Jason Vargas is closing in on a historic feat, but it's not the kind that he particularly wants to achieve.
With two home runs allowed Wednesday night, Vargas moved within one of the all-time record for homers allowed on the road in a Major League season. They were Nos. 24 and 25 for the left-hander, who is having a fine season overall but just hasn't been able to keep the ball in the park when he's ventured away from Safeco Field.
Just by reaching 25, Vargas moved into a small group. According to STATS Inc., he's the 13th pitcher in history to give up 25 or more homers on the road in a season. Seven of those seasons have happened since 2001, with the most recent before Vargas being the Twins' Carlos Silva, who allowed 25 in 2006. Seven have allowed 26, with six more (including Vargas) at 25.
According to STATS, Inc., the following pitchers have allowed 25 or more homers on the road in a single season.
Road HRs allowed
Total HRs allowed
Vargas, of course, has been lights-out at home. His six homers at home are the lowest total of any of the 13 pitchers who have allowed 25 or more on the road. Next best is Ismael Valdez, who allowed 26 on the road and seven at home for the Padres and Mariners in 2004.
What's odd is that overall, Vargas hasn't been that bad away from Seattle. He certainly has a large home-road split, but his 4.84 road ERA is the third-best among the 13 in the 25-homer club. For context, some of the other road ERAs are simply ghastly, including five of 6.82 or higher.
Vargas has averaged more than six innings per start on the road and has even tossed a couple of complete games. It's not as though he's helpless on the road.
"We play in a bigger field, so [fewer] balls are going to go out," Vargas said. "Obviously I've had success on the road, whether I give up a home run or not. So that's not something that really concerns me or that I think about or try and go in the video room and figure out. Our ballpark plays like it does, and obviously you're going to be more comfortable in the confines of your own ballpark, the things you're used to doing."
The Mariners certainly don't think he's helpless on the road. After all, they've continued to pitch him there. Despite the split, he's made more than 60 percent of his starts (17 out of 28) away from home. Seattle clearly hasn't gone out of its way to make sure that Vargas pitches at Safeco Field.
And in fact, you need only look at last year to see a reverse trend. In 2011, he had a lower ERA on the road than at home, though his peripherals (strikeout-to-walk ratio, home runs per nine innings, strikeouts per nine innings) were still better at home.
The point remains, though: Vargas benefits from his home ballpark, as does any Mariners pitcher. But the field doesn't turn an inadequate pitcher into an adequate one. There's something strange going on here, even if it's just one of those weird things that happens in baseball.
Which, by the way, is exactly what manager Eric Wedge seems to think is going on.
"When he doesn't have his command, sometimes he comes in flat," Wedge said. "Any pitcher that's out there when that happens, you've got the potential for the baseball to be turned around. I think that's what we've seen."