May 17, 2013
Chapter 40: Walk-off redux
When the game turned into a battle of bullpens, it seemed as if the Mariners had a slight advantage. After all, their starter had gone an inning further into the game, and the first two relievers had each gone 1.2 innings apiece, leaving them with more relievers left in their bullpen by the time the tenth inning go underway.
But I suppose I'm getting ahead of myself.
The transmogrified Ubaldo was starting, and the transmogrified Ubaldo has us actually looking forward to his starts now instead of dreading them. It used to be an Ubaldo start was akin to a trip to the dentist, now it's more like a trip to the bar, a good bar, with good times and frivolity abounding. Tonight wasn't the best of bar trips - closing time was too early for me - but it was fun while it lasted. Ubaldo struck out nine Mariners and gave up just one run (a Kendrys Morales solo bomb) before he left the game. There was a weird dynamic to his start, though. Obviously he was missing bats all night, but when Seattle actually put the ball in play, they normally got on base. Of the 13 balls put in play against Jimenez, seven of them were hits, and only six of them turned into outs. If you've looked at BABIP at all, you'll know that .462 BABIP is not the norm for any pitcher, particularly one who had also struck out nine batters.
Facing the Indians last night was Brandon Maurer, a 22-year-old flame-thrower who skipped AA on his way to the majors. Baseball America ranked Maurer #6 in their system, but that's a bit of a misnomer because Seattle came into the season with one of the farm systems in baseball. Maurer is the first of perhaps four high-upside pitchers that will likely make their MLB debuts (Taijuan Walker, Danny Hultzen, James Paxton) in 2013 or 2014, making what's already an excellent rotation (with Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iawakuma) even better. Maurer is probably going to do the normal things young fireballers do when they first get to the majors: look awesome sometimes, look awful occasionally, and most of time struggle but get by with their excellent stuff. Last night Maurer got by with his stuff, striking out six but walking four in his six innings of work. The Indians jumped on him for two runs in the second inning when a Nick Swisher walk and Carlos Santana double (which was a laser beam) placed runners on second and third with nobody out. Jason Giambi then did what he does best - hit a high and deep fly ball - scoring Swisher from first and sending Santana to third. Maurer then struck out Mark Reynolds, who has of late lapsed into Baltimore Mark Reynolds, to keep Santana at third with two outs. But on the very first pitch to the next batter (Michael Brantley), Maurer uncorked an unblockable pitch that went to the backstop, bringing Santana home.
The Indians tacked on another run in the fifth when Drew Stubbs hit an opposite-field home run. But just an inning later, with Ubaldo out of the game, Rich Hill served up a hanging curve that the ageless Raul Ibanez crushed, and the score was tied at three. That was how the game stayed until extra innings.
The Mariners have one of the better bullpens in the AL, as do the Indians, so that the score remained fixed didn't surprise me. Carter Capps who the Indians were seeing for the first time, was very impressive, leading me to wonder how he came into the game with an ERA over 5.00. But finally, in the tenth inning, Eric Wedge took Carter Capps out and put in Lucas Luetge, a southpaw who was to pitch to the Brantley-Stubbs-Bourn-Kipnis stretch of the Tribe lineup. Which made sense, as three of the four were left-handed batters. Luetge retired Michael Brantley easily for the second out of the inning, but then walked Drew Stubbs with two outs. With Stubbs on base, your thoughts were that he'd try to steal second, and that's the Mariners were thinking as well, for Luetge threw to first just as Stubbs was breaking for second. Stubbs didn't hesitate though, and by the time the throw came to second, Stubbs was already there. Michael Bourn then kept the inning a bit longer by reaching on a swinging bunt single, the type of ball that 90% of time turn into outs, but not when hit by Michael Bourn.
That all set the stage for this:
You notice the home run, but also the near-capacity crowd at Progressive Field. There were 34,000 fans there last night, drawn by fireworks and Dollar Dog Night and great weather, yes, but also drawn to see a club that's in first place and that's won 14 out of 18 games. Check that - 15 out of 19.