Yesterday afternoon, Felix Hernandez pitched 8 solid innings of 3-hit, 2-run baseball, and Fernando Rodney came in for his 25th save on the year. The game was 14 innings long, and won in a pinch by a Michael Saunders single and steal, and a Brad Miller GR double to left field. Rodney closed things up with 15 pitches, and if things keep going the way they have been, is on pace to rival his 48-save 2012 year with the Tampa Bay Rays. It is weird to think that I may have a reason to care about the post-season this year. The Orioles and Tigers are both doing pretty well as of the time I am starting this post. The Diamondbacks and Phillies are flailing, but all I need is one team in the race to really enjoy post-season baseball. I haven’t had that in a few years – even back when the Phillies were in the World Series, I still spent my time rooting for the Rays because of the way they handled their 2008 season. Those were my formative years, and how I came out of that not a Rays fan, I’ll never know. Such is the game, I guess.
Today’s rubber match featured Taijuan Walker taking his second shot against the White Sox and former Mariner Hector Noesi. I was thinking at the beginning of the game that it could go either way, but it seemed to be pretty obvious by the bottom of the second inning which way it was actually going to go; Walker’s pitch count was in the upper 40s, and Noesi threw his 20th pitch in the top of the 3rd to Dustin Ackley, who took a single out to right-ish. No further gains would be made by the Ms that inning.
Walker had thrown 71 pitches by the end of the 3rd inning, and while White Sox hitters were being kept at bay, well, I don’t have to tell anyone reading this that 71 over three is not really the best news. I’m not even panicking, and I’m certainly not going to jump to wanting to send Walker back down; not yet. As the year progresses, though, and if the Mariners remain steady, I would like to see them take a harder look at Walker and move him back down sooner rather than later if this keeps up. Two games is not, of course, much of a basis to judge, but if there is any hope for the team this year of making it to any level of the playoffs, I just don’t want to be biting my nails to the quick every time Walker is up. I don’t need that much stress in my life. I believe he will eventually be good; I just don’t know if that time is now. It’s a bit of a shame, as I had thought maybe we were done with bringing guys up before they were really and truly ready. I am hoping that maybe Walker just needs to find his stride, shake off a little dust, and that with his next start, we’ll see some more mature pitching. Fingers crossed. We have been waiting for this for a long time.
Dominic Leone entered the bottom of the 5th inning after Walker’s 2-hit, 5-walk, 1-run 4-inning outing. Eighty-three pitches. Yeesh. Leone got Gordon Beckham to strike out swinging, then hit Conor Gillaspie straight in the knee with a 94MPH fastball. I almost expected more walks from the Mariners arms today, but the greatest offender was Walker with his five. Leone and Brandon Mauer both only gave up one each.
I had to busy myself doing laundry and other chores I have not kept up on for the last few weeks, but kept the game on, because why not see where this goes? Noesi lasted 6 innings and change, pitching shutout baseball of the Seattle Mariners. Depressing, but we did have men at the corners at that point, and Michael Saunders was at the plate. After a commercial break, Eric Surkamp hit the bump for the White Sox. Surkamp walked Saunders to load the bases for Robinson Cano, who, at this point, was 0-2 against Noesi. With the bags juiced and two outs, Surkamp threw his first pitch to Cano; it sailed to the left, and Cano was able to duck just in time. I would have taken that walk, but Cano had other plans. Unfortunately, those plans involved popping up to center. I don’t want anyone hurt, be we could have gotten a run in off of a Cano HBP. I am thankful that everyone is uninjured, but kind of wanted to see what would have happened in extras this afternoon.
Brandon Maurer came out of the bullpen when I was downstairs taking care of some housework during the bottom of the 7th and apparently took care of the Sox batters easily and quietly. But even hits that could have been bases under other circumstances were not going to be had by the Mariners, as Chicago’s defense made good and sure we wouldn’t get any runs in the 8th, either. The other two games in this series, the Mariners got their digs in during or after the 9th innings. Yesterdays game of extras was due to that. But not today. Not today. Brad Miller took Jake Petricka’s final pitch only as far as left fielder Alejandro De Aza, and with that we have lost the series.
So the team heads back home for a pretty important homestand this week before the All Star break, against a weak Minnesota Twins team, and the ever-strengthening Oakland A’s, starting next Friday with Felix Hernandez on the hill after an extra day’s rest. I will not be able to go on Friday, but I would like to see if I can make one of the mid-week games over the next few days. It is strange to look at a Mariners team that might be buyers during the course of this month. Are we really serious about this? We’ve been remaining fairly steadfast at 6.5 games back, and sure there are other teams that are a lot better than we are, but this year more than ever, I have to ask what if? I’ve never gotten to do that before; it’s kind of fun. I’d take even one playoff series. I’d take an elimination game. I really would. And it’s funny to me that it feels like what I have just typed there feels almost impossible. But it’s not. I guess we’ll see how serious the front office is over the next four weeks about all of this. For now, I’m just enjoying a Mariners team that I wasn’t sure I was ever going to see again after 2009.
I won’t likely be able to catch tomorrow night’s game, so I hope that Hisashki Iwakuma fairs well in his endeavor against Kevin Correia. For now, I am going to try and spend the rest of the day staying cool in my house, which was built in 1945 and traps heat like it’s its job. The entire week is supposed to be in the 80s here, excellent weather for baseball near the Puget Sound, made even moreso by a team that might – just might – give the other guys a run for their money this year. Go M’s!