M's Game Report: The (Two) Kids Are Alright
The last time I was at Safeco Field, June 25th, the M's lost to the Florida Marlins but were flirting with (standing next to, pretending to know, engaging in conversation with but totally being dissed by) .500. They were only a few games out of first place, and, among fans, there were crinkled noses and thoughts of “Really? This team? No. Yet there they are...” We assumed they wouldn't stay there but hope began beating its tiny wings anyway. That 17-game losing streak earlier this month stilled those wings. In a way it was a relief. We knew, no matter what the standings said, that a team with the worst offense in baseball could only go so far.
Yesterday afternoon, a beautiful Pacific Northwest afternoon, I returned to Safeco and watched the M's win for only the second time in 20 games, 3-2 over Tampa Bay, behind two rookies: Michael Pineda, who pitched no-hit ball into the sixth, and Dustin Ackley, who hit a 2-run homerun in the 1st inning, a line shot over the 405 sign in right-center, then a 2-out, ringing double in the sixth (almost to the same spot), which led to the M's third and final (and winning) run when Mike Carp lined a single to right to plate him.
I'm now 5-2 on the season.
Pineda, with the usual snap to his fastball, wasn't quite as sharp as the numbers indicated. He threw 46 balls with his 64 strikes, and walked four while striking out 10. His strikeouts, inning by inning, indicate he probably tired: 7 Ks through 3 innings, then 3 Ks for the final 3 1/3. He only gave up one hit, a single, but left with two on, both walks, in the 7th. The bullpen, though, Jeff Gray and Brandon League, didn't give up a hit, either. So a combined one-hitter! Not bad. Gray added two strikeouts, too. Meanwhle, the Rays starter, Alex Cobb, another rookie, struck out 9. So close. How often do both starting pitchers, both rookies, wind up with double-digit strikeouts? Can't be common. I was almost bummed when they took Cobb out in the 7th.
I sat with my friend Jeff R., between old folks to our left and young folks to our right, talking old UBS shit and housing prices. The guy to my immediate right, who had the slouching posture of a teenager on a bus, kept dissing Jack Wilson. The M's crowd, near 25,000, kept dissing Chone Figgins ... even though no one else (besides Ackley and maybe Carp) are hitting. The future star of spring, Justin Smoak, is now 12-for-July, a .146 average, dropping his season totals to .218/.313/.385. Again: Is he injured? Should he be rested? Most of the rest of the team has OPSs hovering in the mid-.600s: Brendan Ryan: .650; Ichiro: .633; Miguel Olivo: .631. Those are our better guys, too. Jack Wilson? .509. Chone Figgins? .479. Franklin Gutierrez? .457. Eech.
Despite the game's good news—Pineda, Ackley, Carp—the best news might have been this: The M's are no longer stuck with the 30-30-30-30 label! They are still last in the Majors in runs scored, on-base percentage, and batting average; but are, for the moment, and by a hair's breadth, 29th in slugging percentage. Thank you, San Diego!