(Michael Pineda reacts to striking out Alex Avila in the sixth inning on Thursday. Photo by Associated Press).
(Here is today’s Mariner minor-league report).
It was 25 year ago today that Roger Clemens set the major-league record for strikeouts in a game by fanning 20 Seattle Mariners at Fenway Park in a 3-1 Red Sox win. That was 1986, and I was the Mariners beat writer for the Bellevue Journal-American (RIP). It was my first year covering major-league baseball, and what a forlorn team that was to break in with. Clemens’ masterpiece dropped their record to 7-13, on the way to 9-19 (at which point the M’s fired manager Chuck Cottier and hired Dick Williams), on their way to 67-95.
In discouraging seasons like that — and I’ve been through a bunch of them in the ensuing 25 years, whether covering the Giants, A’s or, for the last 15 years, the Mariners — you cling to the rare bursts of solid play. The Mariners, in two of the past three years and most of the first month of this season, have been so bereft of quality baseball that the last three days in Detroit were like a lightning bolt, a shock to the system. You had to rub your eyes and check to see if this was really the Mariners, and not some imposters.
This was how you would draw it up: Starting pitching? Check. Six innings, four hits, two earned runs for Felix Hernandez; Seven innings, five hits, one earned run for Erik Bedard; Six innings, four hits, two earned runs for Michael Pineda (who gets the featured treatment today from ESPN’s Buster Olney. Buster writes of Pineda: “Five starts into the 2011 season, he is the front-runner to be the AL Rookie of the Year, and if you suggested that he’s an early fringe candidate for the Cy Young Award, that wouldn’t be too crazy, either.”)
Relief pitching? Check. Eight combined innings by Aaron Laffey, David Pauley, Jamey Wright and Brandon League, four hits, no runs.
Hitting? The Mariners scored 24 runs in the three games. Ichiro was 5-for-15 with three runs, Chone Figgins was 5-for-13 with two runs and four RBIs, Miguel Olivo was 7-for-13 with two homers, Justin Smoak was 4-for-11 with two homers and eight RBIs.
Overall in the three games, the Mariners hit .297 with a .347 on-base percentage and .505 slugging percentage. They had six doubles, a triple and five homers, walked eight times. Their pitchers had a 1.67 ERA, giving up 17 hits in 27 innings, striking out 22, walking seven and limiting opponents to a .172 average.
It was a tantalizing glimpse of how the other half lives.
It was one series. The good feeling could very well be illusory. The Mariners could get their butts whipped in Boston, stop hitting and get lit up at Fenway. Dice-K could honor Clemens by striking out 20 tonight.
But for three crazy days, the Mariners felt like a real, live, competent baseball team. They played fun, exciting baseball, they rallied, they got clutch hits, their pitchers came up with the big outs when they needed them, they made the plays, they got the breaks (hello, Miguel Olivo).
It was a great reminder (or tease?) of what has been missing for so long, and how much more enjoyable is the experience when your team is competitive.