July 5, 2005
Prospectus Game of the Week
Texas Rangers @ Seattle Mariners, 7/1/05
DH David Dellucci SS Michael Young 1B Mark Teixeira 3B Hank Blalock 2B Alfonso Soriano LF Kevin Mench CF Laynce Nix RF Richard Hidalgo C Rod BarajasThe Rangers rank third in the majors in runs scored per game, just behind the Yankees and Red Sox. Yes, Ameriquest Field's batter's park factor of 111 is the most hitter-friendly in the AL, 2nd in MLB. But that fact can't obscure the great seasons being forged by several Rangers hitters. According to Baseball Prospectus' new Sortable Stats feature, six of the top 30 hitters in the AL as ranked by VORP are Rangers. While you might expect big seasons out of corner infield stars Hank Blalock and Mark Teixeira, the emergence of Kevin Mench (.309 EqA) and the out-of-nowhere explosion of David Dellucci (.333 EqA) have supercharged what already looked like a formidable lineup heading into the '05 season. It's Dellucci that gets the party started for Texas on this night, crushing the second pitch of the game from Aaron Sele for a near upper-deck homer.
I only learn this after the fact, however. While the magic of TiVo allows me to slo-mo Sele's neck whiplashing around as Dellucci's homer takes out a small satellite, I don't make it into Safeco Field until the top of the second inning. Accompanied by my wife Angele and BP alum/Mariner die-hard Derek Zumsteg, we've set out to test our ability to see the game from the best vantage point possible, for the least money. After waiting until the bottom of the 1st to approach a scalper, our efforts start slowly, when the first ticket-waiver says we can have three View-Reserved seats for $15 apiece; we were hoping for better, given the game's well underway, the Mariners are horrible this year, and season-ticket holders can buy these seats for $15 each anyway, meaning he's basically asking for face value. After Derek sniffs around for another couple minutes--this is his show, given I've been living in Seattle only three weeks and this is my first trip to Safeco in two years--he heads to the ticket window to get cheap seats, setting up a plan to sneak down for a better view once inside. Just as the ticket vendor hands him the trio, I see the same stubborn scalper ("The price won't go down 'til the 6th inning!" he practically taunted us after we refused his hard-line offer) pleading with a group of six teenagers to take his ducats for $11 each. Ouch.
Walking purposefully, Derek leads us down the first-base line, where he then darts into a section near the foul pole guarded by a seemingly indifferent usher. He and Angele are already putting down their jackets and about to sit down when the usher, for no apparent reason, sees me straggling and asks to see my ticket. Busted, he gives me the boot and whistles for the rest of my group to get the Rick Helling out of there. We circle around the park and reach the same section near the foul pole on the opposite side of the stadium. There, we quickly learn the key to getting more for your ticket buck--sweet-talk an older, female usher. "Come back in the 3rd inning and you can sit here," she tells Derek. This is far from the days of Olympic Stadium, when as a perpetually broke 16-year-old I used to buy $1 bleacher seats, then sneak into the $20 primo locations with my buddies for a better view. Of course paid attendance on this night is 37,000+, compared to the four-digit crowds the Expos often brought in during the lean years, so maybe my perception's just skewed.
We find a nice standing vantage point in the lower concourse near home plate, where we set up shop for the half-inning before our usher lets us through. Here's what you missed, besides the Dellucci moonshot:
After Dellucci's blast, Michael Young crushed a ball to right-center, Ichiro's improbable running catch saving a sure triple. Blalock then rockets a ball to center that's hauled in near the wall by Jeremy Reed. Sele then gets touched for a walk and a sharp single in the second, barely wiggling out of the jam. Despite the small 1-0 deficit, Sele looks ready to give up 10 runs. Frighteningly, he's also the best starter the Mariners have this year. Meanwhile the M's manage only an Ichiro walk in the first, a Randy Winn double play and an Adrian Beltre five-year, $65 million, .306 OBP strikeout negating any germ of a rally. An inning and a half into my efforts to become an M's fan while living in Seattle and Derek's prediction has come true: Other than Ichiro and maybe Jeremy Reed, I'm having a tough time liking any of these guys. Speaking of which...
RF Ichiro Suzuki LF Randy Winn 3B Adrian Beltre 1B Richie Sexson DH Raul Ibanez 2B Bret Boone CF Jeremy Reed SS Michael Morse C Pat BordersWhen your two big guns aren't producing the way you'd hoped, that's a recipe for disaster. Beltre's been a huge disappointment three months into his big contract. He's young as free agents go, plays a premium defensive position, and a 2004-like big second half would go a long way to redeeming his season. For now, though, he's been a bust. Meanwhile Richie Sexson's hitting .238/.340/.484/.290 EqA--not bad, but hardly worth the five-year, $50 million deal the M's gave him in December, ignoring Sexson's health risks, his falling short of stardom even in his best seasons, and of course my oft-repeated immutable law of free-agent first basemen: Teams that sign 30-something free-agent first basemen to lucrative, long-term contracts are almost certain to throw away tens of millions of dollars. I'm not saying that the Mariners will be looking at Sexson's deal as Mo Vaughn-esque in two years. Call it somewhere between Jason Giambi-disaster-level and Jim Thome-great-for-a-while-then-increasingly-ugly status.
The M's do get on the board in the bottom of the 2nd, though it's the bottom of the order, not the high-priced three-four hitters who get the job done. After a two-out walk by Bret Boone, Reed laces a double down the line in left, Boone sliding in just ahead of Rod Barajas' tag to tie the game.
Sele and Chan Ho Park then set the clock back to 2001, both settling into a groove. Park's still getting knocked around this year, but thanks to ample run support and some luck he compiled a 7-2 record heading into the game. He's spotting his fastball well--or at least taking advantage of the weak Mariner lineup, with an Ichiro double all the M's can muster from the 3rd through 5th innings. Sele sets down the first three batters in the 3rd and the first two in the 4th. Falling behind four of the lineup's top five hitters, Sele retires all five anyway, using mostly change-ups and curves to bail himself out. A 1-2 change to Soriano produces a prodigious whiff, and the Mariners look like they may finally get a strong pitching performance this time around.
It doesn't last. With Sele topping out at 87 on his fastball and throwing mostly junk, Mench sits on an off-speed pitch. He gets one, driving the ball to right-center for a double. Laynce Nix and Richard Hidalgo follow with an RBI double and RBI single, cashing two runs. The bleeding stops only when Winn--who may have the worst throwing arm in baseball--runs toward the ball before suddenly giving way to Reed. Hidalgo, committed after seeing Winn move toward the ball, gets gunned down at second by the much better throwing Reed.
It gets uglier in the 5th. Barajas hits another line shot to right-center--the Rangers are just sitting on slow stuff outside and pummeling it--and Dellucci walks to put two on with none out. Sele looks like he may again squirm out of it with the damage minimized. But Blalock ropes a single to left, bringing up more Winn comedy. Barajas, one of the slowest runners in the game, touches third just as Winn fields the ball in left. He comes up throwing--any kind of decent throw will nail Barajas by 15 feet. Winn throws a three-hopper that gets to Pat Borders around the time Barajas is on his third handful of sunflower seeds in the dugout. The Mariners' need to give regular playing time to talented, if injury-prone, OF prospect Chris Snelling (.363/.447/.540 at Triple-A Tacoma before being called up Sunday) and the team's desire to get the 31-year-old Winn's $3.75 million 2005 salary and $5 million '06 mutual option off the books are better reasons for a trade, but if Winn's arm ends up sealing his ticket out of town, that works too. Soriano's RBI single makes it 5-1 Rangers. Though the game's only half over, the crowd goes dead quiet, probably realizing there's no way the M's are coming back.
The Rangers go on to win the game 6-2, the Mariners sleepwalking through another lifeless game in what's been a lifeless season. With any luck the losses will continue, and fans will start to stay away. Then we can start sweet-talking the ushers in the box seats.
Set Your TiVos and VCRs: The next Prospectus Game of the Week pits the Cleveland Indians (the team pegged as the clear favorite for the AL Wild Card according to BP's Playoff Odds Report) against the New York Yankees, Sunday July 10, 1 p.m. ET. Tune in to Channel 735 on DirecTV to see Scott Elarton duke it out with either Tanyon Sturtze or a sore-shouldered Carl Pavano. We'll take the over on this one.