"People ask me what I do in winter when there's no baseball. I'll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring." --Rogers Hornsby
"I take Felix every Opening Day, and he makes me look pretty good." -- Mike Blowers
Winter's a long time. So many days to think about the one game that separated you from the As, about the 2 games that separated you from the Royals and their World Series visit. About this failed trade and that missed opportunity and this start and that at-bat. And then people start making predictions as they look toward Spring, and the same people who said you didn't do enough to really contend suddenly look around and start picking you not just for the AL West but for the pennant. You're not the underdog anymore, you're the petted favorite, with no success in between to accustom you to the change.
And still the games aren't real, and you're trapped in Spring Training, and you aren't winning and you don't care and you just WISH you could get ON with it. Let's play some games that matter, shall we?
Felix gets blown up in the last few games, tells people not to worry about it. Paxton gets crushed, says he doesn't care and come back in a week and talk to him after a Real Game. Is that just talk, or can the Ms handle the pressure?
Out of the gate you see the Angels, winners of the AL West and 98 games last year (11 more than you, I might add). Your ace versus their ace. Their MVP versus your... what do you REALLY have, anyway, after HOFer Cano in the lineup? Is it solid? Is it safe?
Inning #1: Their MVP takes your Cy Young winner deep, on a mistake pitch and a misplayed ball by your expensive and under-performing center fielder. 1-0. In 2014, it was no sure thing that the Ms could score more than 2 runs against ANYONE with Felix on the mound (10 of his 34 starts were under that pitiful level of production). And we all know that's no aberration. For his career he's right at 35% of his starts with 2 runs or less offense backing him while he's on the mound. That's 34 more times than Verlander, for instance - an entire season's worth of starts with no offense. Can the Mariners overcome the inertia of that this year and actually put runs on the board when it matters? When they're behind and the pressure's on? When everyone EXPECTS them to be good enough to pull it out?
I'm sure you saw the graphic. Felix was PERFECT on Opening Day entering this game. Had never lost. The streak continues - but Felix has been planting his flag for a DECADE. It's time for some people to help him.
Seth Smith with his giant bobble-head doesn't care about pressure. Seth Smith just hits baseballs. Three hits, all for extra bases, all crucial. He's played most of his career in the NL, but that 2 year stop in Oakland means I don't have to worry about league conversions or part-time AL play with him. He's a vet, who's been to a World Series, and he's not really scared of the moment. Here's a flag for you.
Dustin Ackley says, "I've got your pulled power shot on a rising fastball right here" - right after the Ms announcers were talking about him staying within himself and using the whole field. The RF bleachers might not technically be part of the field, but I'm okay with him dabbling with hits there from time to time. The College Hitter of The Aughts has to become a good pro sometime - it might as well be this year. He looks beefier too - taking that corner hitter job seriously, apparently. Take another flag.
Austin Jackson looked like he wanted to hit today. Not just that he COULD hit, but that he DESIRED to hit, instead of wishing he were elsewhere - like a golf course, or a bar, or playing Parcheesi for quarter stakes.
Cano is Cano, cool as the other side of the pillow (RIP, Stuart Scott). Brad Miller was looking for hits, and even his out was one of the louder hits today. Morrison was aggressively looking for patience, and somehow made that work. Ruggiano was offered a walk and took it.
Carson Smith - Lord Farquhar didn't have it today, so would you like to take on the MVP with the game and Felix's bid for a win on the line? Why of course you would. Deadly Frisbees away!
And the good thing about Rodney being crazy? He's not really sure what pressure is. He might screw up, he might be brilliant, but it's all internal. Today he was overpowering in the end, and for Rodney the end is all that really matters. By whatever means are necessary, just get us to the end with a win.
Everybody played within themselves. Seager and Cruz didn't have the openings they would have liked, and neither guy pressed too hard about it. There are hits to find in the other 161 games. Zunino looked a little pressed, but he had to catch Felix - hard to relax into your game when Opening Day is just as much on your shoulders. If you can't block the spike change, Felix can't throw it. Give Big Mike a couple days.
If the Ms felt the pressure of Playoffs-and-expectations-and-pennants-and-perfect-games-and-World-Series-Parades-and-history (whew)... they didn't show it. They busted out the cliche book and did it one-game-at-a-time style. And they beat the Angels into pugilistic submission.
Game two is tomorrow. Let's see if we can take it one-series-at-a-time, and win em all... shall we?
Plant those flags, Mariners, every day. Go take what's yours. We've been waiting - 161 til we roar into the playoffs.