Sunday, April 29, 2007

Game Report: Mariners vs. Royals - There and Baek Again

Mariners 5, Royals 1

Say what you will about Cha Seung Baek, and say what you will about the Kansas City Royals, but he did have a no-hitter going into the 6th inning, until Grudzilla slapped one up the middle for a single.

Say what you will about Willie Bloomquist, but he managed to stay alive in the bottom of the 7th and hit a valid double into centerfield which brought in the two go-ahead runs.

Say what you will about Brandon Morrow, but he deserved his win today. In the immortal words of Peter Venkman, he came, he saw, he kicked its ass.

Mark Grudzielanek and Yuniesky Betancourt
Grudzielanek: "Hey you, you get your dirty hands off my base."
Betancourt: "All your base are belong to me!"

"Short" version: Cha Seung Baek was perfect for his first three innings and almost had a no-hitter through six, walking David DeJesus in the 4th and Alex Gordon in the 5th. Mark Grudzielanek broke up the no-hitter in the 6th with a single, and sadly Baek also lost the shutout in the 7th inning, as Mike Sweeney led off with a double, was pinch-run for by Emil Brown, who was driven in by a Reggie Sanders single to shallow center which Willie Bloomquist dove for and missed. With runners at second and third and one out, Brandon Morrow came in and struck out Tony Pena and John Buck to keep the score tied at 1-1. Baek struck out 6 batters in 6 innings.

Yes, it was only 1-1 at that point, because despite Brian Bannister only managing to strike out one Willie Bloomquist, the Mariners still couldn't really do all that great a job of getting their bats on the ball. Beltre threatened in the first inning, singling to center, stealing, and advancing on a wild pitch, but Richie Sexson grounded into a fielder's choice to end the inning. Guillen reached on a Pena-Gordon fumble in the second, and Betancourt replaced him in a fielder's choice, also stealing, and then scoring on a solid double by Jamie Burke. But that was it for the Mariners offense, as Bannister retired the next 14 batters.

Richie Sexson started off the 7th inning by walking, and Jose Guillen grounded into a 6-4 fielder's choice. Yuniesky Betancourt then hit the ball into the left-center gap for a double, almost getting thrown out at second, having to scramble back to the bag to beat Grudzielanek's tag. Jamie Burke popped out to first, and Willie Bloomquist came to bat with two outs and runners at second and third. He got up to a full count, and then appeared to strike out, but the umpire called it a foul tip. Willie took the next pitch he saw and cracked it into center field. DeJesus misjudged it and dove for the ball, missing, turning Willie's single into a double, scoring Guillen and Betancourt and bringing the score to 3-1. Jimmy Gobble replaced Bannister at that point, and Ichiro singled home Willie after that to make it 4-1. Adrian Beltre hit into an infield single where Tony Pena made a nice stop on the ball but had no time for a throw. Jose Vidro hit a drive into the gap in right center, and David DeJesus chased it down, ending the inning.

Ibanez "tripled" in the next inning but the scorers called it an error after DeJesus dropped the ball, though he really had no right even reaching the ball in the first place. Joel Peralta replaced Gobble, and Richie Sexson singled home Ibanez to make the score 5-1, where it would stay when Betancourt grounded into a double play shortly afterwards.

Brandon Morrow retired five batters in a row to earn the win. JJ Putz pitched a scoreless 9th inning, though part of that was due to a diving catch by Jason Ellison. Ross Gload singled, advanced on defensive indifference and on a wild pitch, but Putz struck out Reggie Sanders and Alex Gordon, both swinging, to end the game.

There was a moment of silence before the game to honor the memory of Josh Hancock, who passed away early this morning in a car accident. Hancock was a relief pitcher for the Cardinals and had just thrown three innings in yesterday's game, even. I don't really have good words for this. My thoughts go out to his friends and family.

Willie Bloomquist
Down on the corner, out in the street, Willie and the poor boys are playing...

Today was one of the nicest days I've ever had the opportunity to spend watching a baseball game, weather-wise. It was sunny, but it was still something like 60 degrees out. Sadly, though, there was no batting or fielding practice before the game. I arrived at the stadium around 11:40am, and there were a few Mariners playing catch on the field, and then there were two huge lines of people waiting to get autographs from Jose Lopez and Kenji Johjima. I didn't feel like waiting in line, so I just went down and took a few pictures of pitchers -- notably, Jarrod Washburn was "catching" for Jeff Weaver, which was just plain comical.

I went over to the third-base side to watch Todd Wellemeyer and Jimmy Gobble playing catch, and saw a really tall Royals player signing stuff, so I went over to get him to sign my ticket stub. Turned out it was John Buck. He is a LOT taller than I thought! Wellemeyer and Gobble also signed stuff, but I only had one Royals ticket stub, so I didn't bother them. Now, if it had been Mark Teahen or Gil Meche (I was even wearing my Meche #55 shirt for the occasion), it might have been another story. Anyway.

I was sitting on the first base side for this game. Section 117, row 4. Beautiful day, plenty sunny, and so I shot about 400 pictures total. The people around me were pretty tolerant of the constant camera clicking, though -- the couple on my left mostly seemed to have no idea what was going on most of the time, and the guy on my right spent the whole game yelling things like "CMON BUDDY! CMON GO WILLIE GO! YEAH BAEK, YOU STRIKE HIM OUT YEAH! CMON ICHI, GET A HIT ICHI! YEAH BIG SEXY, YOU'RE BATTING 143, CMON GET A HIT CMON CMON BUDDY!", and behind me was a lady with a screaming baby. You take the good with the bad, I guess. Loud Dude also kept telling me how Willie Bloomquist is his favorite player, and then he tried to convince me that Jamie Burke went to high school with Willie, and I tried to explain to him that he meant Jason Ellison, and eventually I just gave up.

My section was a magnet for foul balls today; one landed three rows behind me, and another was 6 seats to my left, in my row. At one point, Ross Gload fouled off a ball that a middle-aged guy in the front row of my section caught, but the ball barely bounced out of his glove. Amber the ball girl runs up and recovers the ball... and starts going away to hand it to a kid elsewhere, when a bunch of people in the section yell "Give it back! Cmon, give him the ball!" Some others took up the chant of "Give it back!" and so she did. I know it's the ball girl's job to give baseballs to little kids and all, but I think in this case it was certainly right to give it to the guy.

Dan Wilson threw out the ceremonial first pitch for the game, and was there with his whole family. He got a big standing ovation, of course. They also showed one of the old Dan Wilson Quik Flix videos before Jose Guillen led off the bottom of the 2nd, which was weird, since Guillen is wearing Dan's old #6.

Jamie Burke is cool. I mean, I like Kenji Johjima and all, but I think we've finally got a backup catcher that doesn't suck. In addition to his hitting, he also called a good game, and then they did one of those "interview with a kid" clips between innings, with him. At one point he asks the kid "Who's your favorite athlete?" and the kid's like "You... and Ichiro..." and he's like "Me? Really? Thanks!" and then asks the kid about siblings, and starts talking about how he had three sisters, all older, and BOY was that a pain growing up. It was cute.

The AM-PM "too much of a good thing" prize was about 20 rows back and 2 sections over from me. The prize was 300 mini-donuts. I think just as many people got up and went crazy trying to get thrown mini-donuts as people got up and went crazy trying to catch a foul ball.

Today was informally "Knock down Mark Grudzielanek Day", apparently. He was taken out at second base at least three times. But hey, take a look at this -- in the second inning, Jose Guillen slid hard into second base and effectively broke up what would have been a 5-4-3 double play. He also ripped his pants, and I of course captured it on camera. Check out Guillen's left pants leg:

Jose Guillen and Mark Grudzielanek

Jose Guillen and Mark Grudzielanek
Guillen vs. Grudzilla - When Spikes Collide

Something that's also kind of crazy is that the Mariners were stealing off Bannister/LaRue fairly effectively, but Baek was trying pretty hard to hold people to the bag. David DeJesus and Alex Gordon in particular had a lot of pickoff throws aimed at them. After about five tries in a row, even Richie Sexson was getting sick of the pickoff routine:

Richie Sexson and David DeJesus
DeJesus: Aren't you guys getting sick of this yet?
Sexson: Shut up and take it like a man.

And last, but not least, let me talk again about Brandon Morrow for a second.

When I first saw Morrow come into a game during the second game of the season, on April 3rd, he looked horribly shaky, like he couldn't believe he was out there pitching to big-leaguers in a major league game. He managed to keep his composure and get out of a scoreless inning then, but it looked like he had a ways to go before he would be able to go out there and throw strikes.

That seems to have changed. I haven't seen his performances in the interim, but the Brandon Morrow I saw today pretty much came out there, in a fairly high-leverage situation (runners on second and third, tie game in the 7th inning), and said "I don't really care whose son this guy is, or whether John Buck is unusually tall for a catcher. I am a major league pitcher, and I am going to throw the ball really fast, and these guys are going to swing and miss."

And he did. And they did.

Morrow stayed in for the 8th inning as well to actually earn his win. Sure, this was the Royals, but DeJesus, Grudzilla, and Teahen are all legitimate major leaguers, and Morrow pretty much went right after them. He got some help from Adrian Beltre, who made a fantastic play on a Grudzielanek grounder -- Beltre stopped it with his glove, but didn't make the pickup, but in the same motion just swooped up the ball barehanded and fired it to first base in time for the out. (It was the finale for the Great Plays Video Vault after that inning.) Morrow then struck out Teahen, and in all honesty, he almost looked better out there today than JJ Putz did in the 9th.

Brandon Morrow

I don't really want to talk about JJ Putz's appearance. It looks good on paper if all you see is "flyout, single, strikeout, strikeout", but really, he was all over the place. We all stood up for the final out, with Alex Gordon at the plate, and suddenly, there went JJ again, like a Blass from the Past, bouncing a pitch in the dirt and then throwing a wild one to his friends in the Diamond Club.

I'm just hoping it was due to him being a bit off his game after having a few slightly-longer-than-one-inning outings, or something.

Also, Ryan Shealy sucks. Guess it serves me right for drafting a Kansas City player on my fantasy team. He wasn't even in the game today for me to heckle.

Anyway, it was a good game to watch. I'll try to get more of my photos up in a real set soon, since there are a lot of pretty cool ones. Sometimes I wonder what I could accomplish with some better camera lenses and a press pass...

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