Rays 5, Mariners 4; Random Variation Abounds

Soon we'll have a whole bullpen full of Rodneys. (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)

Sometimes baseball just isn’t fair. This game was the perfect example of random variation.

Shields had his best stuff today. He started off the game by annihilating Chone Figgins and Dustin Ackley on filthy changups down and away. He lost Ichiro after being taken to a full count, but he quickly got up in the count against the dangerous but, as Jason astutely noted yesterday, slow Jesus Montero. And then Montero managed an infield hit.

Montero’s hit a grounder between Will Rhymes at third and Sean Rodirguez at shortstop. It looked like Rhymes was going to get it, ranging to his left, but he let it go under his glove (I don’t know if he just missed it, or if Rodriguez was calling him off, or what). S-Rod picked it cleanly, ranging to his left, right on the edge of the infield but slipped slightly on the grass, hurried his throw, and pulled Pena off the bag.

If Longoria doesn’t get injured yesterday, he makes that play. If that same ball is hit to Rhymes and Rodriguez ten more times, they’ll probably make it ten times. They both showed impressive range, and just failed to execute at the end. Kyle Seager went on to hit a good pitch over the right field wall, and by the time Shields struck out Justin Smoak to end the inning, he’d thrown over 30 pitches and given up three runs.

Shields, now angry, proved that there was nothing wrong with his stuff by striking out 10 Mariners in the first four innings, and finishing his night with 11 strikeouts (17 swinging strikes out of 119 total pitches), and four earned runs in six innings of work. Those runs and that pitch count aren’t pretty, but it might have been Shields’s most dominant outing yet in 2012.

  • Blake Beavan was pretty solid, if not spectacular on the night. He could not outdo Shields in the strikeouts competition, so he decided to copy Shields in other areas of the game. With one out, Jose Molina (who is even slower than Montero) hit a groundball that was remarkably similar to Montero’s. Seager wasn’t close to fielding it (the way Rhymes was), and by the time Brendan Ryan scooped it deep in the hole, he had no play. In the very next at bat, Sean Rodriguez lined a belt-high fastball over the left field wall to bring the Rays within two.
  • That very same inning, Pena hit what might have been the hardest hit non-homer fly ball in Tropicana history. It hugged the parabolic contours of the roof, not hitting any of the hanging obstructions, and finally fell harmlessly to a waiting Ichiro just shy of the wall. Overall, it was a night of crushed fly balls for the Rays batters. An almost imperceptible change in angle and those balls are out of the park. More delightful random variation.
  • I know that the run environment is low in Seattle, but they haven’t returned to the Deadball Era yet. Using the Baltimore Chop (Liddi in the fourth inning) seems a little bit extreme to me.
  • Scott had things bounce his way today. First, he hit a high infield popup that Ackley seemed to lose in the roof, allowing it to drop a few feet to his left. Then this happened.
  • Exactly what type of defender is Will Rhymes? He obviously has great speed, and on a play in the fifth inning, I thought his arm looked strong. The Fan Scouting Report rates it poorly, though, and it’s interesting that the FSR rated him dramatically worse overall last year than it did two years ago.
  • Before the top of the sixth, Upton was pulled with cramping in his quadricep. Maddon inserted Elliot Johnson at shortstop, moved S-Rod to third base, moved Rhymes to second base, moved Zobrist to right field, and moved Joyce to left field. I don’t think we could ask for a better illustration of how Maddon rates his defenders.
  • In the bottom of the sixth, Molina hit a ground ball through Liddi’s legs, Billy Buckner style. The Mariners are a defense and pitching team, too.
  • With Rhymes on third and S-Rod on first, Maddon tried the safety squeeze with S-Rod at the plate, but Erasmo Ramirez, the Mariners’ relief pitcher got off the mound quickly and was able to make the play at home.
  • Howell came on to start the seventh, and quickly put away two righties in Brendan Ryan and Chone Figgins. He then walked Ackley, his first lefty, on a curveball up in the zone that probably should have been called strike three. It didn’t break quite as much as JP’s curve sometimes does, so Molina had to move his glove up a little to catch it (which probably caught the umpire’s eye), but it was a strike. JP then took a page from Shields’s book and picked off the unjust runner.
  • Howell came back on in the eighth inning to face Ichiro again, but after a bunt single down the third base line, he was pulled for Wade Davis. Davis got Montero to fly out (his fastball in this at bat was only at 90, which alarmed me), but then Seager, who had a great game, hit a line drive into left. Ichiro took a big turn at third, but elected not to test Joyce’s arm.
  • Maddon pulled Davis for Peralta after he only faced two batters. Did he see something was off about Davis, or does he just not trust him in high leverage situations? I think it’s the latter.
  • Two strikeouts, a popup, a soft grounder, and a loud flyball into right later, Peralta had completed a multi-inning save. He marked the occasion by looking back into the bullpen and shooting an arrow skyward. Beautiful.
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