suddenly tied for the second wild card spot with three games to play:
Yep, this scruffy team of cast-offs and no-names was up there with the big-money crowd. I've written about this before. Yesterday even. It's been fun.
I think I got too excited writing about it, to be honest. I think I felt I had to be there for this final weekend series. I wanted to be part of a baseball crowd where, you know, there was electricity in the air, where something was possible, where amazement at what was happening might wash over you like a wave. Like on Wednesday. Or like in '95.
Initially I was looking to go Sunday: day game, sunny, last of the season. Perfect. Then I thought like the true Mariners fan that I am: “What if we've already blown it by then?” So I opted for last night. Splurged on good tickets, found a friend, was excited.
And worried. I'm a germaphobe, we're still in a pandemic, it's been eight-plus months since my last vaccination.
Did the Ms require vax cards? No. They did for a bit, but no. You had to be masked unless actively eating or drinking. That was the rule. And in the past that rule seemed fine. The game I went to in early September seemed fine. Plus we would be outdoors, sitting close to the field, away from indoor-like structures. In expensive seats, too, so surely away from the anti-mask crowd. Surely, people in expensive seats would behave responsibly. Surely.
I don't know what I was thinking.
In section 120, I'd guess 30-40% of the crowd went regularly unmasked. There were more than a few Nosenheimers, too. Many were just not taking it seriously. Pandemic schmandemic.
And how did the Seattle Mariners organization and/or T-Mobile Park police this sudden huge crowd in the midst of a pandemic? Here's how. In our section, every other inning, a diminutive sexagenerarian hobbled down to the first row and silently held up a small sign that said wear a mask.
I loved that diminutive lady, by the way. She did what she could. She was tough, considering. But the crowd was big, excited, and 30% didn't give a fuck. Looking around at all these folks, I thought, “Oh right. I hate humanity. What am I doing here?” I'd forgotten. This Mariners team made me momentarily forget.
I wish the game made up for all this but it wasn't to be. We scored in the bottom of the 2nd on a double by (who else?) Jarred Kelenic, who plated (who else?) Abraham Toro, scoring from first. All with two outs. Nice.
The Angels got it right back in the top of the 3rd. Our starter, Marco Gonzalez, lost control of the strike zone and the bottom half of the Angels lineup. Their number eight hitter led off with a single, followed by a walk to their number nine hitter. “Not good,” I told my friend Erika, who had joined me despite not being a huge baseball fan. I tried to explain that these guys were the lesser hitters and the better hitters were about to come up. “So,” she said, “statistically, these guys at the top of the lineup have a better chance of getting a hit?” At which point their leadoff hitter doubled to left, scoring both men. “Yes,” I said.
But that was it. Marco stopped the bleeding.
But that was also it. For the scoring. For the game. Final: 2-1, Angels. Our best hitter, Ty France, kept grounding into double plays, and the team kept blowing opportunties. Bottom of the 7th, Luis Torrens led off with a triple in the right-field corner that just missed going out and everyone went crazy. Toro followed with a walk and everyone went crazy. That brought up Kelenic, Wednesday's hero. And that brought in Jose Quijada, a portly left-hander with an ERA over 5.00. And it went: strikeout swinging, strikeout swinging, strikeout looking. And just like that a lot of the air went out of the stadium. I didn't want to think it, I still wanted to BELIEVE, as the Mariners were telling everybody, in homage to “Ted Lasso,” as if we were a ragtag Ted Lasso-type team with a cinderella story that had already been scripted, I didn't want to think it but I did: that inning felt like the end. That was the opportunity. You don't blow opportunities like that with the season on the line. Whooooosh. There it went.
Except we got another opportunity in the bottom of the 9th: Kyle Seager led off with a ringing double down the line, and we had three not-bad guys coming up: Torrens, Toro, Kelenic. Guys who had already delivered in this game. But Torrens grounded out and Seager couldn't move up. (At that point, he was replaced by a pinch runner, which maybe should've happened before Torrens' at-bat?) Then a pop-out to short. Then a fly ball to center. It was the sac fly we needed Kelenic to hit in the 7th. And that was that. Overall we got five hits, three walks; they got four hits, two walks. They won.
Was it us? The crowd? I was wondering about that from the get-go, when I heard that Friday night's game was sold out, and Saturday and Sunday's games were close to sell-outs. The players aren't used to this. They're used to what I'm used to: sparse crowds making tepid noise, with fans of the opposition team often making more of it. I was wondering if maybe that wasn't a driving force for these kids: We're playing well, and yet no one is showing up. We'll show them. Then we showed up and they lost that edge.
Now the standings look like this:
We're still in it, just less so. Every team is within two of each other with two to play. Ya gotta believe. Or, as I suggested as a team motto in July: Ya never know.
Friday October 01, 2021
A week and a half ago I wrote a post about whether the Mariners, who were then a solid 80-69 but didn't seem postseason-bound, could at least win enough games to win their most games in, say, five years, 10 years. I was looking for a consolation prize to an impressive season. Except then I saw we won 89 games in 2018 so even that seemed off the table. I wrote:
Winning 90 would mean going 10-2 the rest of the way, with nothing rained out, and that's a tough ask. Hell, if we went 10-2 maybe we would make the postseason for the first time since 2001.
Well, so far, the Mariners have gone 8-1 and are now tied with the Boston Red Sox for the second wild-card spot with three games to play. We get the Angels here (they're 75-84), they get the Nationals in D.C. (65-94). The Blue Jays, after losing to the Yankees yesterday, are one game behind both of us, the Yankees two games ahead. Like us, the Yankees are on a win streak. The Blue Jays (4-6 since that post) and BoSox (3-5), not so much. That's where it stands.
I've been as excited about all of this as a jaded, germaphobic fan in the middle of a pandemic with zero TV access to the games can be. (Basically, to watch M's games, you have to have cable or cheat, and I'm not much of a cheater.) Which is to say, I'm still very, very excited.
That previous post mentioned our negative run differential, which, over a season—so the SABR argument goes—will play out. You run out of luck, show your true stripes, etc. Hasn't happened. What I forgot to mention, and what I'd harped on earlier in the year, is that we don't hit much. We're last in the AL in batting average, second to last in OBP, second to last in SLG. We're last in hits and third in strikeouts. Unless you have a pitching rotation of Randy, Pedro, Maddux, that shouldn't translate to a postseason opportunity. Yet here we are.
Fans keep bringing up the '95 season, as in, “Hey, I haven't felt like this since '95,” which I totally get, and which I also feel. But in a way this year is more impressive. The '95 team had three future Hall of Famers (Junior, Randy, Edgar), two on the first ballot, as well as an incredible supporting cast (Tino, Buhner, Nellie, Norm, Joey, A-Rod as a rookie). They should've been in the running from the get-go. But these guys? No-names and castoffs and second-chancers. We have nobody hitting over .300, no regular with an OBP above .375. We have two guys nearing 40 homers (Haniger, Seagar) but nobody slugging .500.
And yet they keep winning. They defy math.
The big blow Wednesday night came from rookie Jarred Kelenic, who has the sixth-most at bats on the team despite a hitting line of .177/.260/.349. And it's only that good because he's improved. He was called up in May and promptly hit .118 for the month (8 for 68), then hit .000 for June (0 for 15) and was sent back to Triple A. I think at that point he'd been hitless in his last 39 at bats? Whatever it was, he was nearing a Major League record for futility. But he returned in July and hit .154, then .196 for August. This month it's .242. And on Wednesday he came up with one out, two on (both via errors), and the M's down 1-0. And he rifled a shot to the right-field corner, a double plating both men, then pumped his fist and pumped his fist. Art Thiel said if he pumped it one more time he was worried he'd need Tommy John surgery. But I'm sure all the frustration of this season was finally getting out of him. He was supposed to be a top prospect, a phenom, and yet he was barely hanging on. He wasn't even hitting Mendoza. And yet look at him now.
How can you not be romantic about baseball?
Tuesday September 21, 2021
It took me by surprise. Yesterday, I went on Baseball Reference's Seattle Mariners page because while it felt increasingly unlikely we'd make the playoffs this year (four games back of the second wild-card spot with two weeks to go) I was curious how many games we'd have to win to be the winningest M's team in the last whatever years: five, 10. Maybe since 2003? That could be a goal to shoot for. That could be something to root for.
Except that seems unlikely, too. Before last night's win over the A's, we were 80-69, which is nice, particularly since we have a -62 run differential. But I'd forgotten the 2018 team won 89 games, the 2016 team won 86 and the 2014 team nabbed 88. We'd also had winning seasons in 2009 and 2007. Now I could see us winning more than 86 games. But winning 90 would mean going 10-2 the rest of the way, with nothing rained out, and that's a tough ask. Hell, if we went 10-2 maybe we would make the postseason for the first time since 2001.
That's when I noticed the oddity. You could see it in the pythagorean win-loss column, which tracks what your record should be based on your run differential. Our 2021 season was below .500 because of that -62 number. But so was our recent 89-win season, when—and I'd forgotten this—we'd given up 34 more runs than we'd scored. Same with the 2009 season (-52 runs) and 2007 season (-27). That's what took me by surprise. The Mariners record since 2003 is horrible: just six winning seasons in 18 years, and no postseasons since 2001—the longest current postseason drought in professional sports. But it's actually worse. In those 18 seasons, we've only had two where we scored more runs than the opposition: 2014 (+80) and 2016 (+61). Since 2003, we've given up 1,129 more runs than we've scored.
Some might think: pythagorean schmythagorean. You go to see real wins, not would-be wins. It's what you do, not what you should do. And that's correct. In 2016, for example, our +61 run differential was way better than Texas' +8, but we still finished nine games back. They won 95 and went to the playoffs instead of us ... where they got swept by Toronto. Hell, the 1987 Minnesota Twins won it all despite a negative run differential. So what does it matter?
But it still matters. Those other guys scoring more than we do seeps in. You keep thinking: We shouldn't be here. I mean, six winning seasons out of 18 is really, really bad. So it's astonishing to find out we were just lucky to win that much.
And yet, I have to admit, part of the joy of this 2021 no-name team is that they keep winning. They get clobbered and come back. We look at that run differential, assume they'll start slipping, but they don't. They defy math. They won again last night to go 81-69 and ensure only the 15th .500 season in Mariners history, and, more importantly, put us only three games back of that second wild card spot. What did St. Tug say? You gotta believe.
Monday July 12, 2021
The 2021 Mariners Hit Parade, Singular
Yesterday I went to my fourth Mariners game of the season but I didn't stay until the end. In the 300 level, my friend Jim was bothered by the overloud sound system, which both discouraged our conversation and hurt his ears, so we left after seven with the M's down 4-1. By the time I got home, the game was done, 7-1. That top of the ninth must've been brutal: infield single, walk, single, single, sac fly, passed ball. Death by a thousand cuts. Then the M's went in order without getting the ball out of the infield, and that was that. Time for the All-Star break.
And time to access how we're doing.
Not poorly. This team of kids and second-chancers is 48-43, five games over .500, the sixth-best record in the AL. We're just 3.5 games out of the last wild card spot with no one between us and Oakland.
Also: poorly. We're last in the Majors in batting average and OBP (.216/.292), and 26th in slugging. Our run differential is -50, which indicates our winning ways probably aren't sustainable.
I haven't seen much of those winning ways in person. Of the four games I've been to, the M's are 1-3, managing a total of 5 runs on 13 hits—or an average of 1.25 runs on 3.25 hits per game. Fun. The May 5 no-hitter didn't help matters but in the other games we weren't exactly Murderers Row: 5 hits, 4 hits, 4 hits; one homerun, zero crooked numbers in any inning. Even with the lowest batting average in baseball, the M's still manage about 7 hits a game. So I guess I've just been lucky.
Or is it that I've only gone to day games? Do the M's do worse in those?
Not really: .215 BA during the day, .217 at night. We're not even the worst in the Majors in day games. The Yankees, of all teams, are beneath us with a shocking .212/.251 day/night split. Not sure what to make of that—other than to yet again lobby MLB to play more postseason games during the day.
No, the truly stark split for the M's is home/away games. Away from Seattle, we hit .230, 19th-best. In Seattle it's .203, which is not only the worst home batting average, it's the worst by 13 points. Yet somehow we having a winning record at Mariners Park: 29-20.
Seeing that, I wondered if we did particularly bad during home games during the day—like the ones I go to—but ... nah. There's nothing really there, either. Home day games, M's average 3.3 runs per game on 5.08 hits. It's worse than what they normally do but better than what I've seen.
So maybe the problem is just ... me? I'm like William H. Macy's character in the 2003 indie hit, “The Cooler,” in which he's hired by a Vegas casino to bring bad luck to its patrons. (Macy also played a Lundegaard, remember.) So maybe the M's should hire me not to go to its games? Or they could just keep blasting the 300-level patrons with their overloud sound system. That might keep me away, too.
Anyway, here's to the kids and the second-chancers in the second half. Given what we've done, I'm amazed at where we are. “Ya gotta believe” has been taken as a slogan but we could go with something similar. The 2021 Seattle Mariners: Ya never know.
Saturday July 03, 2021
Should've Been 29 Down
Saw this with some chagrin in today's NY Times Crossword:
On the other hand, it was an easy get. Thanks in part to the pandemic, and in part to Rex Parker, Patricia and I are currently on a 447-day streak.
For more on the hapless answer, see here.
Wednesday May 05, 2021
M's Game: Means to an End, or My First No-Hitter
The view from Section 325, as the Orioles celebrate something that hadn't happened since 1969; and something I'd never seen in person.
We noticed how good he was immediately. First Mariners batter in the bottom of the 1st, Mitch Haniger, whom we’d just seen in a between-innings video talking about his first call up to the bigs (in 2016 with the Diamondbacks), as well as his first hit (a 2-run triple off Noah Syndergaard), saw three pitches and sat down. Then Ty France got to 3-2 and K’ed looking. Then Kyle Seager with a dribbler to first.
“All first-pitch strikes,” I said to Jeff.
We were 300-level behind homeplate, shaded first-base side, row 9, very close to the season-ticket seats I share with a group of great baseball fans led by a close, personal friend of Raquel Welch. Jeff and I spent the bottom of the 1st riffing off that Haniger video. He was impressed that the triple was off Syndergaard; I was impressed that it was a triple. “The most exciting play in baseball,” I said, repeating the aphorism. “Play at the plate,” Jeff said, as his choice for most exciting play in baseball. “Close play at the plate,” he amended. “Well, sure,” I said, “if you add context. I mean, really, the most exciting play in baseball is a close play at the plate in the bottom of the 9th inning of the 7th game of the World Series. Context-less, I’ll take a triple.”
Top of the 2nd was a little rough for M’s starter Yusei Kikuchi and the M’s defense: single, fielder’s choice, stolen base, strikeout. Two outs, guy on second, and it’s the bottom of their order, the .100 hitters—of which, by the way, the M’s have a lot. That was the conversation before the game began: How many guys in our starting lineup are hitting in the .100s? Turns out: four. And hitting over .300? Zero, of course. This is Mariners country.
Anyway, the O’s number 8 hitter, D.J. Stewart, blooped one to shallow left, just past shortstop J.P. Crawford, who mistakenly threw home to try to nab the beautifully named Ryan Mountcastle, allowing Stewart to go to second. Then their number 9 hitter, Ramon Urias, hit a liner to left and same deal. But this time the throw home was cut off and Urias was tossed at second. But it was still 2-0, Orioles.
“Should’ve been one run if we’d played that right,” Jeff said.
The Orioles pitcher, John Means, began the game with a 1.70 ERA, much better than Kikuchi’s 4.40, and in the bottom of the 2nd he kept throwing first-pitch strikes and getting outs; line out, pop out, strike out. I don’t think he threw a first-pitch ball until he faced Sam Haggerty, ol’ #0, in the 3rd. He struck him out anyway. Except the ball broke early and got past catcher Pedro Severino, and Haggerty, a speedy kid, made it to first.
“Hey, a baserunner!” I said.
Next pitch, Haggerty was thrown out trying to steal second.
“Or not,” I said.
We didn’t know how big a moment all that would turn out to be.
This was my second game of the season—and thus my second game since the pandemic shrunk all of our lives. First game was Sunday, a beautiful sunny Sunday against the Angels. For that one, I sat 100 level, hoping to get close-up looks at the Angels’ triumvirate of great stars (Shohei Ohtani) and future Hall of Famers (Mike Trout and Albert Pujols). Trout began the game hitting .400-something and went 0-3 with a walk. Pujols began the game at Mendoza and went 0-3 with 2 Ks. Ohtani got hit by a pitch in his first at-bat, promptly stole two bases, but also went 0-3. Meanwhile, the M’s scored two runs on an RBI single by Dylan Moore who was hitting something like .137, and two sacrifices following a leadoff double by a backup catcher hitting .190. We won 2-zip.
“That’s baseball,” Jeff said, shrugging.
I got Ivars fish-and-chips and a beer, Jeff got a soft pretzel and a beer. We talked kids (his), podcasts (Marc Maron), and the Beatles. He mentioned a recent biography of the Beatles he’d read called “Tune In” by Mark Lewinson, which was the first volume in a three-volume series on the Beatles. A deep dive.
“The first volume ends in 1963, when…” Jeff said, then blanked.
“When they got their first UK No. 1?”
“I think so.”
“So before ‘She Loves You’ and Beatlemania hit.”
“He’s Robert Caro-ing the Beatles.”
“LBJ biographer. Been writing about him for the last, whatever, 40 years? He’s done four volumes, I think, and now LBJ is in the White House, and people are worried Caro won’t finish before he dies.”
“This guy’s younger than that,” Jeff said. He looked him up on his phone. “Oh. He’s 62. And the second volume was supposed to come out last year but didn’t. So maybe he is another Robert Caro.”
All the while, Means was blowing away the M's. “He’s still has a no-hitter going,” Jeff said in the 4th (two pop-outs to short and a K), and the 5th (foul out to first, line out to SS, K) and the 6th (K, ground out to catcher, fly out to center). I'd never seen a no-hitter in person before, and I kept expecting something to eventually get through. Didn’t that always happen?
In retrospect, the 3rd inning was our best chance. Not only did we get our lone baserunner (for one pitch) but the other two batters actually hit the ball out of the infield. In the entire game, only four ball were caught by the outfield: two in the 3rd (center, right), one in the 6th (center), and one in the 8th (left). Everything else was dribblers, popups and strikeouts. Twelve strikeouts in all, without a walk. Twenty-five first-pitch strikes.
“Are you rooting for a no-hitter?” I asked Jeff at one point.
“Why not?“ Jeff said. ”Even if we get a hit, it’s not like we’ll come back.”
“What do you mean? We’re only down 2-0.”
“3-0,” he reminded me. In the 7th, Pat Valaika had rocketed one into the left-field bleachers. A minute later, after the beautifully named Ryan Mountcastle hit a 3-run shot, it was 6-0 and seemed out of reach.
Actually I was wrong earlier. Our best chance to break up the no-hitter was in the bottom of the 8th. That’s when Kyle Lewis rocketed one to left and for a moment I thought it might be gone. And I had mixed feelings. I know. I still feel bad about it. It’s like when you’re watching a U-boat movie and suddenly find yourself rooting for the Germans, and you’re like “Oh man, this is wrong,” but you keep doing it. Same here. I found myself rooting for the no-hitter against my team. When Lewis’ rocket to left was caught at the warning track, I felt disappointment. And relief.
“I don’t think I’ve been at a game that went this long into a no-hitter,” I said. Then Murphy struck out swinging (on 3-2) and Evan White struck out swinging (on 1-2), and we were onto the 9th.
The second-best chance we had to break up the no-hitter was our last chance. In the 9th, after Dylan Moore fouled out to third, and Sean Haggerty struck out swinging, J.P. Crawford came to the plate. He was batting ninth even though he’s hitting .250-ish, which is third-best on our team. For this team, he’s basically the equivalent of Edgar Martinez on the 1996 Mariners. And on the first pitch from Means, he lined one to left and I thought it might get through. But then their shortstop Urias was there, and it was over, and the Baltimore Orioles were suddenly celebrating the team’s first single-pitcher no-hitter since Jim Palmer blanked the Oakland A’s in 1969. (They had a combined no-hitter in 1991.) Apparently it was the longest single-pitcher no-hitter drought in baseball.
You’re welcome, Baltimore.
It was also baseball history. Jeff and I watched something that had never happened before.
Yep, just that dropped third strike.
I am worried about my guys. According to Art Thiel, they began the game hitting the Seattle area code (.206) and they ended it near the Mendoza line (.201). I know this is a rebuilding year, but I didn’t think we were rebuilding back to 1979.
Thiel uses the phrase “the profoundly unheralded John Means,” but we knew going in he would be tough: 3-0, 1.70 ERA. Now he's 4-0 with a 1.37 ERA, and 50 Ks against 10 walks. And one complete game. Which is the first complete game of his career. That’s right. John Means’ no-hitter, his near perfect game, was also the first shutout and the first complete game he’d thrown in the Majors.
Here’s more on the man of the moment.
Saturday April 17, 2021
Mariners Fancare: That's a Problem
I'm part of a season ticket group for Seattle Mariners games at Mariners Field (formerly Safeco, currently TMP, should be Griffey Park), and because of You Know What I haven't seen a game there since Sept. 2019 (M's over Reds, 4-3); but last month, the man who runs our group, Stephen, told the group there would be a season-ticket presale for socially distanced games in April. Anyone in? Some were. I considered it but decided not. I'd been vaccinated but I tend not to go for April games anyway. It's a time of high hopes but low temps. This year's beautiful April notwithstanding.
May, I went for it. My favorite games are weekday getaways, and we had one on May 5 against the Orioles. I wanted to see the Angels, too, with their triumverate of great stars: Trout, Ohtani, Pujols. Anthony Rendon would be a star in most cities but seems an afterthought in Anaheim. Last night Stephen came through: an email from Mariners Fancare: “Stephen Just Sent You 2 Mariners Tickets.” Yes!
And here my troubles began.
To get the tix I had to create a Mariners account. OK, sure, there you go. Which is when the website told me: “Your phone is your ticket” and “Add your ticket to your digital wallet.”
I've had iPhones forever but I never use the digital wallet. So I opened the app and tried to figure out what was what. What app did I need anyway? A Mariners app? No, a TicketMaster app. Crap. TicketMaster. OK, whatever. Yes, and here's my Apple ID password to download the app. Nope, that's not it. The password field shook its head at me. Double-checked the password. It was the right password. Did I input it wrong? I did. This time no headshaking.
But not yet: “You need iOS 13 or later to use this app.” Navigated to Settings —> General —> Updates. I was all updated. At 12.5. Went online and learned that iOS 13 is for iPhone 6S-Plus or later. I was on iPhone 6. I couldn't get iOS 13, which meant I couldn't get the TicketMaster app, which meant I couldn't get the Mariners tickets I'd just bought. Fun. Way too much fun for a Friday night.
The original email did come with a Mariners Fancare phone number at the bottom, so I tried that. I pressed what I needed to press for digital tickets, and after much ringing a voice message: If you know your party's extension, etc., otherwise press 0 to return to reception. There, I got an actual person, began talking about digital tickets, and she said, “You want digital tickets,” and transferred me back to the first line again. Repeat. When I got back to her again, I quickly explained the Sisyphean loop I was in, and she said, like Edgar in the famous commercial, “Yes, that's a problem.” Her solution was to get the tickets in person at the M's box office, which I might do. I'll also try the phone line again later today.
All of this has taught me an important lesson about being frugal and using my iPhone as long as I can. That's not the American way, gramps.
Hope to see you at the ballpark someday.
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