(Photo by Associated Press)
The Mariners’ clubhouse after this game was not a pleasant place to be, as you could imagine. Lots of stunned faces, and deathly silence. David Pauley sat at his locker with his head in his hands before facing reporters. It reminded me vividly of the mood after three walk-off losses (all with Brandon League on the mound) on the mid-May road trip to Baltimore and Cleveland.
Let’s get to the obvious first question: Why did Eric Wedge take out Doug Fister after eight? Fister was cruising along with a three-hitter and had thrown 99 pitches.
Here’s Wedge’s answer: “We even debated sending him back out for the eighth. Just because it was so hot, he was on base (after a fourth-inning single for Fister’s first career RBI), and he worked so hard.
“That was enough for him today. We felt we pushed him through the eighth. League hadn’t pitched in three days. He needed to pitch. He’s been our guy. It just didn’t work out for us.”
I can attest it was a very muggy night.
Fister said, “I felt strong. You never want to come out of a game. But I respect Skip’s decision. We’re OK on that.”
It’s easy to second-guess the decision, but if Justin Smoak doesn’t make an error that made all five runs unearned, or League is able to throw out Mike Morse, it would have been moot. Bottom line is they should have been able to hold a four-run lead with anyone pitching — particularly after getting two outs with no runs in yet.
That said, the Nationals were glad to see Fister depart.
“It seems like it happens more often than not, when you take a guy out of the game that’s rolling pretty good, you kind of take a deep breath and be like, ‘Alright, he’s gone, let’s get this guy,’ ” said Washington’s Jayson Werth.
“I think when that inning started, we felt pretty good about it. League’s got good stuff, but Mikey (Morse) hit that ball and got him out of the game. There was a lot of stuff going on that inning.”
There was indeed. To answer the obvious second question, League was limping pretty visibly after the game. (So, for that matter, was Ichiro, who got hit on his leg on the throw from the catcher when he stole second base in the seventh. He stayed in the game, but it’s something to check out tomorrow).
League’s injury was listed as a contusion (bruise) below his right calf, and he’s day to day. He said he wanted to stay in the game until he tried to throw.
“That’s why I threw those pitches just to see how it was. But I had a hard time pushing off. I couldn’t push off at all. I felt like I was falling towards home plate. The wise decision was not to risk anything else.”
League said his limp “is pretty noticeable. We’re going to go day by day with it, see how it feels tomorrow. They say it’s probably going to be a lot worse tomorrow than it is now, but I’m going to try to throw and see how it is.”
Wedge said of League, “He should be OK. He’s going to be sore tomorrow, obviously. It got him good. He tried to throw a couple of pitches, but he wasn’t able to feel much down there. That was his push-off leg, so we had to get him out of there.”
I’m no doctor, but I’d be surprised if League is able to close on Wednesday. That would likely leave Wedge to choose among David Pauley, Jamey Wright and Chris Ray to fill in. Pauley didn’t exactly make a strong case for himself tonight, but he was thrown into the game cold, which is not easy. He said the fateful pitch to Wilson Ramos was a high changeup. Ramos crushed it for a no-doubt-about-it homer, a walk-off, three-run job. What was interesting is that much of the original crowd of 21,502 was long-gone by the time Ramos connected, and there was hardly any buzz of excitement right up until the ball left the yard.
“It was just up,” Pauley said. “That’s what’s supposed to happen. It’s not a place you want to throw a changeup in that situation. That ball needs to be down no matter what. It was the right pitch. I just didn’t make the pitch.”
All in all, it was a pretty miserable finish to what had been, until the ninth, a great night for the Mariners. Fister pitched brilliantly, Adam Kennedy and Franklin Gutierrez had three hits each, Dustin Ackley drove in two runs and started a great double play in the sixth, Ichiro had another multi-hit game. But it all unraveled in the ninth.
“Every once in a while, you’re going to get kicked in the teeth like this,” Wedge said. “And when you do, you pick yourself back up, learn from it, shelve it, and come back out tomorrow with a fresh frame of mind.”
Easier said than done.