It was a lovely spring day at Safeco today as I watched the Mariners beat the Royals 5-1. Just a hint of chill in the air but the sun was out and it was plenty warm enough until the shadows closed in during the late innings. A day like this reminds me why I’ve never missed the Kingdome for a single second. Well, maybe a little bit last winter while watching the Seahawks play the 49ers during a monsoon.
Anyway, it was a solid performance by Cha Seung Baek who had a no-hitter going into the sixth and ended up leaving with the game tied at 1-1. Baek pitched well enough last year after being called up to make lots of people wonder why he wasn’t given a shot at the #5 in the rotation instead of throwing bucketloads of money at Jeff Weaver, who was booed out of Anaheim last year and traded to the Cards for a case of Bud Light and a cup holder to be named later. Pitching the clinching game in the World Series was a marvelous deodorizer for a guy who, by most other measures, had an odorous season.
But Weaver was practically unhittable last year compared to the BP he’s been serving up this year to anyone lucky enough to find themselves standing 60’6" away from him with a Louisville slugger in their hands. So far in four starts he’s 0-4 with a 18.26 ERA and has lasted just 11.1 innings total. The bullpen must be on DEFCON 1 everytime Weaver hits the mound. And it’s hard to imagine an M’s pitcher putting up a worse line than Weaver did yesterday against the light hitting Royals (0.1 IP, 7 H, 7 ER) without randomly plucking someone out of the stands to pitch.
So, of course, the decision on whether to keep Baek or Weaver in the starting rotation once King Felix returns was the main topic of the yakkity yak on the post-game show on the drive home. It seemed like a no brainer to everyone who weighed in, including those who’d never seen or heard of the game of baseball before. But nothing is a dead-lock certainty when big money and egos are involved and having an $8 million long reliever in the bullpen won’t help burnish Bill Bavasi’s less-than-shiny record as a wheeler dealer. Still, it’s hard to imagine Weaver still being in the rotation after Felix comes back unless he turns in a lights out performance before then and knocks his ERA down to only, say, 14.00 or 15.00.
So I’m watching a pretty good Devil Rays-Twins game yesterday when I witness a baserunning feat not seen since my glory years in the Little League. The score is tied in the ninth at 2-2 with no outs when Carl Crawford strokes a Joe Nathan pitch into the CF-RF gap to the fence. Crawford hustles around second, puts his head down and steams into third for a standup triple. It’s all good except for one minor thing…there’s already another Tampa Bay baserunner (Ben Zobrist) standing on third. Whoops. So with third being a bit overcrowded, Zobrist takes off running for home and gets caught in a pickle.
Oh well, at least TB will have a runner on third with one out, right? Umm, no. Zobrist gets tagged out and Crawford is spotted inexplicably running back toward second base at about a 3/4 trot looking as confused as Jessica Simpson at a physics lecture. He gets thrown out by a mile so now there are two outs and no one on base and the next shot is of Rays manager Joe Maddon in the dugout staring at the scene in dumbfounded disbelief as if he’d just seen a canary eat an elephant. Tampa Bay ends up going scoreless and in the bottom of the inning Justin Morneau hits a rope over the leftfield wall for a walk-off homer.
And that, in a nutshell, is why the Devil Rays are, well, the Devil Rays.
I understood the hype coming into this game – Dice-K vs. Ichiro – two Japanese superstars meeting for the first time on American soil. But the intriguing matchup all along to me was Dice-K vs. King Felix. No young pitcher in the league has a higher ceiling than Felix Hernandez and the 20-year old babyfaced chubster of a year ago who didn’t quite live up to expectations has been replaced by a slimmed down babyfaced assassin this year who looks ready to dominate. And dominate is just what he did last night.
The Red Sox feared lineup didn’t even get the ball out of the infield until the seventh inning and J.D. Drew’s single up the middle past a diving Jose Lopez in the eighth was their only hit of the night. It was a solidly struck ball but if it had been two or three feet to the right then Felix has the first no-hitter in Fenway in over 40 years.
Despite the fact that Dice-K was the second best pitcher on the field – for this game anyway – and by a large margin, much of the postgame coverage was still centered around his duel with Ichiro which no one will remember a week from now. Matsuzaka pitched pretty well and giving up three earned runs in seven innings will probably earn him the win for the Sox seven times out of ten, but he did make some mistakes out over the plate and the M’s made him pay when he did.
King Felix’s line after two games is Randy Johnsonesque (from back in the day anyway): 17 IP, 4 hits, 18 strikeouts, 0 runs. He’s going to have some bad days this year and will probably have some growing pains (he’s something like four days past his 21st birthday fer chrissakes) but when he’s on his game he’s almost unhittable.