Thursday, August 18, 2005

1-1-4-4-4-1

Baseball is not just a spectator sport, it's an experience. The game tends to progress in leisurely ebbs and flows. As a fan at the ballpark, this phenomena allows plenty of time to take in the peripheral sights and sounds, as well as the collective atmosphere of 35,000 enthusiastic fans. Beer and snacks get "taken in" a bit more quickly on a warm summer day, naturally.

Otherwise mature adults have time to be kids again. "You suck!" gets screamed at the opposition and suck-worthy home teamers alike. Games get played, like the Eddie Guardado grab-game mentioned in Kevin's humorous post several months ago. Little wagers are concocted and speculations about players and the teams are made throughout the game.

Wednesday afternoon, we sat in the afternoon sun once again, watching the Mariners systematically paste the hapless Kansas City Royals sweeping them yet again this season. No wagers were made this time, but after a spectacularly futile Scott Spiezio at bat, Tad stood up and screamed "worst ... player ... EVER!", drawing chuckles from the nearby denizens. I pointed out later that with the M's firmly entrenched in the mid-20's in everyone's power ranking on planet Earth, the gap between the roughly 25th-ranked Mariners and the 30th-ranked Royals must be the conceptual equivalent of one astronomical unit (the distance between the earth and the sun, or 93 million miles for the non-astrophysicist reader). They are really that bad.

We arrive at the ninth inning of an 11-1 drubbing and lo and behold, Matt Thornton and his wild right arm stride to the mound to finish off the game. This development leads to instant speculation: what will his stat line look like today?

In 44 2/3 previous innings, he'd given up 25 runs. It was a better-than-even chance that he'd give up a run, statistically, so we agreed that he'd allow one here. He'd whiffed 45 year-to-date, so we were certain that he'd notch one today as well. Hits and walks are a bit tougher to forecast, although we knew he'd give up some of each. We collectively agreed upon a total of three, likely comprised of two hits and one walk. His WHIP (walks, hits plus innings pitched) of 1.66 coming into the contest bolstered our strange, perverse confidence in these lazy musings at the tail end of a Mariner romp.

The Thornton report card? Let's go blow-by-blow: Mike Sweeney walked. Joe McEwing walked. Quintessential K.C. uber-scrub Chip Ambres bounced into a 5-4-3 double play. Despite that mild setback, we're still brimming with confidence that Thornton will give up at least one hit and one run before finishing off the game. Mark Teahan proceeded to draw a walk, Thornton's third of the inning. Not quite what we expected, but with that wild arm, not wholly unexpected either. Next up was 72-year old Denny Hocking (whom we both were shocked to see still in the major leagues), who also walked. Even for Matt Thornton, this is unusual. Or as Walter Cronkite used to say, "we have a developing situation."

If Vin Scully were announcing, this is what we'd hear over the radio speakers: "Bases loaded, two outs, and here comes Chris Phillips." Mind you, Phillips was yet another faceless nobody on a team chock full of them, but Thornton was doing his best to create a sense of drama in a game long devoid of that. Let's go back to the imaginary Scully call after Phillips works Thornton to a 1-1 count: "One and one the count, the pitch to Phillips ... and there's a high drive to deep left field ... back goes Morse, a-waaay back, she isssssss ... gone!" Thornton serves up the grand slam to account for four of the Royals' five runs before striking out faceless scrub redux Donnie Murphy to end the game.

The final stat line: 1 IP, 1 hit, 4 runs, 4 earned runs, 4 walks, one strike out. 1-1-4-4-4-1. We underestimated Matt Thornton's ability to suck, and in this case, Royally so. That's our 1998 first round draft pick, all right.

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