Game Eleven Recap
After four close wins that all demanded David Aardsma to preserve a lead in the ninth inning, that was a nice change.
Let’s start with Felix. For the first three innings, he pitched as well as is humanly possible. This wasn’t the Felix we saw in years past, where he’d just pound the zone with fastballs and take a beating early. He went after Austin Jackson with two sinkers, then a curve and a change-up for the strikeout. He setup Johnny Damon with a couple of sinkers, then threw him an 0-2 curve before blowing him away with a four seam fastball up and away. He established his fastball, but he didn’t make it the only pitch in his repertoire.
Even in the fourth, he didn’t pitch badly despite giving up two runs. Jackson hit a flare up the middle for an infield single, and then Damon hit a groundball that’s an easy out if Kotchman isn’t holding the runner on. Miguel Cabrera took a fastball at the knees into the gap for a double, but that’s why he’s one of the best hitters in baseball. With the tying run at second base, Felix busted out the nasty stuff, and stranded Cabrera in scoring position.
He wasn’t as efficient as he could have been, especially with the big lead, but this was one of those nights where the other team didn’t stand much of a chance. He was overpowering, racking up nine strikeouts and simply looking unhittable for long stretches. The Tigers weren’t winning tonight. Not with that version of Felix on the mound.
Of course, the M’s didn’t need Felix to pitch a shutout tonight, because the offense busted out for 11 runs, which didn’t seem possible for the first ten games of the season. The top of the order showed how this team is going to create runs this year, as Ichiro, Figgins, and Gutierrez combined to go 5 for 11 with 3 walks and a couple of stolen bases. You don’t need Adrian Gonzalez to drive in runs when your top three hitters get on base eight times. The M’s still didn’t show any power, with only the one extra base hit, but six walks and 11 singles work too. The M’s won’t always find this many holes, but neither will they always hit every ball right at someone like they did the first week of the season. Regression to the mean can be fun when you’ve been running overly cold, and that’s basically what we saw tonight.
Of all the hitters to single out, I’m going to go with Rob Johnson. A year ago, he combined a lack of power and contact ability with a frustratingly terrible approach at the plate. He chased pitches out of the zone and regularly got himself out, rarely worked counts, and was generally useless at the plate. He’s shown significantly more selectivity this year, and tonight, drew his fourth and fifth walks of the season, despite having just 23 plate appearances. He still can’t hit, but it seems like he may have learned that he can’t hit, and he’s now willing to adopt the Chone Figgins approach, rarely swinging unless he has to. Given his skillset, that’s not a bad idea. He’s still going to find new and creative ways to frustrate us with passed balls and easy drops, but if he’s willing to take the free pass when its offered, he might yet turn out to be moderately useful.
M’s go for .500 tomorrow, but they do it against Justin Verlander, who is the Tigers version of Felix. He has knockout stuff, but also can run up high pitch counts and get himself out of the game in the 6th inning against teams who are willing to make him work. Be nice to see the M’s steal one and even up the record, which should finally silence the last of the crazies who were freaking out a few days ago.