Mariners Series Summary: In Which Phil Makes Frowny Faces
by Philip Michaels
Let's just combine both games against the Mariners into one big ol' Game Summary. In essence the Wednesday and Thursday contests were the same game anyhow -- solid performances by all the starters, with Seattle getting key hits and the A's getting... well, very few hits, let alone key ones. At least at an hour and 47 minutes, Wednesday's game had the advantage of getting to the undesirable result much quicker.
One disastrous writeup for two disastrous games, coming up, after the jump...
Game 21: Mariners 2, A's 0
Your Pitchers of Record: WP -- J. Washburn (1-2) LP -- J. Blanton (2-1)
Went Deep: Guillen (2), Johjima (1)
Your Gordon Biersch Marzen Star of the Game: While you get the feeling that a random fan could be pulled out of the stands and turn in at least five innings of shutout ball pitching against the A's these days, that shouldn't detract from Jarrod Washburn's performance Wednesday. Like Kameron Loe before him, Washburn executed the winning game plan against the Oakland batters -- throw strikes early and often, especially if you can hit the corners. Every time I looked up at the scoreboard, it seemed like an A's batter was in an 0-1 or 0-2 hole. Even if Washburn only wound up with 2 Ks -- Danny Putnam, looking every bit like a AA callup, and Dan Johnson -- he had the A's taking some very defensive swings for most of the game. He didn't even walk a guy until the seventh, and if the A's don't pick up cheap baserunners, odds are they're not going to score a lot of runs.
The Turning Point: The gallant sportsman in me wants to say Jose Guillen's home run, as it gave Washburn all the help he would need on a night he was dealing.
The petty jerk in me, however, would like to cite Jim Wolf's botched call in the ninth inning, when Eric Chavez was called out on a game-ending double play, even though Wolf was apparently the only person in the Oakland Coliseum that didn't realize Chavez beat the throw. (For heaven's sake, Wolf, Chavez argued the call. Chavez never argues. Whenever fortune hands him a raw deal, he normally shrugs his shoulders and utters something lame and defeatist. See below.)
Look, I'm not suggesting Wolf's call, as horrible as it was, is the reason the A's lost. Washburn's stellar performance and the A's general offensive ineptitude are your culprits there, detective. Besides, even if Chavez is, correctly, ruled safe, there's no guarantee Mike Piazza does anything during the ensuing at-bat but continue his 0-fer night. The Mariners won fair and square. I want that made clear. But... the A's loss went from "extremely likely" to "indisputable certainty" on Wolf's punch-out. And what makes it especially galling is that the call, rather than being an understandable case of human error, had the distinct whiff of "I'm tired of umpiring this evening" to it, given how Wolf barely broke stride on his way off the field.
The bottom line here is that the rules of baseball dictate that the A's get to make 27 outs before they run out of chances to win the game. On Wednesday, I felt like they were only given 26. Someone owes us another out.
Once More, With Feeling: In the eighth, after Kenji Johjima's homer put the game out of reach -- "A's down by two? The game is through" -- Yuniesky Betancourt singled. On the next at bat, Joe Blanton made a sweet move to first, easily catching Betancourt in no man's land and forcing the Mariner shortstop to break for second. Sadly, Dan Johnson fumbled the catch -- maybe because of rust, maybe because he's not that good a fielder to begin with -- and made an arching parabola of a throw to second, allowing Betancourt to swipe the base. Good heavens.
After a sacrifice moved Betancourt to third and four wide ones put Ichiro at first, Blanton made a second sweet move, again picking off Ichiro. This time, Johnson caught the ball properly and threw it even more properly to Mark Ellis, who, sensing Betancourt was not going to linger at third, fired it home to nail the runner.
In the Hizzy: This was my first in-person A's game that counted, marking the first time I've been within the confines of the Coliseum since watching the A's get the first-round monkey off their backs. Attending games in the manner to which I have become accustomed, I sat in the $2 seats, having bought tickets to all the $2 games I can attend in the off-season. (Take that, artificial scarcity!)
The $2 seats are in what the A's call the Plaza Outfield section -- that's the ring of seats above the luxury boxes out on Mount Davis. And despite watching the game from a great height, I actually enjoyed the view; I was in deep center field, directly across from home plate, so I got a straight-ahed look at how the pitches from Blanton and Washburn were breaking. On the down side, balls hit to deep center were a rumor to me; Adrian Beltre crushed a ball in the first, and the only way I knew it was caught and not a homer was when he stopped running the bases and went back to the dugout.
I look forward to the next game I have tickets in hand for this August.
...for several years now, I have been waiting for the A's to offer a Macro Scutaro t-shirt jersey, much as they do for other players; it has been a long and fruitless wait. I expect that this home-run will be the tipping point that will finally force the A's to issue that long-desired No. 19 jersey, and when I attend the A's-Mariners game next Wednesday, I expect that shirt to be waiting for at a conveniently located souvenir stand. If it is not, a campaign of sustained whining and juvenile antics will ensue.
Well, I visited the souvenir stand on the third-base side second deck just by the Gordon Biersch stand that sells the Philly cheesesteaks I love so. I saw jerseys for Chavez, Crosby, Swisher and Piazza... but none for my main man Marco.
Apparently, the A's are not taking my request with the weight and seriousness I had hoped for. A pity. It was my fondest dream to be typing this game summary in my new Scutaro jersey, filled with warmth and human kindness and ready to give hearty high-five to the A's souvenir czar. And now? Now I am consumed only by the thoughts of the terrible things I will have to do and say to get the souvenir jersey that I deserve. That A's fans deserve. That Marco Scutaro deserves.
Like I said, A's marketing czar -- it's a pity.
Curious Roster Decisions: I wasn't the only one making a triumphant return to the Coliseum Wednesday; this was also Johnson's first game back after tearing cartilage in his hip this spring. But I wasn't aware who was sent away to make room for Johnson on the 25-man roster -- Adam Melhuse, who was shuffled off to Sacramento. That means Mike Piazza is now the A's backup catcher, and since he's not going to be allowed anywhere near the field of play with a glove on his hand unless there's an injury or an unplanned return bout with John Lackey, Jason Kendall will be your Oakland catcher for the duration.
To understand why this is terrible, terrible news, please consider this ESPN chart showing the worst OPS stats in all of baseball. Kendall's .441 puts him 187th out of 189 players, or ahead of only Melky Cabrera and Gerald Laird. The big problem appears to be Kendall's slugging percentage -- a less-than-blistering .203. Though I've never played a game of organized baseball, I'm fairly certain I could slug .203 just by sticking my head in front of a pitch and hoping that the ball ricochets down the line and in play.
A couple weekends back, when Kendall made an admittedly sweet play to nail a runner at home on what would have otherwise been a run-scoring wild pitch, Ray Fosse was moved to observe:
I think anybody's who watched Jason Kendall, now in his third year with the A's, just how much he means to this club defensively. I mean, what he does offensively is almost a bonus. But handling the pitching staff, today alone throwing out a baserunner. and that play at the plate. That could be a couple of runs.
"Almost a bonus." Yes, I suppose that's one way to describe Jason Kendall's offensive contributions. Another way might be "almost totally non-existent" or "a reason to stop the game and hold an on-field ceremony since we are unlikely to witness such an event again." And while I suppose there's something to be said for how a catcher handles a pitching staff -- personally I think it's an unquantifiable thing that tends to be overblown -- unless you are tucking the pitchers in at night and mowing their lawns and making sure they eat right, your handling of the pitching staff can in no way compensate for the fact that you're sporting a sub-.500 OPS.
I cannot say this more plainly: Jason Kendall is a terrible hitter. Putting in the lineup is essentially spotting the other team three or four nights a night. And woe betide the A's if Kendall ever comes to the plate with runners on base -- then his inevitable grounder to short means a pair of outs instead of the usual one.
And yet, Billy Beane looked at all of this and said, "Man, that is a guy I need to have in the lineup every day." Teams that are serious about contending for a playoff berth find ways to get players like Jason Kendall fewer at-bats, not give the manager no alternative but to play them constantly.
Game 22: Mariners 4, A's 2
Your Pitchers of Record: WP -- M. Batista (2-2) LP -- K. Calero (0-2) S -- J.J. Putz (2)
Went Deep: Lopez (2)
Your Jones Soda Co. Green Apple Soda Star of the Game: I'm a big fan of managers deploying their best relievers when their skills are needed most, even if that's not in the ninth inning. So, from a tactical standpoint at any rate, it was heartening to see Mike Hargrove summon J.J. Putz with two runners on and one out in the eighth. Putz put down the A's threat and worked a 1-2-3 ninth for the always-impressive five-out save.
The Turning Point: Kiko Calero probably could have figured out a better way to start his sixth-inning relief appearance than by nailing Jose Guillen with a slider. That put the leadoff runner on and set the stage for Lopez's go-ahead two-run homer.
If you're looking for a Turning Point, Impotent Offense Division, look no further than Eric Chavez's at-bat in the bottom of the seventh with two on. Mark Ellis had just hit a two-out single, forcing Mike Hargrove to summon George Sherrill from the bullpen. Chavez swung at the first pitch, popping out to the catcher. Threat over, inning over.
This is the second time this week Chavez has come up in a two-runners-on, A's-trailing situation and popped up to the catcher on the first pitch. Might I suggest a change in your approach, Chavy?
Radio Ga-ga: I've moved offices at work -- the reasons are sketchy -- and this relates to my A's fandom because my RadioShark setup no longer works in my current digs, preventing me from listening to A's games while on the clock. For that reason, I plunked down $14.95 to purchase a year's subscription to Gameday Audio. Now, I not only get to listen Ken Korach and Company, I also can pick up broadcasts from the 29 other Major League teams.
I mention this because I decided to flaunt my new-found audio freedom by catching a few innings of Philip Hughes' Big League debut (thus fulfilling my obligations as a member of The Fraternal Order of Philips Who Spell Our Names Properly). And having listened to a few innings of the WCBS broadcast, I have to express newfound admiration for Yankee fans who manage to get through a whole season of play-by-play from John Sterling and his li'l buddy Suzyn Waldman without pouring caulk into their ears. Seriously, y'all deserve some sort of hazardous duty pay for that.
"It's not really worrisome. It's hard to get in a rhythm when half your lineup's hurt. When you're putting different names in there and bringing guys up, it's just hard to really get in a rhythm. You put the names back in that are supposed to be in there, it's a pretty decent lineup."
Doubtlessly, fielding a lineup without Nick Swisher and Milton Bradley puts the A's at a disadvantage. I accept that. Then again, does having Milton Bradley in the lineup make Jason Kendall any less of a terrible hitter? If Nick Swisher's playing, does that mean Bobby Crosby will stop swinging violently at balls that are two feet out of the strike zone? Sure, the A's are having to start a lot of fill-ins and minor league callups.... but it's not a fill-in who popped up on the first pitch with the tying runs on base, was it?
I had this argument with my father on the phone today. His unusually optimistic take: As bad as the A's have been hitting the ball and as spotty as the bullpen has been, we should be happy that the A's are hovering at .500 and only a game behind the Angels. My very usual pessimistic take: The A's are in this position thanks largely to a run of great starting pitching that is unsustainable over a full season. And while the starters are likely to regress some, the offense is unlikely to improve all that much. What you're seeing from guys like Kendall and Crosby and Ellis and (I fear) Dan Johnson is what you're likely to keep getting.
Boy, I hope I'm wrong. But the soothing calm of "small sample size" is beginning to offer less and less solace.