The Angels’ patient hitters, including rookie Mike Trout, a guy the Mariners could have drafted, bested the best in Felix Hernandez at Safeco Saturday.
Saturday was a Felix day at Safeco. It wasn’t a Felix game.
At least, as we lately have been trained to expect.
What it was, was part of the coming-out party for the Anaheim Angels. They clobbered the Mariners silly Friday night, 9-1, then outsmarted their ace Saturday, 5-2. They’ve won 9 of 11 games and look every bit the stretch-run powerhouse they are paid to be.
“We feel great about where we are,” said Mark Trumbo, who delivered the two-run single in the eighth that chased Hernandez after the Angels worked him to 119 pitches. “We’re hitting our stride, right when we need to.”
The Mariners, meanwhile, inch along. They keep expecting Hernandez to hold one-run leads. He’s done it 46 times his career, including 11 times this season into the eighth inning. Can’t stay on the high wire forever without getting the occasional gust.
The gusts, in this case, come from an Angels lineup that had seven hitters with averages entering the game above .275. Their worst hitter was .249. The Mariners had two hitters above .275, John Jaso (.277) and Franklin Gutierrez (.288), and their worst hitters . . . well, the list is long.
But the killer irony is at the top. Leading off for the Angels is Mike Trout, baseball’s biggest sensation. Not only is he a lock for Rookie of the Year, he’s the leader for Most Valuable Player. Trout leads the American League in average (.336), runs scored (107) and stolen bases (42). He also ranks third in slugging and on-base percentage. Saturday he had two singles off Hernandez, one of which began the four-run eighth that led to his first loss since June 12.
At the top of the Mariners lineup is Dustin Ackley, who started the day hitting .232 and went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts against Ervin Santana, dropping his average to .230. He is line for no postseason awards.
Trout and Ackley were available in the first round of the 2009 draft. The Mariners chose Ackley with the second pick, behind pitcher Stephen Strasburg. The Angels chose Trout with the 25th pick.
Sure, it’s true that many teams besides Seattle determined that Ackley, a star from the University of North Carolina, was the most accomplished position player in the draft. They all were wrong.
Si.com detailed the gravity of the errors by many teams who overlooked Trout. But having company is small solace for a team that looks like it is bearing down on the distinction of being the only team never to make the World Series, now that the Washington Nationals are reaping the draft-day benefits of so many bad finishes.
The Mariners’ continuing futility shouldn’t rest only on Ackley, who appears to be a serviceable major leaguer. But Ackley at 24 is nowhere near the producer that Trout (a high schooler from New Jersey when selected) is at 21. What he represents is another lost opportunity.
“Ackley’s been a little bit better lately, although the numbers don’t show it,” said Mariners manager Eric Wedge, whose electron-microscope eyes apparently see things others don’t. “He just wasn’t very good today.”
The Angels, meanwhile, were good. Trout, Torii Hunter, Albert Pujols, Trumbo and Howard Kendrick all had hits in the eighth against a fading Hernandez. What was the strategy, Albert?
“I can’t tell you, man,” said Pujols in the Angels’ clubhouse. “Why would I tell you?”
Fine, then. Let’s go ask Trout, who already hits better than Pujols and doesn’t know to shut up.
“We just wanted to be patient,” said the prodigy. “Felix is always down in the zone. He throws anything he wants wherever he wants. So you have to make sure not to chase (pitches out of the strike zone), and you have to force him to get his pitches up. You can’t be too aggressive against him.”
The kid gets it, which is why he’s 6-for-18 with a home run and 5 RBIs in his first season against Hernandez. And it’s part of the reason the Angels, despite a 13-15 August, are the kind of team, a blend of prime-time experience and breakthrough stars, that is ready to bust a September move.
The Mariners? They’re all about the call-ups in September..
NOTES – The Mariners’ first September call-ups were familiar names: outfielder Carlos Peguero and RHP Erasmo Ramirez. Peguero was sent to AAA Tacoma July 30 after 12 games and a .146 average. In 76 games with Tacoma this season, Peguero, 25, hit .285 with 21 home runs. Ramirez started the season with the big club in the bullpen and later became a starter. He had an 0-2 record with a 3.82 ERA in 11 games, including four starts. He was on the disabled list from July 1 to Aug. 5 with a right elbow flexor strain. With Tacoma. he was 6-3 with a 3.72 ERA in 15 starts, with 58 strikeouts and 18 walks . . . Wedge said Ramirez would be in the bullpen and didn’t say whether he will join the rotation . . . Peguero will give the Mariners outfield depth after Michael Saunders aggravated his previous groin injury and was removed from the game in the fourth inning of Friday’s 9-1 loss. “I thought I was ready and maybe I wasn’t quite,” Saunders said before the game. “It’s tough to simulate game situations until you finally get out there and are running down fly balls off the bat.” Saunders missed six games with the injury, and likely will sit out several more . . . Hernandez had to stop the game briefly in the fourth inning after his necklace broke. He dug the parts out of his jersey and handed them off to a clubhouse attendant.