Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Dandies, the cult of the closer, and who the frack are you?

Baseball can be a cruel and unforgiving sport.

Mariner first baseman Justin Smoak has been the object of some derision from Weisenheimer, being tagged with the nickname "The Great Smoak" almost since the moment of his acquisition as the big prize in the trade of Cliff Lee, which was followed immediately by his nosedive from über-prospect to just-another-player-who-flopped-upon-arrival-in-Seattle.

The Great Smoak. Photo by
Keith Allison, Wikimedia
Smoak has been enjoying a modicum of redemption this summer. While his figures (.266, 9 HR, .793 OPS as of this writing) aren't exactly Ruthian, they dwarf 2012, in which Smoak batted .217, with 19 homers that boosted his OPS all the way up to .654. (Even Brendan Ryan, the M's recently deposed sub-Mendoza-Line shortstop, has an OPS of .521.) My Sweetie, the official scorer, and I were at the Mariners game Monday night, a 2-1 win over Cleveland. Late in the game Smoak came to the plate, and, as if to emphasize that the player was not yet a household name, a kid sitting several rows behind us bellowed, "Get a hit, number 17!" Were kids in the Bronx in 1927 hollering, "Sock one, number three!" when the Bambino came to the plate? Was Stan the Man ever encouraged to "Knock one, number six!"? I think not. Smoak has a ways to go to win the hearts and souls of the fans.

The 2-1 game qualified as a "dandy" as defined by my Sweetie, the official scorer, who as official scorer is the ultimate arbiter of these things. I have to say, though, that after some 22 years of going to games together (as of next month), we may have arrived at somewhat different understandings of the standards under which a "dandy" can be declared. I'd always thought that a dandy featured five runs or fewer scored, with a final margin of no more than two. Thus, a 3-2 game could be a dandy. But recently I was informed I was mistaken, and that five runs are too many. So a 3-1 game could be a dandy, but a 3-2 contest was a little wild. In addition, it's not a dandy if any errors are committed. The margins were clear on Monday and the game was officially determined to be a dandy. (Don't even ask me about the definitions of "beaut" and "humdinger".) Plus it was a gorgeous night out for baseball and for a ride on the Water Taxi to get home. We had a lovely time out at the yard.

The dandy-ness was nearly botched by the appearance of M's closer Tom Wilhelmsen, who lost that gig for a while because he stunk, and now has it back despite the fact that he doesn't smell any better now than he did in June. Wilhelmsen "saved" Monday's game by allowing a one-out double (though we might have to cut him some slack on that one because 41-year-old Raul Ibañez was playing left field and, while he's having a bang-up year at the plate, Raul doesn't cover as much ground as he used to) and then an inexplicable walk to Jason Giambi, a once-feared hitter who is now 42 and batting .192, before getting the final out on a long fly to right field.

Wilhelmsen had relieved Charlie Furbush who had relieved starter Aaron Harang, who pitched seven innings while allowing just four hits, walking one, and giving up one run on a first-inning homer. He'd also retired the last nine hitters he'd faced, ripped through the sixth and seventh innings on just 11 pitches, and had thrown just 99 for the game. Weisenheimer is admittedly old-school, having grown up watching Bob Gibson and others who would bean the manager if they tried to take them out of a 2-1 game. I leave a guy in there if he's retiring the side in order on five pitches.

Admittedly, we don't know what else might have been going on. Perhaps Harang was truly out of gas, or overcome with emotion at the birth of the royal baby, but all things being equal I leave him in.

The Goose. Now that guy was a
closer! Photo by Bbsrock, Wikimedia
What's even more annoying than the automatic, by-the-book summoning of the closer is the ridiculous production number that heralds his entrance into the fray. For Wilhelmsen the M's have concocted a video presentation based on an ear-splitting rendition of the Hendrix version of "Voodoo Child," which at least shows good musical taste, but for gawdsakes it's as if we had Ricky Vaughn or Goose Gossage coming in rather than a guy who brings back nightmares of Bobby Ayala and Heathcliff Slocumb.

By the way, as I sat down to write this, Wilhelmsen was notching another save Tuesday, during which he gave up singles to the first two hitters to put men on the corners with nobody out in the top of the ninth. A truly boneheaded baserunning move helped the M's turn the rare 5-4-2-6 double play, the last guy whiffed, and the M's had won their eighth straight.

Wilhelmsen has me in mind of a story from my friend Chuck, who tells of drafting Claude Raymond of the Expos in an APBA league after he had notched 23 saves for Montreal in 1970. When the year's cards arrived, Raymond was rated among the worst pitchers, thanks to an ERA of 4.43. Here's hoping no 13-year-olds are duped by "The Bartender's" saves this off-season.

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