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Hot Stone League

Larry Stone gives his take on a wide array of baseball issues and weighs in about the Mariners, too.

April 12, 2011 at 10:26 AM

Do rousing victories propel a team? Not last year

luiscelebrates.jpg

(Here’s a great side note on last night’s Seattle win, sent on by Jeff Evans of the Mariners’ public relations staff, via ESPN, via Elias Sports Bureau: The Mariners’ game was the 10th and final game finished on Monday night. In the other nine, the visiting team won. If the Blue Jays had held their 7-0 lead, it would have marked just the second time in MLB’s 136-year history, and the first time since 1890 (that’s 1-8-9-0), that on a day in which there were at least 10 games, all 10 were won by the road team).

That comeback, walk-off win over the Toronto Blue Jays won’t soon be forgotten — just the tonic for a badly struggling team threatening to come apart at the seams. Nothing like a rousing victory to put to rest all the festering clubhouse issues and lingering doubts about whether this team has what it takes to compete.

I’m talking, of course, about May 20, 2010, when the Mariners, two weeks after the Ken Griffey Jr. “Sleepgate” story broke, picked up their best victory of the season. The M’s were in the midst of a five-game losing streak and had dropped 14 of 17 in the month. When they fell behind Toronto 3-1 heading into the bottom of the ninth against American League saves lead Kevin Gregg, it seemed a hopeless cause.

So what happened? The Mariners rallied for three runs in the bottom of the ninth to win 4-3, with none other than Griffey coming off the bench for the game-ending RBI single. Milton Bradley, in his second game back from the restricted list, had a key walk in the rally. The team went crazy, the fans went crazy, and it was viewed as the potential impetus to get the struggling Mariners, whose record rose to 15-26 after the win, 8 1/2 games behind Texas, back in the race.

You might also remember that as the game in which Don Wakamatsu, then the Mariners manager, got kicked out of his first game for arguing Ichiro’s caught-stealing out call in the eighth inning. That new-found feistiness was supposed to inspire them down the road, too.

When the Mariners went out and bashed the Padres 15-8 the next day, they seemed on their way.

“As a team, we could breath,” Mike Sweeney said of the new atmosphere following the comeback win, and then added: “For all the Mariners fans, we do have life!”

Well, not really. The Mariners did have a mini-boost after the May 20 game, winning four of their next six, but it didn’t take long before they were again mired in their losing ways. They lost three in a row, won three in a row, then lost 10 of their next 12. At that point, they were 17 games under .500 on June 16, and 12 1/2 games behind the Rangers. The joy of their walkoff win had long since faded.

I bring this up, of course, because of what happened last night at Safeco Field. I’m not trying to be Debbie Downer here. It was truly a rousing victory, and should be savored by Mariners fans. I took my 11-year-old son to the game, and even though I was in favor of leaving in the top of the eighth (hey, it was a school night, and c-c-cold), he talked me into staying until the bitter end. I’m glad he did, because that ending was something to see (even if only about 3,000 of us hardy folks stayed around to see it).

Every year is different, of course, and this Mariners team might indeed use this win as a jumping off point for greater success. There’s absolutely no argument that they desperately needed something good to happen to halt the growing sense that it was 2010 all over again. Things were starting to get tense in the clubhouse again, and an improbable comeback victory like that is a good starting point toward regaining peace, love and understanding.

However — and Debbie is taking over this blog again — I took a look at some of last year’s most stirring victories to see what sort of carry-over effect they had. I decided that if there was indeed any residual benefit, the good feeling might last a week, so I looked at the next seven games following the big win. My conclusion: By and large, momentum gains were not readily apparent:

April 5 (Opening Day): Mariners score two in the top of ninth to beat Oakland, 5-3. Next 7: 1-6

April 10: Mariners score three in top of ninth to beat Texas, 4-3. Next 7: 4-3

April 27: Mariners score three in top of eighth to beat Kansas City, 3-2. Next 7: 1-6

May 20: Mariners score three in bottom of ninth to beat Toronto, 4-3. Next 7: 4-3

May 26: Mariners score four in bottom of eighth to beat Detroit, 5-4. Next 7: 4-3.

June 2: Mariners score one in bottom of 10th to beat Minnesota, 2-1. Next 7: 2-5

July 21: Mariners score two in bottom of 11th to beat Chicago, 2-1 (after White Sox scored one in top of 11th). Next 7: 2-5

July 25: Mariners score three in bottom of eighth to beat Boston, 4-2. Next 7: 0-7

Aug. 31: Mariners score three in bottom of eighth to beat Angels, 3-1. Next 7: 3-4.

Here’s my conclusion: If you’re a lousy team, an occasional comeback win isn’t going to help you. This year’s Mariners team still has a chance to show us they’re not as lousy as they looked the first nine games, and Monday night’s shocker was a good place to start.

(Luis Rodriguez is hugged by Miguel Olivo after his game-winning hit Monday night at Safeco Field. Photo by Elaine Thompson, Associated Press).

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