To a lot of baseball fans, the greatest moments are when the top stars do amazing things. Albert Pujols or Reggie Jackson crushing three October homers, Justin Verlander throwing a no-hitter, that kind of theme.
In my sandlot world, real and fantasy, I'm all about the randomness, the surprise stories, the out-of-nowhere scrubs who become a fake-team heroes. And with that in mind, my favorite highlight from the 2012 season just went down in Seattle, WA.
I'm here to talk about the Mariners 1-0 victory over the Dodgers on Friday, a wacky no-hitter authored by six Seattle pitchers. Kevin Millwood (6 IP, 1 BB, 6 K, 68 pitches) got the story rolling but was forced to leave due to a mild groin strain. With that, the wheels started to spin in the bullpen. Charlie Furbush retired two men in the seventh, Stephen Pryor finished the inning before encountering command issues in the eighth, Lucas Luetge came on for a lefty-specialist out (graciously handed to him by the Dodgers), and then Brandon League (shallow fly out, strikeout) and Tom Wilhelmsen (three infield outs) bolted the door.
It wasn't conventional and it wasn't against an elite lineup (no Matt Kemp), but it sure was a blast to watch. And yes, it tied a record for no-hit participation.
You want some roto takeaways, gamer? Make the jump.
Because we're fantasy players, we have to start at the end of the game, work from the handshake backwards. For all the buzz generated by Pryor, the young phenom, he's going to have a hard time getting the ninth-inning baton away from Wilhelmsen and League, at least for this year. Stay with me, connect the dots.
League had the toughest assignment of the night: he entered the game with runners at second and third and just one out, with a one-run lead to protect in the eighth. League found a way to retire the pesky A.J. Ellis (a short fly to left that had no chance to score the runner), and then League dialed it up a notch against Tony Gwynn Jr., blowing him away with nasty stuff. If League can keep throwing like he did Friday, he'll give Eric Wedge a lot to think about.
That said, is Wilhelmsen ever going to get out of the way? The Redwoods Reliever has been terrific since League's (presumed to be temporary) demotion on May 26, recording 8.2 scoreless innings along with three saves and a win. The three outs on Friday were of the harmless infield variety, though Dee Gordon nearly reached as the leadoff man. Brendan Ryan's throw probably arrived in the glove just as Gordon's foot was hitting the bag, but at that stage of the game, ties go to the no-hitter. Two more routine outs and the Mariners had their moment. While the Mariners have logical reasons to go back to League eventually (showcase, showcase, showcase), it probably can't happen until (or unless) Wilhelmsen does something wrong in the ninth.
Wilhelmsen has the character profile of a closer, too: this is a nutty story from central casting. He was drafted by the Brewers in 2002 but his career quickly flamed out; he dealt with a drug problem in 2003 and was suspended for the entire 2004 season. He junked baseball completely in 2005, leaving the game; he eventually found work as a bartender. Boulevard of broken dreams.
Alas, Wilhelmsen still knew he could pitch and he decided to give it another go, hooking up with the Mariners organization in 2010. He made it to the majors last year, at age 28, and had a solid partial year in pedestrian relief work (25 appearances, 3.31 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, no save chances, three holds). He wasn't on anyone's mixed-league draft board back in March.
Wilhelmsen looks the part of a closer (the height, the facial hair, the mid-90s gas, the zesty strikeout rate), and he's considered a bit of a free spirit. Fine with us. There's nothing wrong with a little zaniness in the ninth.
Pryor scored his first MLB victory despite being the least-effective of the Seattle pitchers; only four of his 15 pitches were strikes (several weren't even close), and he walked two men to open the eighth. Wedge followed with a hook (and Don Mattingly followed with his favorite play, the bunt), and then League entered for his Houdini escape.
I still don't trust Millwood in any shallow or medium mixer, but we can't ignore his strong push to the year (3.57 ERA, 1.29 WHIP). He's still getting plenty of ground balls (over 51.3 percent), and no one can seem to take this guy deep (5.3 HR/FB rate). I'd feel a little better if Millwood's K rate were over seven (it just misses) or his K/BB rate were over 2/1 (it's around 1.7), but I won't argue with you if you want to include Millwood in the streamer pool. If his injury turns out to be no big deal, he'll probably face the Padres at home next week, obviously a good draw.
For the final word, let's go to Mariners TV announcer Dave Sims. This was his enthusiastic call for the game's conclusion: (we appreciate the CT shout out):
Good hitter in Ethier … Wilhelmsen the pitch … ground ball, this will do it! … Ackley throws … a no-hitter! … a combined no-hitter by the Mariners! … Millwood … Furbush … Pryor … Luetge … League … and Wilhelmsen
Closing Time! It's 1-0, the Mariners win it!
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