I was almost certain that Jason Vargas was going to walk Hideki Matsui in the seventh inning. With Mike Napoli on second base and two outs, there was a bag open and I thought Vargas would throw a bunch of pitches away and let Matsui either roll over on a ground ball to second, or let him watch four straight balls.
After all Brandon Wood was on deck with his might .165 batting average and 55 strikeouts in 64 games.
Instead, Vargas threw a 0-1 fastball inside, but not inside enough to Hideki Matsui. The veteran slugger ripped it into the right field seats for a two-run homer, completely changing the game.
“Vargas did an outstanding job for 6 2/3 solid innings,” Mariners manager Daren Brown said. “He just left a pitch up to Matsui and it cost him.”
Brown tried to be diplomatic about the idea of Vargas challenging Matsui instead of pitching around him.
“Lefties haven’t done a whole lot against Vargas this year,” Brown said. “Matsui, if you look at the numbers, he’s right about .200 off lefties. The matchup is a good matchup.”
It is, but isn’t.
Officially, Matsui came into the game hitting .203 against lefties, however six of 17 home runs have come off lefties this season. And also, he came in with two homers and four RBI against Vargas in eight career at-bats.
Both Vargas and his catcher Adam Moore were second guessing themselves after the game.
“I feel like I'm smarter than that,” Vargas said. “(Matsui) is definitely a guy that can change the game. And we've got a guy we had success with on deck (Wood). Matsui has hit a couple homers that have changed the game against us during the year. You can’t let him beat you there. You probably just keep feeding him sliders and if he walks, he walks and just move on to the next guy.”
In Moore’s mind, that was what he wanted to do.
He called for a slider and Vargas shook it off. He called for a changeup, and Vargas shook it off, wanting the fastball
“Vargas wanted to go with his gut and went with it,” Moore said. “I wanted to stay away. With Wood on deck, I should have went out there and made a visit, but I didn’t. It hurt us.”
But these things can happen when you have a pitcher in his first full year of starting and a rookie catcher. Lessons are learned. Vargas and Moore both admitted they would have done things drastically different.
“I would have went out there,” Moore said. “No doubt.”
In the future, Vargas hopes he won’t need his catcher to come out there and remind him of the situation.
"When you are out there, you want to be aware of that,” he said. But at the same time, I felt like I had pretty good command of where I wanted to throw tonight. I work really quick. For me it's a learning process on that. Just to go ahead and step back and take a look at the situation and maybe give myself a few more seconds to think about what I want to do.”
Vargas (9-8) pitched seven innings, allowing three runs four hits, with two walks and four strikeouts.
But just one mistake cost Vargas and the Mariners.
“Guys do make mistakes,” Brown said. “Sometimes they’re fouled back and other times they’re not missed. It also magnifies it when you’re in a one-run ballgame. You’ve got to make a pitch.”
At least they admitted their mistakes and seem intent on learning from them. In these meaningless games, it's important something is gained from them.