Monday, August 28, 2006

Game Report: Mariners vs. Red Sox - The Wells Fungo Wagon

(This entry is actually about Saturday's game. Mariners 4, Red Sox 3.)

Man, somehow writing about Saturday's game in the wake of Sunday's sweeping finish just feels sort of weird, but it was quite an exciting day and I'll be annoyed with myself if I don't recap it to remember it later. After all, if nothing else, this blog is my journal of the baseball games I've attended this year, and it'd be folly for me to skip chronicling one that I had as much fun at as this one.

I attended this game with my friend Jeff (no, not one of the bloggers), who hasn't been able to make it up here for a game in a while. He couldn't show up for the early season ticket opening, so I left him a ticket in Will Call when I arrived at 3:55pm, and then I got in line for the stadium opening. Surprisingly, the line was pretty long -- I've gotten emails about these "early BP" days before, and just never managed to go to one before, so I had no idea what to expect.

They let us in at 4:05pm, and the first thing they did was give us stuff. One table had people giving out Mariner mints and Oberto beef jerky, another was giving out bottled water and sodas, and there was a raffle form you could fill out to win various prizes like an Ichiro jersey or a Mariners Gift Pack or an autographed baseball or whatnot. After all that stuff, we walked past a brass band and down to the field.

The team was doing some sort of pre-BP warmups when I got there, tossing around a baseball like a hackeysack and just running around and goofing off and such. Then, some players came over to the stands and signed stuff! I brought a "GO MARINERS!" placard that I'd gotten at a game back in 2004 that seemed like it'd be cool to have signed, and I ran down to the field. I was just far enough that the closest I could get to the field was down by the tarp, so I missed the position players, but most of the bullpen was dealing with our part of the line. Cha Seung Baek was the first to come by and I got him to sign the poster; he was actually fairly slow and JJ Putz was like "Cmon, man, you're holding up the line!" to him, so I was like "wait, JJ, please sign this?" and he did, and I really don't remember the order the rest of the guys were in, but I got Sherrill, Woods, and Green after that, and I did call each of them by name and thank them for signing, plus the obligatory "You pitched a great game yesterday, Jake!" to Woods.

(If you didn't see the picture in yesterday's entry, here's what the poster looks like)

I vastly impressed these two 10-year-old-or-so boys who were standing next to me getting stuff signed -- after that, they kept asking me who everybody was out on the field. "Do you see Johjima?" "He's over there." "How about Richie, is that Richie?" "No, that's Sean Green. Richie's over by the fence." "Who's the guy throwing the ball to Johjima?" "That's Chris Snelling. He's awesome. Keep your eye on him." "Who's the tall guy with no hair?" "That's Dominic Woody, he's the bullpen catcher." "How about the Japanese guy standing over there?" "That's Cha Seung Baek. He's Korean." "Oh... err..."

The Mariner Moose came around signing stuff to keep kids happy after the players ran off. I thought it'd be pretty funny to get that one on my poster too, so I did. Oddly, the Moose was left-handed on Saturday. Does that make him a southpaw?

I took a whole bunch of pictures of the guys just tossing baseballs around and hanging out and all, except that I was at a really bad angle for sunlight, and as a result a lot of the shots of their faces have half the face in shade due to the tops of the caps, and I haven't figured out if there's a good way to compensate for backlighting with this camera yet. On the other hand, I did get a few good shots, and they're all up on the picture page. As I said, my favorite one is probably this one of Doyle. He's such a cutie.

I went down by the third base line and sat down by the field, since there was nobody there, and just watched people take BP, and shot a bazillion pictures, most of which were of Doyle, and most of which didn't come out well due to the aforementioned backlighting. I didn't have the timing or the location right to get a baseball, sadly -- there was a ball that was on the grass in front of me, and I asked one of the security guys if he could give it to me, but he said he wasn't allowed, though he could kick a ball towards me if it landed on the outer track. A groundskeeper walked by and picked up the ball and threw it to a little kid, and the guard was like, "Tough luck! If only you were five years old, eh?" I watched the ushers put the plastic bags into the seats in the first couple rows, too -- somehow it had never occurred to me that someone had to actually go out and do that before every game. I offered to help, and fortunately, they thought I was kidding.

At 5:05, they opened the normal gates, and within literally two minutes the entire empty section I had was filled with Red Sox fans, so I decided to leave. I went back to the first base side, stood with a bunch of Mariners fans who hadn't moved in an hour, and watched the rest of BP. A lot of them were serious autograph collectors and had a ton of stuff signed that they were showing me; one lady showed me her 2006 team photo with signatures from almost everyone, including Carl Everett. When Snelling was running by to go take BP, a girl in front of me yelled "CHRIS!!!" and got no reaction, so I yelled "SNELLING!!!" and no reaction, and so I yelled "DOYLE!!!!" and he looked over and waved, but didn't come over. Alas. Jose Lopez did come over to the stands a bit later but not near us, and then as the team was running off the field, me and another girl yelled "ERIC!!!" at Eric O'Flaherty, and he grinned and came over to the stands and signed stuff and posed for pictures and all. He seems like a really nice guy.

Hargrove was signing stuff on the dugout, but I decided I didn't really care, took a few more pictures of the Red Sox guys warming up, and then I went down to the team store to try on jerseys. See, we got a coupon to double our STH discount for just that day, so I figured if I was going to get one, I should probably use the discount. I tried on some replica jerseys and they fit okay, but then I was faced with a quandary of which one to get, so I figured I'd come back later. The store was already mobbed even though it was pre-game.

Came back up to the field and the Sox were already done their BP and warmups, which meant the Sox fans were also dispersing. Good riddance. I ate a hot dog and went down to the seat I'm now calling "Warmup Point", because it's the best spot ever to watch/film the opposing pitchers getting their arms loose on the field. It's one of those two seats in the front of Section 151 down by the mechanical scoreboard, and it's never occupied at 6:35pm. This is where I got Randy on Thursday, and Cupcakes and Jae Seo a few weeks ago, and some others I haven't posted. Anyway, David Wells is quite large, which makes my auto-focus work pretty well. He also tends to look upwards while he's throwing, so it wasn't hard to get shots like this one where he's actually smiling.

Unfortunately, the bullpen area was just horrendously crowded, and I couldn't even get a decent hole from the tavern to aim a lens through. I ran over to the Mariners' side of the pen, which was slightly less crowded, but that's like saying Joe Blanton is slightly less huge than David Wells. I wasn't even able to get up against the fence, but somehow I managed a few shots like this anyway, and I have no idea how that came out so well. I've got to learn more about focal length, I think.

I know better than to get trapped in the bullpen during the anthem during a crowded-as-hell game, so I bolted pretty quickly and ran upstairs as fast as I could, and despite my best crowd maneuvering tactics -- which are really quite impressive, just ask some of my friends -- I barely got into my seat in time for the first pitch. Jeff had arrived a few minutes before me, and we had a brief conversation about whether it's better to have a sucky team and an empty stadium or a great team and a full stadium. Honestly, I wish there was some sort of happy medium where the team could be great but the stadium wouldn't be so crowded that I want to punch people. Or at least where the fans would actually know where the hell they were going, rather than this being the one game per year they attend because they saw the Red Sox on TV a few years ago, so they're all just milling around, blocking traffic, trying to figure out where they can buy a big styrofoam finger to wave in the air in front of people who are actually trying to watch the game like myself.

Um, anyway. This may be the most text I've ever written before actually talking about the game that went on.

Gil Meche was fantastic for the first few innings. Infact, he had FIVE STRIKEOUTS AFTER TWO INNINGS. No, I'm not making that up. We were just watching in shock as he kept sending guys back down to the bench. Unfortunately, he couldn't keep that up, and started running into trouble in the third, as Beltre and Lopez both made fantastic plays to save his ass, before Coco Crisp hit one of those home runs that barely cleared the fence to bring the score to 1-0.

After a Spelling Bee segment featuring Ben "Bershard", Gabe Kapler had some trouble tracking an Adrian Beltre hit into the rightcenter gap which turned into a double, and Ibanez singled him home, 1-1. Ibanez also advanced to second on Richie Sexson's pop to center field, which was astounding, given how slowly he appeared to be moving.

Meche really started struggling in the 5th -- I remember thinking how his line for the day was going to belie little details like this -- at that point the 0 walks and 6 strikeouts were going to look pretty good, but he started really getting behind the count on some players and was obviously having some trouble. With two outs, Kapler hit a single up the middle, and again behind the count, he walked Crisp. Loretta hit a fly ball to shallowish center, and Ichiro ran in for it, got his glove on the ball, but it popped out, scoring Kapler and almost scoring Crisp. I almost started to write that down as an E-8, then remembered that most guys wouldn't even GET their glove on the ball, let alone drop it, and marked it down correctly as an RBI single. 2-1.

Betancourt hit a triple in the bottom half of the 5th, and given how much trouble Kapler and Crisp were having fielding it, and how fast Betancourt was running, we almost thought it might be an inside-the-park home run, and stood up to watch, but alas. As is typical these days, with a guy on third and one out, Bohn struck out and Ichiro grounded out. Alas, part 2.

Meche lucked out of the 6th and 7th innings with 19 pitches and a bunch of grounders, including a goddamn nice play by Betancourt where he zoomed like a laser to the middle, grabbed the ball and spun and threw it to first in time to get Kapler. (Something I should point out is that I have several plays on my scorecard denoted with one or more exclamation points for Mariners defensive plays, and none for the Red Sox.) Unfortunately, the Mariners couldn't score enough runs for Meche in their half of the seventh, though they put forth a decent effort. I'd told Jeff about my indecision over buying a jersey, and said, "If Johjima hits a home run right now, I'm buying a Johjima jersey." Johjima grounded out to first, and then Yuniesky Betancourt stepped up to the plate and hit a home run right over the mechanical scoreboard. 2-2.

(Incidentally, Jeff ended up buying a Betancourt number t-shirt later on, to replace his Moyer one. I thought that was particularly fitting, since Betancourt's picture has replaced Moyer's on the 1st Avenue player pictures. But I digress.)

With everyone all excited over Betancourt's home run, somehow I knew TJ Bohn was going to do something besides strike out, and he hit the ball to left for his first major league hit. And I even got a picture of the swing. That was neat. Ichiro singled!... and then Jose Lopez grounded out. No soup for Meche.

The top of the 8th inning was retarded. Rafael Soriano came out and retired Coco Crisp and Mark Loretta. George Sherrill was brought in to face David Ortiz, which makes sense, and the defense went into a major shift, which also kind of makes sense, except then Ortiz tried to bunt the ball down the third-base line, which also makes sense, and was pretty funny. So once you know that the guy's going to be doing his damnedest to defeat your shift, what happens? He hits the ball into the left field corner for a double, which probably would have been gotten by Beltre in his normal position, or run down faster by Ibanez for a single. If Ortiz was actually fast, that may have ended up being a triple anyway, but there are definitely some downsides of being huge and powerful, and speed is one of them. Manny Ramirez was intentionally walked, and then JJ Putz was summoned to take care of Mike Lowell. I labelled the mound conference "Goddamnit" for a reason -- it felt like they'd basically just handed the game loss to Sherrill.

And for a minute, it almost worked out like that. Lowell hit the ball to shallow left field, which scored Ortiz, but Betancourt recovered the ball and threw it to third way ahead of Manny, and from my vantage point it appeared that Beltre tagged Manny on the head, then the ball popped out of his glove, but he caught it with his other hand, and Manny was out, but the run scored. 3-2. I haven't gotten to see what it looked like from another angle.

The Red Sox brought out Mike Timlin to pitch, at which point Jeff said something like "Wow! Mike Timlin! I remember when he pitched for us! Boy, did he suck!" and then PositivePaul called me, mostly so we could commisserate over George's fate, and then... and then Adrian Beltre hit a home run to RIGHT FIELD, and I couldn't hear the phone, because everyone was cheering too loud, and I also didn't get a picture, because I was holding the phone. (Jeff said that he had been debating snatching the camera from me and taking a picture since he just knew Beltre was going to hit a homer.) Ibanez, whose cheering section was out in full and had a lot to cheer for as their hero went 3-for-4, singled again to left, and Richie also singled, and I had to hang up with Paul because I couldn't hear a damn thing he was saying. Ben "Bershard" came in next and hit one of those "It's too high!" "How can it be too high?" fly balls to center field, and Ibanez tagged up and scored, this time at a speed that didn't make me worry that the time-space continuum was in jeopardy. Johjima and Betancourt both popped out to right after that, but the Mariners were winning 4-3, and that's all that mattered, as JJ Putz came out and STRUCK OUT THE ENTIRE GODDAMN SIDE in the top of the 9th, and I even got a kind of cool picture of Hinske whiffing. Yeeeeeehaw.

Paul and his brother-in-law Dave had been sitting only two sections over from us, so Jeff and I went and found them afterwards and hung out chatting for a while. We all tromped down to the team store where I tried to convince Paul to spend $300 on a game-used Sherrill jersey, and he tried to convince me to spend $300 on a game-used Snelling jersey, and Dave was telling us how he wanted to get a game-used Jon Lester ball, and then all three of them convinced me to just go ahead and use my season-ticket-holder-special-doubled-discount to buy a jersey so I have a nice Mariners shirt to wear in Japan (I've got a bunch of number t-shirts, but no jerseys). Unfortunately, the "real" jerseys actually didn't fit me at all -- they were all too long, and all either too baggy or wouldn't button across my chest/hips, which isn't too weird, I guess, given the shape of baseball players. So I tried on the replica jersey again, and it fit perfectly! I ended up getting the Johjima one, so my conversations this time around will be more like "Oh, you from Seattle? You see Johjima?"

As I discovered at Fan Fest, Dave knows pretty much 90% of the staff of Safeco Field, and the team store is no exception. This time he had a friend working there who was explaining to us why there's a Rivera #30 t-shirt available, but not a Snelling or Sherrill or any of the other "second-class" players. Apparently Rivera kept asking them where his shirt was, and they were too nice to say something like "Well, you're not good enough to have one," so they'd tell him they were all out, and finally they decided to just go ahead and make one for him, ordering the smallest quantity possible. He was delighted as all hell, apparently buying like 25 of them to give to his friends, and running around in the clubhouse showing off the shirt to Jose and Felix and all. So, if you want a Rivera #30 t-shirt, you better get one quick, because they're not going to last long!

(I did tell the guy that if they made up a Snelling #32 t-shirt, even if they only printed a hundred of them, I had no doubt in my mind that they'd sell out within a few weeks once DMZ got word of their existence... but, it sounds like they're holding off on Snelling shirts until they're sure he'll be sticking around. Putz, on the other hand, is likely to have a shirt for sure next year, and Sherrill isn't entirely out of the question either. The store guy told us a funny story about how Sherrill and his girlfriend apparently came in and were shopping in the team store after a game once, even with fans around, and absolutely nobody recognized him. That's hilarious, though somewhat unsurprising.)

Jeff and I walked halfway across SoDo to get back to his car and he gave me a ride home. Since he's moving away in a month, it'll probably be a long time before we go to another game together, unless we manage one at the end of September. It's funny, but Jeff is somewhat responsible for this blog's existence in the first place, as he went with me to the USSM feed two years ago where Dave Cameron inspired me to start blogging in the first place, and he even took me to my first King Felix game in Tacoma at the start of the 2005 season. Good times. Despite that I know he's never going to return my copy of Ball Four, it'll be a shame to lose a good baseball buddy.

And, whew, that was a long entry to type out, and I don't blame anyone for not really reading it.

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