By Jason Wojciechowski on March 28, 2012 at 7:00 AM
I got a bit of a late start on today's game, missing the 3:10 am pacific start time by about 10 minutes after I fell back asleep, but I still got going early enough to finish and have time to write a recap before work.
I don't like doing extensive narrative recaps, but I think it's weird to do my notes and thoughts without some sense of what happened in the game, if for no other reason than archive purposes.
So: Brandon McCarthy and Felix Hernandez started and did exactly what you'd expect they'd do. Neither Seattle nor Oakland is known for offense, McCarthy led the league in FIP last season, and Hernandez has an argument that he's the best pitcher in the game, so a 1-1 tie until the eleventh inning sounds about right to me. Neither team really squandered chances, either. Michael Saunders got thrown out at third on a grounder to Cliff Pennington, which was silly, and Brandon Allen utterly failed to get down a sacrifice bunt (more on this in a second) after a Yoenis Cespedes leadoff double, helping lead to a scoreless inning, but for the most part, the teams just didn't get runners on base.
Andrew Carignan and Jerry Blevins combined to let the Mariners score two runs in the top of the eleventh, though (the A's were the designated home team just as they were against Boston in 2008), and Brandon League worked around a two-out single by Seth Smith to finish off the win.
(I'm not going to do my box score thing for hitters that I did last year -- it's just a little too time-consuming, and I'm not sure how much it adds.)
Jemile Weeks (2B): Weeks led off the game with a hard line drive single up the middle on a two-strike pitch by Felix Hernandez, stole second one out later, went to third on Coco Crisp's groundout, and did nothing else at the plate the rest of the day. He did hit the ball hard in the third inning, but it was a fly-ball/liner-type thing right at Michael Saunders.
Weeks also made a nice defensive play in the ninth when Justin Smoak hit a medium grounder down the first-base line. Brandon Allen was over easily behind the bag, ready to field it, but the ball caromed off the base instead, hopping over Allen's head and toward right field. Weeks, though, was there backing up the play, snagged the ball out of the air, and made a backhand flip to Grant Balfour covering.
Cliff Pennington (SS): Bob Melvin's idea of a number two hitter actually had a nice game at the plate, driving a double a little left of center-field to lead off the fourth (and eventually scoring the A's only run) and lining a 2-2 pitch to right for a solid single in the sixth. He stole second after that second hit, nearly getting a walking lead, resulting in no throw on the play from Miguel Olivo. He then proceeded to tag up on a fly ball to deep left, but he was stranded at third by Kurt Suzuki and Josh Reddick.
Coco Crisp (LF): Bob Melvin's idea of a left-fielder and number three hitter did nothing of note, unless you count three "productive outs" as notable -- each of Crisp's first three at-bats resulted in outs that moved a runner up a base. Congratulations?
Seth Smith (DH): Smith was hit by a pitch and lined a viciously hard single in five trips. The single came off Brandon League in the eleventh and very nearly killed League. I kind of mean that literally -- League was inches from catching the ball, the ball was also inches from catching league square in the head. That could've been a nasty scene.
Kurt Suzuki (C): Suzuki drove in the A's only run with a scalded line-drive double to left field that Mike Carp dove for but just missed making a miraculous play on. The ball one-hopped the wall and Cliff Pennington jogged home while Suzuki motored around to second. The A's catcher also hit an obligatory Kurt Suzuki Pop Up in the sixth with runners on first and third and one out, putting one in the sky in shallow left for Brendan Ryan.
Suzuki also caught one of three runners stealing (a perfectly fine percentage, though I thought his release looked a little slow on the first attempt) and made a nice running play on a pop in foul territory.
Josh Reddick (RF): Reddick only saw two plays in the outfield, one a nice catch on a liner toward the gap by Jesus Montero that Reddick caught on the run at about thigh height. At the plate, he went 0-4, though he did line a ball right to Mike Carp in left with a runner on third and two out in the sixth, which was unlucky. He also lifted a fly to deep left in the ninth that Carp caught by jumping at the wall. It wasn't as hard as that might make it sound, but it was just a few inches from being an easy double, so Reddick didn't miss a good offensive day by very much.
Yoenis Cespedes (CF): Cespedes did the kinds of things we're expecting him to do: chased pitches in the dirt, get hit in the ribs on a check swing, and rip a double to right of center on a curve low and away that I don't know how he even got a bat on, much less squared up. It wasn't quite Vlad Guerrero hitting a ball off his shoe-tops, and I'd rather see Cespedes take those pitches, but I imagine that this is going to be what Cespedes is. It's probably better to get used to it than be frustrated all year long.
Brandon Allen (1B): Miserable day. He did a half-swing thing on a high fastball to whiff in the third, got caught looking on an unhittable fastball on the outside corner at the knees in the fifth, popped up a sacrifice bunt attempt in the seventh, and finally made some contact in the tenth, though he only got a reached-on-error out of it as Dustin Ackley booted the ball and then made a wide throw to first.
Collin Cowgill (PR): Cowgill ran for Allen after the aforementioned tenth-inning ROE, but he was thrown out attempting to steal.
Adam Rosales (1B): Rosales came in on defense after Cowgill pinch-ran. He didn't make it to the plate or have anything happen to him on defense. It took me a while to even notice he was there, as I don't think the Mariners TV team bothered to mention who came into the game.
Eric Sogard (3B): The down-to-the-wire third-base decision apparently ended up being Eric Sogard against the righty Felix Hernandez. He went 0-4, with his best result being a liner up the middle that was snagged by Hernandez before it could get by for a single. Sogard also made a poor throw that short-hopped Brandon Allen in the fifth on a Miguel Olivo shallow chopper. The annoying part about the play was that Sogard knew it was Olivo running, so he took his time and didn't seem to me to rush the play, but the throw was still a poor one, and Allen doesn't seem to be the best scooper in the world. It didn't hurt the A's, as Michael Saunders promptly grounded into a double-play, but it was still unfortunate.
Sogard did make a fine defensive play on Brendan Ryan in the eighth, leaping to snag another chopper (the turf in the Tokyo Dome created a lot of bouncing balls) and throwing just in time to get Ryan at first despite not being in a great position to unleash a strong ball.
(I will do the box score here because I like to note game-by-game whiffs, ball in play distributions, and so forth, and I track these things throughout the game anyway, so it's not much extra work. A few notes, though, as I'm sure some of you weren't here last year: I don't really mean "balls in play" when I say "BIP," but I don't know what else to call it -- I include homers in that figure, and I exclude sacrifice bunts. "UBB" is unintentional walks, and I exclude outs on things like caught-stealing and runners attempting to take the extra base from "outs." A pitcher's "outs" figure, then, won't necessarily match up with his innings total. I do credit both of the outs on a GIDP to the pitcher. Pitch counts aren't official. I miss things sometimes and I don't always check them with online box scores. This ain't science.)
|Pitcher||Outs / TBF||Whiffs / Strikes / Pitches||GB / BIP||K||UBB||HR||GIDP||Outs on bases||Sac||Inh. runners|
Brandon McCarthy pitched like he does, throwing sinkers and cutters mixed with the occasional curve, getting very large numbers of grounders via keeping the ball right around knee level all game, and generally pitching the way you have to to win baseball games. The fastball to Dustin Ackley that the Mariner second baseman ripped over the wall right of center for a homer was a mistake, but every other miss that I can think of by McCarthy was out of the strike zone. He didn't really miss bats, but he didn't give up hard contact either, so I'm sure he'll take it.
I'd never seen Ryan Cook before, and his fastball blazed just like I'd heard it does. ROOT, the Seattle TV network, apparently doesn't have an mph readout on its broadcast (or else didn't have a hookup with a gun at the game?) so I couldn't tell just how hard he was throwing. Both whiffs he got were by Chone Figgins, so take that for what it's worth. His slider looked pretty tight.
Grant Balfour was Grant Balfour, though he looked a little calmer than he sometimes does and he got zero whiffs. Balfour faced the heart of the Mariner order (Ichiro, Smoak, Montero) without giving up anything, though, so I'm not going to quibble with his methods.
Brian Fuentes's first pitch to Mike Carp missed by about two feet outside, which scared me to death given that he was pitching the tenth inning, but he settled down and only allowed one of his three hitters to hit the ball hard, with even that being a grounder to Cliff Pennington off the bat of Miguel Olivo.
The trouble for Andrew Carignan started because he got two strikes on Brendan Ryan and went to his slider for a punchout. That would be a good idea except that he hung the slider badly. Many major-league hitters would have deposited that pitch in the seats, but Ryan settled for a gapper double. After a sacrifice by Chone Figgins, Dustin Ackley lined a solid single on a fastball up in the zone, and that was all she wrote for Carignan.
The fastball that Ackley hit is one he might have gotten away with in the minors or even against some major-league hitters, but Dustin Ackley can hit a baseball. He's not letting that get past him even if it does have good velocity.
Jerry Blevins: With Dustin Ackley on first and one out, Blevins's job was to get the lefty Ichiro and then maybe the switch-hitter Justin Smoak to keep the game to one run. Ackley stole second, though (going first move, to be fair), and Ichiro lined a low slider to center to score the run before being caught trying to take the extra base. The pitch actually wasn't terrible -- Ichiro just Ichiro'd it.
Bob Melvin and I aren't off to a great start. I don't like his batting order (Coco Crisp third bugs me, and Cliff Pennington second is just predictably silly), I don't like his decision to play Crisp in left instead of making him a fourth outfielder, and I didn't love removing McCarthy from the game for Ryan Cook, though I'll defer to him and Curt Young on issues of fatigue and so forth when it comes to his pitchers. I'd also wonder whether using all his relievers for just one inning is something we can expect to see continue or if it was partially a consequence of the enormous bullpen he's blessed with for this Japan series.
I do hope that Melvin is as willing to bring in Grant Balfour in tied games in the ninth as he was here, though I fear that there was Opening Day syndrome, where the manager likes to get his closer in the game even when there's no save situation. I don't know if it's a reward or what, but it seems like this happens every year. Like I said, though, I'm not complaining -- I want Balfour in the tightest situations late in the game (and further, I trust that he's got the personality type not to bitch about it the way Brian Fuentes did last year). I look forward to the inevitable Athletics Nation brouhahas over how you can't use your closer in a tie game on the road because then he's not available for the save or whatever the argument is.
That's all the small potatoes. Here's the big potato: why did you choose Brandon Allen as your starting first baseman if you're going to ask him to bunt a man to third with nobody out in the seventh inning of a tie game and an opposite-hand pitcher on the mound? Felix Hernandez is a tough draw, but dammit, if Melvin trusts Allen to man the most offense-heavy position on the diamond on a full-time basis, he should be trusting Allen to get a base hit in that situation.
Furthermore, Allen's bunting technique was so horrific that I wonder whether he's ever bunted before. Baseball-Reference tells me that Allen has zero sacrifices in 367 major-league PAs and three in 3397 trips to the plate in the minors. One sacrifice every thousand plate appearances. The last time he sacrificed successfully was 2006 in the South Atlantic League.
Managers are supposed to put players in a position to succeed. Putting aside the question of whether that means he should have just forfeited to Felix Hernandez (nobody succeeds against him), and noting my typical deference to management decisions, I think it was a horrendous decision to ask Allen to bunt. Just terrible.
MLB.tv may be the best thing around, but I still have issues with it every year. It more or less worked this time on my Roku box, but the decision of the software engineers to have the feed switch resolutions based on small changes in available bandwidth is about as frustrating as an online-video experience can get. When the broadcast jumps from 16:9 to 4:3 mid-Felix-curve-ball, it's impossible to watch. I truly hope they make it stop doing this soon. Constant adjustment of video quality is annoying, but I see why it's done. Constant adjustment of aspect ratio is flat-out terrible.
I don't like the Mariners broadcast. I want Ray Fosse and Glen Kuiper back.
During the pre-game ceremony, the outfielders gathered in center. I don't know if Josh Reddick speaks Spanish, but from the look on Yoenis Cespedes's face and the "uh huh" nod he gave him in response to whatever he was saying, I'd guess that he speaks not a word.