Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Game Report: Mariners vs. Twins - Welcome to King County, Population: 34,213

Welcome, subjects, to the King County Courthouse (do not let yourselves be fooled by those "Safeco Field" signs). Please, make yourself at home, or at least don't trample each other, while we wait for His Moundjesty to come out and grace you all with his presence.

Today was "King Felix" Hernandez's debut in Seattle. In case you were thinking that this is just another case of hype: think again. This kid is for real. The Pirates may have their Duke, but we have our King.

I started off the evening by walking down to the King Street Bar & Oven for the USSM "Beer for Bandwidth" pre-game get-together. I couldn't help but giggle at the appropriate choice of "King" Street; anyway, I got to see several of the local blogospherians, including Derek of USSM, Jonah Keri of Baseball Prospectus, Jon Wells of the Grand Salami magazine (who gave out some copies of the latest issue, which has an awesome Ichiro picture on the cover), Conor Glassey of the Grand Salami, and USSM posters whose names I have mostly forgotten, except Jeff Nye, Dylan W, one of the no-relation-to-Matt Thorntons (Brian?) and an Andrew, I think. I was wearing one of my Nippon Ham Fighters jerseys, both for the "Pacific Rim Celebration Night" and just as a good conversation piece. It worked... I think. I don't know, it's always scary talking to strangers, but it's nice to be in a crowd of people where I'm not the biggest baseball nerd, so overall I enjoyed the 15-20 minutes I hung out for. It's always good to put faces to names, even if it's really hard to follow the bazillions of names of people who comment on USSM.

Walked to the stadium with one of the guys, so we could get good spots behind the bullpen to await His Kingly Warmup, but alas, even at 6:15pm, the bullpen area was already packed. I stood around talking to some random people for a while, until Felix came out. I was lucky to at least get up to the screen to try to take pictures, but I was crouching like a catcher, which really killed my knees after 5-10 minutes. And sadly, my pictures with my little Canon Powershot are nowhere near as cool as these awesome awesome game photos Adroit posted to USSM. But, hey, incase you're curious, here are my bullpen/game pictures. They're not great, but they're not all terrible. Really.

Seriously, he looked great even in the bullpen, just relaxing and smiling and throwing, as if he wasn't even aware of the couple hundred fans gathered there just to see his warmup.

Poor Kyle Lohse, in contrast, had about two people watching him warm up. It was a lot easier to snap a picture or two of him, and of Joe Mauer. It's sort of funny how there are all these good-looking catchers who spend most of their time wearing masks on their face, isn't it? But I digress.

I got to my seat at 7:04pm. I'd invited my friend Jeff to come to this game with me, since he went with me the first time I saw Felix pitch down in Tacoma as well. We were both pretty psyched, and the guys who have the season tickets next to mine were also pretty psyched. About half the people in our section were Twins fans, though, sadly -- there was a dude wearing a Blyleven jersey a few rows ahead of me, and a bunch of those Circle Me Bert guys a few rows behind, hailing from South Dakota:

So, here's the sort of annoying thing about an extremely well-pitched ballgame: when you're looking at your scorecard afterwards, trying to remember what the really exciting moments of the game were... you can't, because there *weren't* a lot of huge hits or a ton of runs scored. I usually write down additional notes of interesting plays or weird plays or whatnot, but I spent most of the evening being awed in how Felix was mowing down the Twins lineup, and I wasn't about to write down every time a pitch seemed to just dive under their bats. I mean, *nobody* got a good piece of bat on the ball. The Twins got five hits off him in eight innings, and none of them were for anything more than a single. He was throwing all kinds of crazy stuff -- lots of fastballs and curveballs, but also occasional change-ups in there, and you'd see guys expecting a 97mph fastball and swinging like an idiot at an 82mph change.

Heck, in 24 outs during his tenure, I count 6 strikeouts, 5 fly outs to the outfield, a fly out to shortstop, catching Stewart trying to steal, and 11 ground outs. Daaaamn. That's a crazy groundball ratio. 5 of those 11 ground outs involve him, as well. One was a 3-1 with him covering first, but the rest were all him making excellent fielding plays - there was an awesome gutsy move by him in the 5th when Jones and LeCroy were on first and second, he snagged Lew Ford's bunt and zapped it to third base, catching LeCroy. It was a really nice play, even though Beltre didn't quite also get Ford at first. I suppose that might have been an omen for Spiffy Tiffee's at-bat a little bit later where Beltre got the ball but lost his brains for a moment; it seemed like he decided he was too late to run to third to tag there, so he threw to first instead, but the throw was off enough that even Richie Sexson wasn't tall enough to get it, and suddenly Felix found himself with the bases loaded instead of with the inning over.

We'd been joking up in section 334 for a while now:

"He'll need to pitch a shutout if he wants to win, you know."
"I don't think he'd win even if he pitched a shutout, at this rate."
"Sure, he'll lose with 0 earned runs, right?"

The latter was looking pretty likely, except unlike Gil Meche, Felix dominated Bartlett, getting him to ground to the mound, and the inning was round.

There was a pretty awesome group of people out by the centerfield wall who were counting K's for the King all game, too. It makes me wonder if maybe Safeway will reinstate the "K's for Pepsi" thing like they had early last year, now that there may actually be a pitcher who can do that regularly?

In the 5th inning, during Chris Snelling's at-bat, Jeff and I started yelling "GO DOYLE! YEAH DOYLE!" again, and I think this time we managed to jinx Justin Morneau, since he did this sort of weird thing where he got the ball, and dropped the ball, and got the ball, and dropped the ball, and in the meantime, since Snelling had been running his butt off to get to first, he made it there on the error, with the ball sitting about three feet away from the base still eluding Morneau's glove. Sadly, Snelling got caught stealing a bit later. I noticed that nobody who tried to steal a base tonight on either side was successful, which may either be due to the amazing skills of Joe Mauer, or the poor choice in sending some of the stealers, or some other factor. Not that there were a ton of baserunners to begin with, mind you, but still.

When the 7th inning stretch happened, the game was still tied 0-0, Kyle Lohse pretty much matching Felix the whole way. I felt kind of bad for him in the way I felt kind of bad for Pineiro last year when his best start of the season was all for naught, because he was pitching against Roger Clemens and the Astros and lost 1-0. But, this was Felix's night, and everyone knew it. Infact, during the seventh inning stretch, we sang so:

"...I don't care if I ever get back. Let us root, root root for Hernandez..."

The funny part is that neither Jeff nor I coordinated singing this beforehand, we both just kind of both sang it and then burst out laughing, because it was so obvious a thing to do.

Well, in the bottom of the 7th, Jeremy Reed blew the game open with a double. And a minute later, Yuniesky Betancourt hit an awesome awesome triple. Damn, that kid is fast! He may end up challenging Ichiro for triples next year. Anyway, that brought the score to 1-0, and we were all hoping that'd be enough for Felix to get the win.

At this point, a vaguely amusing (to me) thing happened, in that one of the guys with the season tickets next to me started saying "You shoulda been there when Betancourt was called up, his first hit was a triple too!" and I was like, "Well, actually, I was there!". And we got into a chat about how many games we all go to, due to timing and work and whatnot, and suddenly, despite that I've had my season tickets next to these guys for a year and a half, I finally actually introduced myself to them. They thought this was pretty funny too, actually -- "We were just saying last week how weird it was that you've sat next to us for like two years and we talk all the time but we didn't even know your name."

It is kind of funny how you can be at games and just start chatting with the people around you, really. I think this game was even more indicative of that, since all over the place, whether at the bullpen or in the lines for food or getting out the stadium afterwards, there were just a lot of people smiling at each other, happy to witness Felix's first home start, to be part of something that will hopefully influence Mariners baseball for years to come.

Oh, uh, right, the baseball game. Well, there's not really that much more to tell. Felix got to pitch the 8th inning, using only 94 pitches total in the game, 69 for strikes, for a line of 8 IP, 5 H, 0 ER, 0 BB (!!), 6 K, 0 HR. Eddie came out and got his what, 27th consecutive converted save? Yaaaaaaaaay Eddie.

So yeah, it was a pretty good night of baseball, and a pretty good night for grinning idiots leaving Safeco field, too.

In other baseball news, uhhh... Cleveland gets 11 runs in the 9th inning and comes back to beat the Royals 13-7. Ouch. As if that wasn't bad enough, it's the Royals's 11th consecutive loss, too. I hope their bad luck stays with them when they get to Seattle next week; if Felix really starts on Monday instead of Sunday, it'll be really tempting to go for the BECU Family Night $10 special again and see if he can pull off a no-hitter against them. Besides, wouldn't that be a fitting headline right there: "King dominates Royals"?

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