First things first….REAL BASEBALL IS BACK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Ok, now that that’s out of the way. Today was unofficially Opening Day in Tokyo between the Mariners and Athletics. The game was an exciting, low scoring pitchers dual between Felix Hernandez and Brandon McCarthy. Both pitchers were impressive, each allowing 1 run apiece in the 4th inning. When the game went into the 11th inning, still tied 1-1, that’s when things started to get interesting.
Brendan Ryan led of the top of the inning by smacking a double, and then was advanced to 3rd on a sacrifice bunt by the anemic Chone Figgins. Dustin Ackley then came up to bat and smashed a single right back through the box, bringing in the go-ahead run. Ackley had 2 RBIs today, also driving a homerun to deep right-center field. The other Mariner who carried the day offensively was Ichiro, who at this point had a 3-4 day going, and came to the plate following Ackley. That’s when Eric Wedge and two talented base runners made their play.
Ackley was put in motion by Wedge and stole 2nd of Kurt Suzuki. The move was an excellent call by the Seattle manager, because Suzuki only throws out a career 27% of baserunners, a relatively low mark. Ackley has also shown a decent ability to steal bases in his young career and he now stands a perfect 7-7 as a major leaguer. Wedge’s decision paid off when Ichiro was able to line his 4th hit of the game back up the middle.
Ichiro also made a smart base running play as well. After he singled he drew the attention of the defense by immediately heading toward 2nd, ensuring that Ackley would score. The throw from centerfield more than likely wouldn’t have gotten Ackley at the plate, but in the 11th inning all that matters is getting that 1 all-important insurance run. It gives your pitcher an extra margin of error and enhances the pressure on your opponent.
Seattle’s base running in the 11th inning was excellent and is a good indicator of things to come. The Mariners will need to be aggressive all season long in order to succeed. If the Mariners are to surprise in 2012, they will have to get as many runs as they can on the base paths. This team needs to take the extra base on hits, and manager Eric Wedge should be looking to steal frequently, especially against lighter-throwing catchers like Suzuki.
Box Score Thoughts
-The Mariners middle of the line-up, Jesus Montero and Justin Smoak, otherwise known as the 2 players offered for Cliff Lee in 2010, struggled. They went a combined 0-9 with 1 K and 6 left on base. Every middle of the order has games like this. Hopefully for Seattle these type of things aren’t too frequent.
-Yoenis Cespedes got his first major league hit, a double in the 7th, but otherwise struggled, striking out twice.
-King Felix looked masterful, and could be a top-3 Cy candidate if he keeps this up. His line: 8 IP, 5 hits, 0 walks, 6 K’s. Granted it was against Oakland, which will probably have one of the two worst offenses in the AL, but this was an excellent way to start the season.