Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Game Report: Mariners vs. A's - Meltdown Street

I have something really important that I have to admit first, before writing the rest of this post. You may wish to skip down a few paragraphs.

I'm totally in love with Rich Harden! He's the cutest guy in the entire galaxy!

See, I went to tonight's game with Gomez for our last chance to get Cheap Monday Tickets, and we got there around the end of batting practice time. I look out on the field, and there's an A's guy down at the front of the stands signing stuff and chatting with people. From afar, I thought it was Kirk Saarloos, which would make sense since he's local and all. I've gotten him to sign stuff before, so I thought I'd skip it. But for lack of anything better to do, I ran down to at least take a picture.

Except I get up to the front, and it's not Kirk Saarloos. It's King Richard the Brokenharden! He was just chatting with some kids from Vancouver and signing things, so I got him to sign my ticket stub, and wished him luck and said it was great to see him back from the DL and kicking ass, and he looked right into my eyes and grinned, and suddenly all those crazy chicks on Athletics Nation who had voted for him as being even cuter than Swisher didn't seem quite so crazy. What eyes! What a smile!

Alright, so now that nobody's reading this except maybe Jennifer, I'll actually talk about the game.

You have to understand that I went into this game joking that I was going to break the curse of the A's -- remember, the Mariners haven't beaten the A's since April 6th, and have a 1-15 record against them. However, the Mariners also hadn't lost a game I'd attended at Safeco Field since their last game against the A's here, on August 6th. So, was my winning streak going to win out, or was their losing streak going to win out?

You also have to understand that despite this being my first time seeing Cesar Jimenez making a major league start, it was the third time this year I'd actually seen him make a start, as BOTH of the times I went down to Tacoma for games this year, he was the starter. Once was the time where he took over a next-day-start for Clint Nageotte in a doubleheader of doom where he was matched against Jered Weaver, who struck out 12 guys in 6 innings, but neither starter figured in the decision as the Bees bullpen blew up. The other time, I went down to see Justin Leone play at the end of June, but neither Jimenez nor Jared Wells could throw strikes, to the tune of Jimenez having 6 walks and 4 strikeouts in 6 innings. The starters didn't figure in that decision either as both bullpens imploded.

So it should have been no surprise to me today to see Cesar Jimenez make a start, do some mediocre pitching, and then have neither starter figure in the decision as a bullpen imploded.

Things got off to a pretty neat start as Jason Kendall hit a fly ball to right field that Chris Snelling caught barehanded, but then immediately after that, Bobby Kielty hit a double to center that Ichiro couldn't quite get his glove on. As Gomez was informing me that he expected Jimenez to get hit pretty hard, Milton Bradley launched a 374-foot home run into the left-field seats. Then, Frank Thomas hit a long fly ball to centerfield, which both Ichiro and Snelling made it to, and Ichiro caught it, but went flying in a somersault over Snelling as they almost collided. Fortunately, he held onto the ball, and then Jay Payton struck out. 2-0.

Richie Sexson struck back in the bottom of the second with a solo homer, 428 feet to right-center, to bring the score to 2-1, but then the A's chained together a bunch of singles in the top of the third to push ahead another run. 3-1.

The Mariners weren't about to take that, though, and Yuniesky Betancourt led off the bottom of the third and nearly decapitated Eric Chavez with a line drive double to left field. Ichiro, who would eventually go 5-for-6 on the evening, singled, and Betancourt scored as Beltre grounded into a really nice double play -- I say "really nice" in terms of Scutaro making a diving stop, flipping the ball to Ellis, and Ellis turning the play to first in time. Johjima wanted none of that nonsense and doubled to left, and when Ibanez singled to center, Johjima rounded third and ran home. Jay Payton's throw actually beat him home, but he somehow avoided the tag and was safe. 3-3. Sexson hit a line-drive single to right after that, but then Ben Broussard struck out, which was his theme for the night, eventually ending 0-for-5 with three strikeouts.

The A's broke the tie immediately after that. Swisher singled, and then Mark Ellis hit a ball to deep left field, and for some reason neither Betancourt nor Lopez were actually covering second base at the time, so when Ibanez threw it in, it actually almost looked like he was throwing it TO Ellis, only Ellis ducked it and ran to the base, as Richie Sexson ran in wildly to recover the throw. It was sort of bizarre. Marco Scutaro walked the bases loaded, and Kendall doubled in two runs. Whoosh. 5-3.

We'd been trying to figure out who #64 was, warming up in the Mariners bullpen, but he came out to pitch the top of the fifth, and it was Travis Chick. Gomez told me that Chick had been banged up pretty badly in his last outing, but pointed out that "no matter how badly he does, at least unlike Eddie, his arm still works." I commented that "Great, my friend's 12-year-old brother is now going to want both a Putz jersey AND a Chick shirt. Has anyone started calling his delivery a Chick Flick yet?"

Chick got off to an impressive start, striking out Frank Thomas, but that was about all he did that was impressive. After that the next six batters reached base either by walking or getting a hit, including Jason Kendall walking in a run, at which point Chick was pulled for Francisco Cruceta. Mark Kotsay came in to pinch-hit for Bobby Kielty, though the scoreboard folks and announcers didn't even notice until a few pitches later when Kotsay had singled Mark Ellis home and was standing on first base, and they were about to announce Milton Bradley, and then announced that "The last batter was pinch-hitter Mark Kotsay." Cruceta struck out Bradley and then Frank Thomas hit a long fly ball out to right, and that was it for the inning, and the A's were ahead 9-3.

At least Chick doesn't dig the long ball, I guess.

They showed a "Science Of Baseball" movie thingy narrated by Rick Rizzs, which presented the ages-old question of "What is Pine Tar?" Unfortunately, the movie didn't involve George Brett or Brendan Donnelly, but instead involved actual pine trees and stuff. Bo-ring.

Ichiro led off the Mariners' half of the fifth inning by singling for the third time in the evening, and a few batters later, Ibanez was at the plate with two outs.

"Hey, do you think Raul could--"
"Whoa. That's totally--"
"Amazing. Bradley didn't even MOVE."

Yeah, so Raul hit a home run that I almost thought was going to get to the Hit It Here Cafe, before it sailed into the back rows of the right-field seats. 9-5.

Now, er, here's the kind of cool part, see. Francisco Cruceta, who so far this year had 5 walks, no strikeouts, and 2 home runs to his name, pitched all of the 6th and 7th innings and most of the 8th, during which there were only three base runners, no runs, and a second strikeout to go with one walk. Not bad, and I'll tell you what his secret is: Cruceta was pimpin'.

Cruceta the Badass
Hello, ladies. I'm a major-league pitcher.

Right, so the A's actually never scored another run after the fifth inning, but in most circumstances, 9 runs is more than enough to beat the Mariners, so it shouldn't have been a big deal. However, after the hot dog hydro races ("rerish noooo!"), and after the seventh-inning stretch, the Mariners found themselves refreshed enough to hit some baseballs. Ichiro hit a long fly to right, which Milton Bradley dove for and instead slipped and fell over and by the time he recovered the ball, Ichiro was at third base, and had tied Harold Reynolds's club record for career triples with 48. Then, to add insult to injury, Johjima hit a ground ball which scored Ichiro, and then Raul Ibanez grounded out to the mound, only Joe Kennedy slipped or tripped or something while trying to field the ball at first, and Ibanez was safe, and Kennedy was out of the game.

Justin Duschshcshcshchererererer held down the fort until the 9th inning though, and so it was 9-6 when Huston Street came in. I'm sure you've all seen this before -- Huston Street comes on the mound, throws some dazzling smiles at the women in the stands, some dazzling sliders at the batters at the plate, and everyone goes home a little while later.

Only this time, it didn't happen. I was cheering, "Huuuuuston Streeeeeet!" with the hopes of him getting the save, me getting my bus home, and getting the win for Loaiza on my fantasy team. But then Beltre hit a long fly ball to center field. "It's not out..." I started to say, as it bounced past Mark Kotsay and over the centerfield wall. "...at least, not on the first bounce." Then Johjima singled to left, though it was a short enough single that Beltre was held at third. Ibanez, however, singled to left as well, and Beltre scored. 9-7, no outs. Johjima was replaced with Adam Jones at second, and then Richie Sexson also singled past a diving Scutaro to left field, loading the bases as Jones was held at third, and Willie Bloomquist was put in as a pinch-runner for Richie. Ben Broussard struck out for his fifth unproductive at-bat of the evening, and then Jose Lopez hit a loooong fly ball to right field, which was caught, but Adam Jones easily tagged up and scored, and Ibanez even made it to third.

Mike Morse had come in to pinch-hit for Chris Snelling in the 6th, and now everyone's other favorite Rainier, Greg "Dobby The Bench Elf" Dobbs, came in to pinch-hit for Morse. Here it was, 9-8 in the bottom of the ninth, two outs. "And who's going to save the day now? Greg Dobbs?" remarked Gomez, as... Dobbs singled to left and Raul Ibanez ran home, tying the game at 9-9. "Huuuuuuston Streeeeeet, what happened to yoooooou?" I sighed. Betancourt grounded into a force-out at third after that, but hey, extra innings.

At this point I realized both that Esteban Loaiza could not get me a win for my fantasy team, and that I was going to get home late no matter what, so suddenly I was like, "That's it, you Oakland bastards, the Mariners are going to win. Eat karma, losers."

JJ Putz obliged by striking out Kendall, Kotsay, and Bradley on something like ten pitches, and then the fun began. Kiko Calero came in to pitch the 10th for Oakland, and Ichiro led off by doing what he normally does -- he singled, bouncing the ball towards third, where Eric Chavez made a really nice leap and dive to snag it, but then couldn't get the throw to first in time. Calero threw a pickoff to first, and Swisher had to dive down to get the ball, and somehow he and Ichiro ended up somewhat tangled up and the ball ended up rolling towards the stands, and Ichiro subsequently ended up on second base. A trainer came out to look at him, since it seemed he'd either bruised his legs or arms, we couldn't tell which, in the tangle.

Beltre attempted to bunt but utterly failed, and ended up hitting a line drive out to center field, which unfortunately went to Mark Kotsay instead of into the stands. Rene Rivera was up next, since someone had to come in to catch after Johjima was pinch-hit for, and we couldn't pinch-hit for him because we had no other backup catcher. (What the heck -- it's September, helLO?) Rivera predictably struck out, and then they intentionally walked Raul Ibanez to get to Willie Bloomquist, which is almost always a pretty good idea, regardless of him being a lefty or a righty.

So Gomez is like, "Great, we're going to be here forever."

I was like, "Just watch, Willie is going to do something cool here and win the game and then you'll NEVER hear the end of it--"

And then Willie did something cool there to win the game so we'd never hear the end of it, as he hit the ball, it bounced over the infield towards left field. Ichiro was off and running and nearly all the way to home plate by the time Jay Payton had charged in for the ball anyway, and he dropped it as Ichiro scored the winning run and the entire team mobbed Willie Bloomquist and tried to either bash a hole through his skull or congratulate him, it was hard to tell which.

The older gentleman sitting on Gomez's right said, "Do you think he could have gotten Ichiro out if he'd thrown the ball in?"

Gomez was like, "Uhhh... no."

And that was the game.

Today was Joel Pineiro's 28th birthday, but he wasn't pitching, which was probably a good thing.

I need to talk about the Japanese baseball high school draft sometime, though the big news is that the Rakuten Golden Eagles won the lottery to draft Masahiro Tanaka. More later.

Tomorrow, the adorable and talented Rich Harden takes the mound for Oakland, as the sort of cute and not as talented Jake Woods takes the mound for Seattle. I think it's going to be an interesting game either way, and not just because of my winning-at-Safeco karma. So stay tuned!

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