Megan is out gallivanting around the foothills of the Cascades, so I decided to step in for the game post for you guys today. I don’t traditionally do these game summary type posts for anything, so forgive me if it’s not as entertaining as your usual fare here.
Today saw Jason Vargas face off against Ervin Santana and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (in Orange County, of California, on planet Earth, in the Sol System…). The Halos have played merry hob with the M’s this year, to the tune of ten wins against our boys in blue in twelve games. To say that today did not seem promising going in was something of an understatement.
Santana was once a budding ace for the Angels, but injuries derailed his career somewhat. Still, he’s rebuilt himself into a nice complimentary piece to Jered Weaver in the Angels’ rotation, pairing a low-mid 90’s fastaball with good command and a good slider/change combination to work his way through ballgames.
The game started off fairly quietly, with Franklin Gutierrez drawing a walk in the first and swiping second base for his 12th steal of the year. Lopez couldn’t move him up, however, but Vargas dealt with the Angels efficiently in the bottom half of the frame, so it didn’t much matter… yet. Milton Bradley showed off the malaise that’s been the M’s baserunning the past couple of weeks in the top of the second, getting picked off at first base after breaking towards second before Santana had even started his windup.
In the bottom half of the second, Vargas was cruising until he met Mike Napoli. He left a slider belt-high, and Napoli demolished it, hitting a no-doubt shot out to left-center field to put the Angels up 1-0. Vargas got out of the frame without further damage, but the M’s couldn’t pick him up for awhile after that. In fact, they didn’t even manage more than a walk until Lopez singled to break up Santana’s no-hit bid with two out in the fourth.
The bottom of the fourth saw a minor oddity. Torii Hunter had just beat out a long throw from Josh Wilson deep in the hole at shortstop for an infield single, when Vargas wound up and delivered the ball to Juan Rivera. The ball was low and inside, but the home plate ump waved it off and pointed at first… where Tim Tschida, Bane Of All Pitchers, was indicating a balk. Replays showed a smooth delivery with no pause or hesitation of any kind, so I’m not really sure at all what Tschida was calling. Hunter was granted second base, and Vargas was suddenly in a bit of a pickle. That said, Vargas bore down and got the job done, striking Rivera out and inducing a broken-bat grounder from Hideki Matsui.
The Mariners finally built up something resembling offense in the fifth inning after Ryan Langerhans worked another longer at-bat for a walk, then stole second with Rob Johnson at the plate. Johnson then promptly rapped a single to move Langerhans up to third. With Josh “Paperboy” Wilson up at the plate, Santana spiked a slider in the dirt, allowing Langerhans to score and tie the game. The rally ended there, however, as Wilson flew out, Ichiro was put on intentionally, and Figgins grounded out meekly to second base. Still, a run was on the board, and Santana’s pitch count was up to 82 pitches, an important factor when you consider how awful the Angels’ bullpen has been for much of the year.
Vargas cruised again through the fifth, and along the way further proved something I’d noticed earlier in the game: Erick Aybar cannot handle a good changeup. Aybar has been a terror to the Mariners all year long, whipping our pitchers with an .824 OPS so far this year, his second-best mark against teams he’s seen at least ten times this year. Vargas, however, seems to have him figured out. Vargas threw him almost nothing but his change-up, inducing outs in all three of Aybar’s at bats through five innings with just six total pitches.
The sixth saw potential heartache for the M’s turn into wonder. Kendrick scorched a Vargas changeup over Guti’s head and then raced around the bases for a triple. With a man on third, no-one out, and the heart of the Angels’ order coming up, the game was looking like it could start to get ugly. Vargas was unphased, however, inducing a grounder from Abreu that forced Kendrick to stay at third. Then Hunter, another bane to the M’s, looking to break the game open. He got an inside fastball that he turned on and drove hard… but right at Josh Wilson, who calmly turned and threw the ball to Lopez to force out Kendrick for the double play. Vargas got himself nicely out of danger, and his pitch count stood at a tidily efficient 76 pitches after six frames.
A little but of comedy came for the M’s in the seventh. Rob Johnson, can’tcher extraordinare, came up to bat with two outs and worked a 3-2 count before swinging and missing at a ball in the dirt. However, the ball got away from Angels’ catcher Jeff Mathis, who simply could not find the ball at all even through it was right by the plate, allowing Johnson to reach first safely. Oh, the irony!
Vargas cruised through the rest of his appearance, ultimately finishing with 7 2/3 innings piched, giving up just four hits and one walk and striking out a career-high nine batters. His final pitch was yet another nasty change to Aybar, who simply flailed at it. As I said earlier, Aybar looks helpless against a good changeup.
Brandon League came in to finish out the 8th and promptly scared Mariner fans by giving up a single, which moved Kevin Fransden from first to third, but he quickly induced a harmless grounder from Bobby Abreu to get out of the inning. After the M’s couldn’t manage anything to break the tie, League came back out to pitch the 9th, inducing a grounder from Hunter, then working his nasty split/change/whatever pitch to strike out Juan Rivera, who had hit the eventual game-winning homer last night. A flyout by Reggie Willits put the game into a long-fated extra innings situation.
In the Mariners’ half of the tenth, Ichiro opened things up with a walk, then advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt by Figgins. That was when things fell apart. Guti hit a grounder right at the shortstop, and for some reason no-one knows, Ichrio ran to third anyways, and got caught in a run-down. There was no reason for Ichiro to run there. he was plenty close enough to second to get back and leave a runner in scoring position. I’ve always been a huge Ichrio supporter, even when much of the fanbase seemed ready to turn on him a few years ago, but that was a horrible, bone-headed decision that rarely makes those.
It got made up for, however. Guti got to first safely in the run-down, then got a great jump with Lopez up and stole second for the second time today. Then, after working a good at-bat, Lopez laced a broken-bat base hit to the weak-armed Reggie Willits in left field. Guti raced around third and scored easily, and Lopez advanced to second on the play. Milton Bradley struck out to end the inning, but the lead had been secured, and David Aardsma came in to try to get the save.
Things did not start well for Aardsma. Napoli legged out an infield single when Figgins decided to hold into a ball that he had to dive and tumble for rather than risk throwing it away, then advanced to second on a sacrifice by Fransden. Paul McAnulty pinch-hit for Mathis and drew a walk, then went 3-2 to Aybar before striking him out on a check swing. Howie Kendrick came up for the Angels’ last hope… and whiffed at a fastball closer to his eyes than the strike zone.
League got the win, Aardsma got the save, and Lopez got the hero credit for the game-winning RBI, but the real hat-tip for this game goes to Jason Vargas. There were a few times that this game could have gotten out of hand, but each time the Angels threatened, he shut them right down. I’d say that on a whole, this was probably one of his best outings on the year, if not one of the best of his entire career when you factor in his strikeouts. It wasn’t a pretty win outside of Vargas’ gem by any means, but the M’s needed one badly, so I’ll take one any way I can get it…