erik lundegaard

Seattle Mariners posts

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.” 

“Definitely.”

“He’s Robert Caro-ing the Beatles.”

“Huh?”

“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.

Posted at 09:16 PM on Wednesday May 05, 2021 in category Seattle Mariners   |   Permalink  

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.

Posted at 10:49 AM on Saturday April 17, 2021 in category Seattle Mariners   |   Permalink  

Tuesday October 01, 2019

Player of the Year

Last week, the Seattle chapter of the Baseball Writers of America tweeted their award winners for the 2019 season: 

  • Player of Year: Daniel Vogelbach
  • Pitcher of Year: Marco Gonzales
  • Unsung Hero: Tom Murphy

I responded with the following:

By bWar the best players on the 2019 Mariners are*:

  1. Our Pitcher of the Year
  2. A .240 third baseman who missed 2 months
  3. A backup catcher
  4. Our regular catcher
  5. A guy we traded in June
  6. A pitcher we traded in July
  7. An outfielder injured in June
  8. A pitcher who missed 2 months and went 4-10
  9. Our Player of the Year

* The numbers shifted before the season ended: Our backup catcher is now No. 2 and our Player of the Year is No. 8.

This is not to slam Daniel Vogelbach, whom I love, and who had a much better season than I thought he would. I assumed he'd be a 2019 version of Bucky Jacobsen, another softball-player-looking dude who made a splash for a month or two in 2004, hit 9 homers with 28 RBIs, and then kinda disappeared. This season, Vogey clobbered 30 HRs with 76 RBIs. Both led the team—as did his .341 OBP—and he made the All-Star team. But his second half wasn't good:

  • Before All-Star break: .238/.375/.505, with 21 HRs and 51 RBIs
  • After All-Star break: .162/.286/.341, with 9 HRs and 25 RBIs

This is not to slam the Seattle chapter of the BWA, either. Who else to give it to—our backup catcher? A guy we traded in June? A guy injured since June? Kyle Seager—who missed the first two months and never hit above .220 in any month save August? There's really no good answer. To me, it's either Vogey or Omar Narvaez. 

No, it's just to point out the kind of year it's been. As if we didn't know. Baseball Reference has a legacy page for each team, even the Mariners, and it includes sortable columns on, say, wins (our best year was, of course, the 116 in 2001), losses (worst: 104 in ‘78), runs scored (993 in ’96), and runs given up (905 in ‘99), as well as most position players used (67, this year) and most pitchers used (42, also this year).

Then there’s a column called Top Player, which is that year's best player by bWAR. Last year, for example, it was Mitch Haniger (6.1) and in 2016 it was Robinson Cano (7.3). In ‘95, a strike-shortened year, Randy was tops with 8.6, while in 2001 it was Bret Boone at 8.8. The best Mariner year ever, according to this measure, was A-Rod in 2000 (10.4). And the lowest Top Player by bWAR? That would be the 3.9 shared by Ichiro and Richie Sexson in 2005. 

Until this year, that is. This year, by bWAR, our best player is Marco Gonzalez with a WAR of 3.4. Only two teams had a best player with a lower WAR: the Blue Jays, whose best player was Marcus Stroman (3.2), a pitcher they traded at the end of July; and the San Francisco Giants’ Jeff Samardzija (2.9), who had no such excuse. 

Well, it's a rebuilding year. We‘re remodeling our bathroom right now so I know a bit about such things. I know it’s inconvenient and there are unexpected delays and it's taking longer than expected. Way longer. The teardown, I know, is the easy part.

Posted at 07:44 AM on Tuesday October 01, 2019 in category Seattle Mariners   |   Permalink  

Sunday September 29, 2019

M's Playoff Drought Reaches 18th Year

Yeah, not exactly news. We knew it in March. Or at least by the time the M's turned their shocking 13-2 start into a 20-23 deficit a month later. We were 11 games over .500 on April 11 and 11 games under .500 by May 30. Quick work. Hopes dashed. See you next year. Or the year after. Or...

Anyway, it's the 18th straight season the M's haven't played October baseball, which is the longest such drought in baseball. It‘s not the longest drought in baseball history—not by a longshot. That would be 41 years, shared by three teams:

  • St. Louis Browns: 1903-1944
  • Philadelphia/KC/Oakland Athletics: 1930-1971
  • Cleveland Indians: 1954-1995*

(*Were the Indians the only original-16 team that didn’t make the postseason during the first playoff era (1969-1993)? Yep. Even the hapless Chicago White Sox did it twice (1983, 1993). Even the hapless Cubs (1984, 1989)).

Here's the various title-holders for “Longest drought” throughout MLB history: How many years without seeing the postseason; and how many years they held the “longest drought” title. 

LONGEST DROUGHT TEAM PERIOD YEARS YRS W/TITLE
St. Louis Browns 1903-1944 41 18
Boston Braves 1914-1948 34 4
Philadelphia Phillies 1915-1950 35 2
Chicago White Sox 1919-1959 40 9
Pittsburgh Pirates 1928-1960 32 1
Phil/ KC/ Oakland Athletics 1931-1971 40 11
Chicago Cubs 1945-1984 39 13
Cleveland Indians 1954-1995 41 11
Texas Rangers 1961-1996 35 1
Mon. Expos/Wash. Nationals 1981-2012 31 16
Kansas City Royals 1985-2014 29 2
Toronto Blue Jays 1993-2015 22 1
Seattle Mariners 2001-? 18 4

The length of the droughts are shrinking because it's easier to get into the postseason. The Browns had just one slot: AL pennant. The M‘s, in the wild card era, have had either four or five slots. Even with expansion, with 30 teams rather than 16, your have better odds today. 

If you’re curious how the other 29 teams have done since the last time the Mariners were in the postseason in 2001, well, you came to the right place:

TEAM

POSTSEASONS

PENNANTS TITLES
Yankees 14 2 1
Cardinals 11 4 2
Dodgers 11 2 0
Red Sox 10 4 4
Braves 9 0 0
Twins 8 0 0
Athletics 8 0 0
Angels 7 1 1
Cubs 7 1 1
Astros 6 2 1
Giants 6 4 3
Rays 5 1 0
Nationals 5 0 0
Rangers 5 2 0
Indians 5 1 0
Phillies 5 2 1
Tigers 5 2 0
Rockies 4 1 0
Brewers 4 0 0
Diamondbacks 4 0 0
Mets 3 1 0
Orioles 3 0 0
Reds 3 0 0
Pirates 3 0 0
Padres 2 0 0
Blue Jays 2 0 0
White Sox 2 1 1
Royals 2 2 1
Marlins 1 1 1
Mariners 0 0 0

After the M's, the longest MLB postseason droughts are the usual suspects: Marlins (2003), Padres (2006), and the White Sox (2008). Every other MLB team has gone to the postseason this decade. Every one. Think of that. 

Take us out, Tanner Boyle and Timmy Lupus. 

Posted at 07:44 AM on Sunday September 29, 2019 in category Seattle Mariners   |   Permalink  

Wednesday September 11, 2019

M's Game: Kyle and the Kids Take One from the Reds

A few minutes before gametime. Mariners attendance will dip below 2 million this year.

I'm part of a season ticket group that meets every March to divvy up the season's tickets and talk about the year ahead. Mostly it's gallows humor. It's a good bunch of guys, with good humor and a deep knowledge of baseball history. I tend to buy tickets to 10 Mariner games, and last night was my last for the season. It was also the first time I ever saw the Cincinnati Reds live. I think. I grew up in an AL city. 

Even so, it felt like the tail end of the tail end. It felt like the dregs. The weather was supposed to be nasty, and the M's were coming home from a really nasty Midwest road trip, in which they went 2-2 against the Rangers, 0-2 against the Cubs, and then 0-4 against Houston, including a 21-1 drubbing on Sunday. During the day, on my lunchbreak, I happened upon the Mariners Baseball Reference page and was comparing how this awful season compared with other Mariner awful seasons of the past:

  • Our .403 winning percentage is on pace for the ninth-worst mark in M's history. Last season's .549 mark was our sixth-best (after 2001, 2002, 2003, 2000, and 1997). 
  • We‘ve had 14 winning seasons. This will be our 29th losing season. 
  • 2001 was the big one, of course: 116-46 for a .716 winning percentage. Second-best is .574 (twice). Meaning we’ve been .700+ but never .600-.700. Odd.
  • Our attendance this year will amost certainly be below 2 mil for the fourth time (in a full season) since 1993. For the remaining 12 games, we'd need to average 34.7k to break 2 mil, and there have only been three games this entire season when we‘ve drawn better than 34.7k: two games in March, and a game last month against Toronto when all the Canadians came down. 
  • All of the sub-2 million attendance years have been this decade: 2011-13, and 2019.
  • We’ve used more position players this year than ever before: 63. The previous record was 61 in 2017. Oh, and this was before last night's game when two new players made their MLB debuts. So I guess it's 65? (Yes, it's 65.)
  • We‘ve also used more pitchers (40) than ever before. Well, it ties 2017. But 105 players total? What’s the record among all MLB teams? 
  • The best season a Mariner player has ever had, as judged by WAR, was Alex Rodriguez in 2000 when he posted a 10.4 WAR. Junior's 1996 season, when he missed a month to a hamate bone injury, is second at 9.7. The lowest WAR for the best Mariner player of a particular season is Ichiro's 3.9 out in 2005. We‘re likely to break that one, too. The best WAR on the team currently belongs to Kyle Seager. At 2.6. 

All of which didn’t make the evening seem propitious. 

But midday the skies cleared, and stayed so, and it was 69 degrees at gametime—about as beautiful a September evening as you could ask for. Plus we had Justus Sheffield on the mound, and I‘ve got hope in the kid. He had a couple good innings against the Yankees, and in his one outing on our sorry roadtrip he pitched five scoreless against the Cubs. Plus starting in right was Kyle Lewis, our 2016 No. 1 draft pick. So things felt new. There was upside. There were possibilities.

First inning looked good: three up and down for the Reds, while Reds pitcher Trevor Bauer had trouble finding the plate.

In the second, Reds right fielder Aristides (Double A) Aquino singled sharply between third and short, but he was erased on a DP. Then Phillip Ervin lofted one into the right-field corner, and our #1 draft pick dove for it. He didn’t come close, the ball bounced to the wall, Ervin glided in with a triple. Then a single, then a double, all sharply rapped. But a comeback to Sheffield ended the threat and it was only 1-0.

Sheffield kept ending threats. They kept getting hits but we kept getting double plays—four double plays in four innnings. We were hitless against Bauer but after 4 innings it was still only 1-0. Sadly, the kid misplayed another one in right, twisting the wrong way several times before making a desperate stab that went for naught (for him) and a double (for the batter). He got no error on either play. My friend Jeff was defending Lewis, since it was his first game, but I'm like, “He's doing the same thing he was doing for three years in the minors, just in a different field. I get where pitching might be at another level. But fielding? Misplaying a ball like that?” I was in the middle of all this when Lewis came to bat for the second time in his Major League career and promptly homered to left center. Tie game. Curtain call. An inning later, our No. 9 hitter, Dylan Moore, rapped one to left. 2-1, M‘s. 

In the 7th, we brought in Austin (Double A) Adams, and he got two quick outs, walked the No. 9 hitter, and faced a pinch hitter. “Isn’t it odd to pinch-hit for your leadoff hitter?” I was asking Jeff. Which is when the pinch hitter, Brian O‘Gradym went deep to right with a no-doubter second-decker, and just like that (as Dave used to say) the Reds were back on top. Oh, that was O’Grady's first Major League homer, too. September baseball.

The Reds pattern that inning was out, out, walk, homer, and in the bottom of the 8th we duplicated it. Narvaez struck out, Gordon grounded out, Nola walked and Kyle Seager (our No. 1 WAR guy, after all), hit a parabola that landed about three rows deep in right. And just like that we were on top again. Tony Bass finished it off, 1, 2, 3, and the M's losing streak stopped at six. It was our second victory in September. 

Of the seven runs in the game, six were scored via homers. That's getting old. Yesterday I read that something like 50% of all MLB runs this year are scored on homers. Pretty soon, everyone's first hit will be a homer. 

Attendance last night was 12,230. Officially. The unofficial number seemed about half that.  

Is Jerry Dipoto's reclamation project going well? We are getting younger. But young enough? By position-player age, we‘re currently tied for the 13th-youngest Mariners team with an average age of 27.9—as opposed to last year’s 29.8. By pitcher age, we‘re about the same: 28.8 this year vs. 29.0 last year. It’s the 11th-oldest pitching staff in M's history.

Posted at 08:24 AM on Wednesday September 11, 2019 in category Seattle Mariners   |   Permalink  

Thursday August 29, 2019

Yanks Use Former M's to Crush M's on a Beautiful Sky-Blue Day in Seattle

Judge sends it high and deep for 99's 101st career homer.

So after the M’s managed to tie the game in the bottom of the 4th with a 2-run homer by Kyle Seager that eked out over the outstretched supertall glove of Aaron Judge in right field, making it 2-2, and the teams switched sides, I wondered how long before the Yankees retook the lead.

Answer? One batter.

It was a beautiful day yesterday in Seattle, blue skies and highs in the mid-80s, but I knew the afternoon game between the M’s and Yankees wouldn’t be beautiful. First, all those damn Yankee fans. I’m guessing about a third of the crowd wore Yankee paraphernalia. Individually they’re not bad but whenever they score a run you get that contingent clapping “Let’s go, Yank-kees!” like they’re in the fucking Bronx rather than in your backyard. Cue 2016 Felix against Toronto.

Then there was the drama of the pitching matchup: our former ace, James Paxton, he of the no-hitter and American eagle landing on his shoulder, whom we traded in the off-season to the Yankees, going against the main component of that trade, top prospect Justus Sheffield. Paxton has had an off-on season with the Yanks, but lately on, while Sheffield had pitched in two games for us—one in April and one last week. At gametime, his ERA was over 6.00 and his WHIP nearing 2.5. Small sample size but yikes.

For all that, Sheffield might have set ‘em down in the 1st except we overshifted on Gleyber Torres: Second baseman Dee Gordon, playing on the shortstop-side of second, couldn’t move to his left in time. That would’ve been the third out. Instead, Sheffield faced Gary Sanchez, who, on the seventh pitch, launched a ball into the upper deck in left. For a second I thought it might physically leave the park. The only doubt was fair or foul and it was ruled fair, even after the appeal, and the Yanks had a 2-0 lead. Meanwhile, Paxton retired our side on nine pitches.

For all that, there was a moment we had a chance. The winds of fortune shifted. Sheffield settled down and faced the minimum in the 3rd, then struck out the side in the 4th: Sanchez looking, Gardner swinging, Urshela swinging. Fun! And Paxton suddenly couldn’t find the plate. In the 4th, we should’ve scored more, but somehow turned four walks and a homer into just 2 runs, stranding 2. The other walk was erased on a caught stealing.

Still: tie game. But how long would it last?

Five pitches. On a 1-2 count, 27-year-old rookie Mike Ford, whom the Yanks brought up when Luke Voigt went on the DL earlier this month, and who’s hit eight homeruns in that time, went deep. Sheffield got Maybin to ground out, but the Yankees journeyman Tyler “White Shoes” Wade beat our shift again, poking a hit into the empty area by third base and legging out an easy double. Then he stole third. Then D.J. LeMahieu singled and the Yankees had their 2-run lead back. And there went Sheffield ... and in came Matt Wisler, whom we purchased from the San Diego Padres on July 4. (Because nothing says American independence better than buying a dude.) And on Wisler’s sixth pitch, Aaron Judge went deep. The only question was whether he hit it too high but I think it wound up over the bullpen in left. Haven’t seen such a high, arching homer since Mark McGwire’s heyday. 6-2, Evils.

And that’s where it stayed until the 9th when LeMahieu homered to make it 7-2, which got those assholes behind the visitors dugout chanting again. To add insult, in the bottom of the 9th, manager Aaron Boone sent former Mariner Cory Gearrin, whom the Yanks selected off waivers last week, to close it out. So we began against former M’s and ended against former M’s. At least we managed two hits off Gearrin—our second and third hits of the game. Final: 7-3.

And here ya are. And it’s a beautiful day.

Still, and despite the horror of Sheffield’s pitching line (4.1 IP, 6 H, 5R, 7.94 ERA on the season), the kid didn’t do poorly. Two of the hits, and thus two of the runs, I blame on bad shifts. Another run came via Wisler. So we’ll see. I look at his top of the 4th and hold out hope. What else we got?

Posted at 11:17 AM on Thursday August 29, 2019 in category Seattle Mariners   |   Permalink  

Wednesday August 07, 2019

Hey Jack Kerouac, I Think of Lopes' Homer

Last night, after Omar Narvaez lined a single to right in the 7th inning, breaking up Dinelson Lamet's bid to become the first pitcher in San Diego Padres history to throw a no-hitter (the only MLB team that doesn't have one), and after the Padres scored 3 more in the top of the 8th, making it 8-0, there didn't seem to be much for a Mariners fan on a lovely Tuesday Seattle night to root for. But then baseball happened. 

No, the Mariners did not threaten. Not really. We just had a nice moment in the bottom of the 8th.

Mariners fans need nice moments in this rebuilding phase, where the players come and go with dizzying regularity, and where the only game we might win against the other 29 teams would be Scrabble, considering our current high-value Scrabble-tiled players: Broxton, Narvaez, Vogelbach and Mallex, each of whom started last night. At one point a call to the pen brought in Zac Grotz. That's right: from Z to shining Z. 

The comedy that is the 2019 Seattle Mariners was exemplified by the caps on the pitching matchup I saw on ESPN.com before the game:

 

A little one-sided. Which is, of course, how the game turned out.

The nice moment in the 8th began with a little nubber from Mallex Smith that didn't go more than 10 feet. The Padres' catcher sprang on it, but Mallex has wheels, and the throw was a little high, necessitating a slight jump from first basemen Eric Hosmer. Safe. So instead of 2 out and nobody on, we had one out and somebody superfast on. Next batter, J.P. Crawford, lined a single to left-center and Mallex went for third and to be honest I thought he was going to be nailed. Nope, safe again, and the Pads had blown their umpire challenge on Hosmer's hop. Meanwhile, Crawford went to 2nd on the throw. Now we‘re cooking. Then Domingo Santana singled, and we had a run. Then Santana stole 2nd and the throw went into center field and we had another run. Meanwhile, the batter was someone named Tim Lopes. My friend Andy, who keeps abreast of the comings-and-goings of the Mariners less than I do, asked who he was. I shrugged and looked at the scoreboard. Lopes had an odd line: 2 games, 1 AB, 0 H, 1 W, a .667 OBP. I was trying to make sense of the OBP math (answer: he got hit by a pitch) when Lopes clobbered a pitch over the left-centerfield wall.

Andy and I were celebrating and high-fiving with the guy sitting next to us, an air-traffic controller from Ireland, who was attending his first baseball game with his family at the tail end of a west-coast family vacation. At one point I asked him if he had any questions about the game but he seemed to understand it well enough. “It’s similar to a game called rounders we played in school,” he said. Rounders from visiting Brits again. Cf., this afternoon game from 2017.

I think we first began to talk to him in the 5th inning or so, when Andy and I were talking literature, and he disagreed with Andy's disparagement of Jack Kerouac. It was a good-natured conversation with a “grass is greener” tinge. Andy, who has read Ulysses several times, and once did the Joyce walk around Dublin, talked up James Joyce, whom our Irish friend thought overrated; while our Irish friend talked up the all-American Jack Kerouac, whom we thought overrated. So it goes. 

As Lopes was rounding the bases, I looked up at his stats again and said, “I wouldn't be surprised if that was his first Major League hit.” Five seconds later, the scoreboard announced exactly that, and he got a curtain call and everything. Nice moment for the kid, who isn't much of a kid: He turned 25 in June. Mariners drafted him in the sixth round in 2012 and he's been bouncing around the minors ever since, where his slash line was a not-great .277/.339/.382. This year, though, he hit better in AAA Tacoma (.302/.362/.476), maybe because AAA is experimenting with the bouncier MLB ball and homeruns have skyrocketed. Either way, he got the call up in July. He came in as a 9th-inning defensive replacement July 24 (no chances, no ABs), then started the next game against Detroit, playing second and batting ninth. He led off the bottom of the 3rd and drew a walk against Drew VerHagen and later scored on an error. He led off the bottom of the 4th with a HBP, stole second, and scored on a triple by J.P. Crawford. In the 5th, he grounded out (there goes his 1.000 career OBP), and in the 7th he was replaced by Dylan Moore. The fear was concussion from the HBP. He was activated before last night's game when—more fun for M's fans—Tim Beckham was suspended 80 games for a PED violation.  

Good thing. Lopes, apparently unrelated to Davey, gave some buzz to the evening that otherwise wouldn't have had much. His homer, in fact, was the last Mariners hit of the game. After him, we went gentle into that good night.

Posted at 11:20 AM on Wednesday August 07, 2019 in category Seattle Mariners   |   Permalink  

Sunday July 21, 2019

#EdgarHOF

The etching is slightly off. It kind of looks like he has a moustache when he doesn‘t—even though he did—and his eyebrows are too pronounced or noticeable. I never noticed Edgar’s eyebrows. And maybe the jaw is too square? But it's not bad. 

Better? Whoever wrote the words. Good work. That really nails it.

And now we have two.  

Posted at 09:09 PM on Sunday July 21, 2019 in category Seattle Mariners   |   Permalink  

Saturday July 20, 2019

Perfekto: Mike Leake Just Misses Baseball Immortality

Last week, one of the members of our Seattle Mariners season ticket group, Grant, sent out an email saying he and his son were going to Cooperstown this weekend for the enshrinement of beloved son Edgar Martinez, so he couldn't use the tickets he had for the Friday, July 19 game. Anyone want them? Some demurrals before Tim said, “Sure, I‘ll take them.”

Didn’t exactly look promising. It was against the Angels, again, and they raked us last weekend. Hell, they no-hit us on the first game back after the All-Star break. Our pitcher, Mike Leake, lasted 2/3 of an inning, possibly his worst outing ever, while their two pitchers, Taylor Cole and Felix Pena, no-hit our ass. In this game, last night, who was going for us again? Oh, right. Mike Leake. But Tim's a trooper and a fan, and he runs the Grand Salami website, so he went. 

Here's his inning-by-inning account.

He almost saw baseball history. For eight innings, Leake was perfect: 24 up, 24 down. I saw some of Tim's tweets about it in which he didn't jinx anything by saying the magic words. He just showed his scorecard with a number: 21. 24. At this point, TV-less, I rushed over to the local watering hole, the Quarter Lounge, got a beer and settled in. I did that in lower Queen Anne in August 2012 during Felix's perfecto—the last one thrown in the Majors. Here, sadly, the suspense ended quickly. On the third pitch of the inning, Luis Rengifo, a second baseman, ground a seeing-eye single to the right side, and there went that. But it's a beautiful thing about baseball. Every day, maybe every play, the average player has a chance at immortality. What do Pat Seerey, Mark Whiten and Scooter Gennett have in common? They all hit four homers in one game. Only 18 guys have done that, and none of them are named Babe Ruth or Hank Aaron or Willie Mays or Ken Griffey Jr. Sometimes lightning strikes. 

Only 23 pitchers, and just 21 in the modern era, have ever thrown a perfect game. Mike Leake nearly added his name. Instead, he‘ll add his name to the nearly list. Also to the list of guys who have pitched shutouts this year: 19 right now. He’s tied for the league lead with 1. 

Here's the perfect game breakdown by decade:

Decade No.  Pitchers
1900s 2 Cy Young (1904), Addie Joss (1908)
1910s 0  
1920s 1 Charlie Robertson (1922)
1930s 0  
1940s 0  
1950s 1 Don Larsen (1956, WS)
1960s 3 Jim Bunning (1964), Sandy Koufax (1965), Catfish Hunter (1968)
1970s 0  
1980s 3 Len Barker (1981), Mike Witt (1984), Tom Browning (1988)
1990s 4 Dennis Martinez (1991), Kenny Rogers (1994), David Wells (1998), David Cone (1999)
2000s 2 Randy Johnson (2004), Mark Buehrle (2009)
2010s 5 Dallas Braden (2010), Roy Halladay (2010), Philip Humber (2012), Matt Cain (2012), Felix Hernandez (2012)

You see how rare it is. Or was. First 50 years of the 20th century, it happened just three times. Then Don Larsen did it in the World Series against a good Brooklyn team and with an ump with a rather wide strike zone. Three in the ‘60s can be attributed to the raising of the mound; it was a pitcher’s decade. I became baseball cognizant in the ‘70s, when it looked like there would never be another one. But then Len Barker broke through; then they became more frequent.

I’m curious, though. We‘ve had five this decade, all in the first three years, and nothing since? Scoring is up, sure, but league batting averages and OBPs are about the same: .255/.319 in 2012 vs. .253/.323 this year. But I guess league averages don’t matter so much as team averages/OBPs. You‘re just pitching against one team, after all. In 2012, for example, the team with the fourth-worst batting average (Tampa) was the victim of Felix’s perfecto, the team with the second-worst average (Houston) was victimized by Cain, and the team with the absolute worst average/OBP in MLB, the Seattle Mariners (.234/.296), got it from Humber—who, after his perfecto, went 4-5 with a 7.39 ERA in 2012, then 0-8 with a 7.90 with Houstin in 2013; then he was out of baseball. Go know. 

Again, though, there are still teams that can't hit. Detroit's #s are .234/.293. So I don't quite get it. We‘ve had no perfectos for a longer time now (6, nearly 7 years) than at any time since Barker. I guess it’s more than stats; I guess the stars have to align; and hitters have to not lean into pitches.  

I'm sorry Leake missed out. I'm sorry Tim missed out, but I'm happy for Grant. If I'd given up tix to a game where even a no-hitter was pitched, I'd never stop kicking myself.

Posted at 12:46 PM on Saturday July 20, 2019 in category Seattle Mariners   |   Permalink  

Wednesday July 17, 2019

Your Best Chance to Get Edgar Martinez Out

If you wanted to get Edgar Martinez out during his long, storied, and now Hall of Fame career, here’s what you needed to do.

He’s a rightie, of course, but calling for a right-handed pitcher didn’t help much. He hit better against lefties but it wasn’t overwhelming: .322 to .308. Still, you need every advantage so you'd take it. 

Away games? The difference between home and away for him was miniscule and actually favored away: .312 vs. .311 at home. Late in the season? He actually hit better in the second half: .309/.314. In fact, you’d probably want to face him in April. Every other month he hit over .300; in April he hit just .297. And get him either in the 1st or 8th inning, where he hit .298. Every over inning he's over .300.

But whatever you do, don’t get behind in the count. On 1-0 pitches, he hit .406, and on 2-0 counts, he hit .441 with a .888 slugging percentage. On 3-0, his OBP was .963.

Come to think of it, getting ahead in the count didn’t always help, either: On 0-1 pitches, he hit .337. No, what you'd want was to get a little deeper into the count, with maybe Edgar behind. That’s when his numbers begin to drift below .300. Edgar’s line on 2-2, for example, was not great: .252/.256/.396.

Got all that? Basically, what you’d want, if you wanted the best chance to get Edgar out, is a right-hander pitching to him, at home, say in the 8th inning, with maybe a 2-2 count on him.

Which turns out to be the exact circumstances here:

Thus endeth the lesson. 

Enjoy the Hall of Fame induction ceremony on Sunday, Edgar. Everyone in Seattle will be celebrating with you. 

Posted at 06:20 AM on Wednesday July 17, 2019 in category Seattle Mariners   |   Permalink  

Friday May 31, 2019

The Sad History of the Mariners First-Round Draft Picks This Century

Read ‘em and weep. 

In honor of MLB draft day next Monday, a bit of trivia. This century, 28 of the 30 Major League teams have managed to draft a player in the first round who has gone on to become an All-Star at some point in their career—either for that team or another team.

Any guesses as to the two teams that haven’t done this? Yes, Mariners fans, one of them is our Seattle Mariners. The other is the San Diego Padres. No wonder we’re natural rivals.

The blame on our end can begin with Hall-of-Fame GM Pat Gillick, who, during his tenure, kept giving up first-round picks as compensation for signing high-quality free agents like John Olerud, Jeff Nelson and, OK, Greg Colbrunn. Indeed, in four of the first five years of the century, the Ms didn’t have a first-round pick. And the one year we did, we went with John Mayberry Jr. ... who didn’t sign with us.

That’s the first part of the M's story of first-round failure. The second part is more heart-wrenching, since there’s no compensation in the form of a John Olerud. It’s just a tale of incompetence.

First, you’ve got to admire the talent in the 2005 draft. All but one of the top seven picks became All-Stars—including Ryan Zimmerman, Ryan Braun and Troy Tulowitzki. The one pick who didn’t become an All-Star was, of course, ours: Jeff Clement, who went third overall. He retired in 2012 with a career .218/.277/.371 slash line and negative WAR.

Was 2006 worse? With the fifth overall pick, we went with Brandon Morrow, who, yes, is having a resurgent career in his 30s in the NL. Since 2015, he’s appeared in 103 games, tossed 123 innings, and has a 2.04 ERA with a 112-28 strikeout-walk ratio. He’s now the Cubs closer with 22 saves this season. He might even become an All-Star and relieve us of this ignominy. So how is this pick worse? Because of who was chosen immediately after him, meaning who the M's passed on: Clayton Kershaw (7th), Tim Lincecum (10th) and Max Scherzer (11th).

And the hits kept coming. In 2007, we chose Phillippe Aumont. In 2010, we traded him and in 2015 he retired with negative WAR. In 2008, we grabbed Josh Fields. In 2011, we traded him and from 2017-18 he pitched well for the Dodgers; after being cut by two teams this spring he’s currently with the Rangers triple-A club.

With the second overall pick in 2009, we went with Dustin Ackley. Twenty-three picks later, the Angels nabbed a guy named Mike Trout. Etc.

The third part of the story, what’s happened this decade, is a work in progress, since it takes a while to develop talent, then it takes a while for that talent to be recognized. But some teams have already managed to do this. Here's a comparison between the Houston Astros' first-round picks this decade and ours. All-Stars are highlighted—as if they needed to be:

YEAR ASTROS WAR MARINERS WAR
2010 D. DeShields Jr. 4.4 n/a * 0
2011 George Springer 21.1 Danny Hultzen 0
2012 Carlos Correa 20 Mike Zunino 7.8
2013 Mark Appel 0 D.J. Peterson 0
2014 Brady Aiken 0 Alex Jackson -0.3
2015 Alex Bregman 15.3 n/a ** 0
TOTAL   60.8   7.5

* Lost first-round pick for signing Chone Figgins ***
** Lost first-round pick for signing Nelson Cruz
*** You heard me: Chone Figgins

None of our picks are in the Mariners organizaiton anymore, while Springer, Correa and Bregman are the heart of the World Champion Houston Astros. By ESPN’s recent rankings, they are the 37th, 27th, and sixth best players in baseball.

So which team has picked the most first-round All-Stars this century? That would be the Kansas City Royals, with six, including Alex Gordon, Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer, all of whom helped that benighted franchise to a pennant in 2014 and a World Series title in 2015. Next up is the San Francisco Giants with five, including Buster Posey, Tim Lincecum and Madison Bumgarner, all of whom helped that franchise, which hadn't won a World Series since The “Say Hey” Kid was running down fly balls in the Polo Grounds, win three titles in five years.

My tabulation of first-round All-Stars, by the way, doesn’t include supplemental first-rounders—the guys beyond the first 30. If it did, yes, hallelujah, the Mariners would have picked an All-Star. Ready? Adam Jones in 2003. Who of course never played for us.

One hopes we’re doing better with Jerry DiPoto—rather than Bill Bavasi or Jack Zduriencik—as GM. Wasn’t he, after all, with the Angels when they drafted Mike Trout in 2009? Actually, no. He didn’t join that club until fall 2011, and, under his tenure, the team lost its first-round picks in both 2012 and 2013 by signing, respectively, Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton. Then they went with Sean Newcomb in 2014 (3.7 WAR after 2+ years with the Braves) and Taylor Ward in 2015 (negative WAR after limited action with the Angels). Then DiPoto got the boot, and in September 2015 we got him. He's now in the process of rebuilding our team.

How have his first-rounders done so far? It’s early:

  • 2016: OF Kyle Lewis is with AA Arkansas, where he’s hitting .211/.316/.325
  • 2017: 1B Evan White is with AA Arkansas, where he’s hitting .234/.323/.324
  • 2018: RHP Logan Gilbert was the opening day starter for West Virginia Power before being promoted to A+ Modest Nuts, where he’s 2-0 with a 1.69 ERA

For those interested, here are this century's first-round All-Stars and the teams that chose them:

TEAM NO.  ALL-STARS
Royals 6 Zack Greinke, Billy Butler, Alex Gordon, Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer, Aaron Crow
Astros 5 Jason Castro, Mike Foltynewicz, George Springer, Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman
D-Backs 5 Carlos Quentin, Justin Upton, Max Scherzer, A.J. Pollock, Trevor Bauer
Giants 5 Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum, Madison Bumgarner, Buster Posey, Joe Panik
Brewers 4 Prince Fielder, Rickie Weeks, Ryan Braun, Jeremy Jeffress
Nationals 4 Chad Cordero, Ryan Zimmerman, Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper
Reds 4 Jay Bruce, Devin Mesoraco, Yonder Alonso, Yasmani Grandal
Angels 3 Joe Saunders, Jered Weaver, Mike Trout
Athletics 3 Nick Swisher, Sonny Gray, Addison Russell
Cubs 3 Mark Prior, Javier Baez, Kris Bryant
Dodgers 3 Chad Billingsley, Clayton Kershaw, Corey Seager
Marlins 3 Adrian Gonzalez, Christian Yelich, Jose Fernandez
Mets 3 Scott Kazmir, Matt Harvey, Michael Conforto
Orioles 3 Nick Markakis, Matt Wieters, Manny Machado
Phillies 3 Chase Utley, Cole Hamels, Aaron Nola
Pirates 3 Andrew McCutchen, Pedro Alvarez, Gerrit Cole
Blue Jays 2 Aaron Hill, Ricky Romero
Braves 2 Adam Wainwright, Jason Heyward
Cards 2 Shelby Miller, Michael Wacha
Indians 2 Drew Pomeranz, Francisco Lindor
Rangers 2 Mark Teixeira, Justin Smoak
Rays 2 Evan Longoria, David Price
Tigers 2 Justin Verlander, Andrew Miller
Twins 2 Joe Mauer, Glen Perkins, 
Red Sox 1 Jacoby Ellsbury
Rockies 1 Troy Tulowitzki
White Sox 1 Chris Sale
Yankees 1 Phil Hughes
Mariners 0  
Padres 0  

Monday, the Mariners get the 20th overall pick. In 2020, it’ll be much, much higher.

Posted at 07:41 AM on Friday May 31, 2019 in category Seattle Mariners   |   Permalink  

Wednesday January 23, 2019

Edgar Martinez Elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame

Edgar Martinez goes in the Hall

The patient man, patiently waiting his turn.

“Thank you, sir.”

He had to wait 10 years, often with low vote totals, before a push of SABRmetric dudes, the Mariners organization and its fans, and, maybe most importantly, the pitchers who faced him—who kept calling him the toughest hitter they ever faced—all of those forces finally woke up enough old, tired baseball writers and pushed Edgar Martinez over the 75% mark and into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. 

YES!! About fucking time!

And Edgar's response when Jack O‘Connell, secretary-treasurer of the BBWAA, phoned to tell him the good news

“Thank you. Thank you, sir. Appreciate the call.” 

Oh my god. So Edgar. So, so Edgar. 

It seems appropriate that he’s going in with three pitchers—two first-ballot guys, with one, Mariano Rivera, Mo, the first player ever to be elected to the Hall unanimously—since he owned pitchers for so long. It's like Bruce Lee needing to fight three guys because he's Bruce Lee. Even with these pitchers, who are, you know, Hall of Famers, here's what Edgar did against them:

  • Mike Mussina: .307/.337/.627 (83 PA)
  • Roy Halladay: .444/.474/.722 (19 PA)
  • Mariano Rivera: .579/.652/.1.053 (23 PA)

The national headlines are all about Mo, of course, but that's par for the course for Edgar. He spent a career overshadowed by others, in a west-coast city that often played while the east coast slept, so many people didn't know. Hell, the Mariners didn't even know. I‘ve written about this before. When Edgar was called up for his first cup of coffee in September 1987, after hitting .329 in Triple-A Calgary, director of player development Bill Haywood said this to The Seattle Times:

“His glove is his strength. Hitting over .300 is a pleasant surprise.”

Again: That was the director of player development. 

The next year, Edgar led the PCL with a .363 batting average and was awarded another cup of coffee. The Ms turned him into a yo-yo. Up and down, up and down. In 1990, Bill James wrote, “What a sad story this one is. ... Martinez has wasted about three years when he could have been helping the team.” And even then, even when it was so obvious to Bill James, the M’s didn't know. In spring 1990, manager Jim Lefebvre bragged about his new starting third baseman to The Seattle Times:

“I think Darnell Coles is going to surprise a lot of people. He knows there is no one in the wings, just Edgar Martinez to back him up. I think it is time for him to realize that he belongs at third, because to play that position you have to be an athlete. And Darnell Coles is an athlete.”

Again: That was the Mariners manager. 

Yes, I‘ve written about this before. Yes, I’m repeating myself. But it's still amazing to me: “No one in the wings.” That's how the M's thought of him. That's how much they didn't know.  

Hell, I didn't know, either. In that 2004 piece, I got it wrong, too. I wrote: 

All but one of the .300/.400/.500 guys are in the Hall of Fame ... So does this means Edgar will go into the Hall of Fame? Probably not. His percentages are out of sight but his raw numbers aren't high enough to justify making him the first DH to be enshrined. If only he'd been able to play a few more good seasons. If only he'd been brought up earlier. If only Bill James had been running the team.

Although, in a way, I was right with the “first DH” comment. Because he's not. Frank Thomas played more than half his games at DH and he was enshrined in 2014. And it was after that that Edgar's numbers began to rise. He went from 27% to 43% to 58 to 70. He kept chipping away. He kept fouling off pitches. Yesterday, he went in with 85%. Another testament to patience. A rare instance of good coming to the good who wait.

The news was overshadowed a bit nationally but Seattle went nuts. We‘re flying the 11 flag atop the Space Needle. We’re lighting up the 520 bridge. He's our second Hall of Famer but favorite son. Edgar never complained and he never left. He just kept doing the work. And for that, Seattle, and the Pacific Northwest, have one thing to say to him. 

Thank you, sir. 

Posted at 09:46 AM on Wednesday January 23, 2019 in category Seattle Mariners   |   Permalink  
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