(Thanks to Geoff Baker for giving me a shout out in his blog, and thanks for all the nice comments and well-wishes. I had a great time in Salisbury, North Carolina, yesterday accepting the Washington sportswriter of the year award at a banquet at Catawba College, where Peter King of Sports Illustrated was honored as national sportswriter of the year, Mike Tirico of ESPN received the national broadcaster of the year award, and Bob Ryan of the Boston Globe was inducted into the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association Hall of Fame. I’m not sure how I ended up in that company, but I was honored to be honored. The hospitality shown by the folks in Salisbury was unbelievable.)
On May 15, following the second straight brutal unraveling by the Mariners closer, one that again turned victory into defeat in the final inning, I wrote this lead for my story in the Seattle Times:
“There are losses, there are tough losses, and then there’s a separate level of pure agony reserved for games like the Mariners let slip away the past two days.”
Anyone with an ounce of human compassion had to feel badly for Brandon, but you also had to wonder how the team would recover — and whether he would be entrusted with the closing job, moving forward.
I’m talking, of course, about Brandon Morrow. That story appeared on May 15, 2009, after Morrow had back-to-back blowups in Texas to surrender Mariner leads.
I flashed back to Morrow this past week when Brandon League — who, of course, was traded for Brandon Morrow after the 2009 season — had just about the worst week imaginable for a closer. But not until I got an e-mail from Micah Patashnik — a Bothell High grad who is a junior at American University currently abroad in Australia — did I realize the eerie similarities between the dueling Brandon meltdowns.
On May 13, 2009, in Arlington, the Mariners and Rangers were tied 4-4 until the M’s took the lead in the top of the 11th on an RBI double by Wladimir Baltentien (a touted rookie who was getting an audition in left). But in the bottom of the 11th, Morrow gave up a single to Michael Young, walked Josh Hamilton, and then, after a deep fly out by Andruw Jones, yielded a two-run double to Hank Blalock that gave Texas the victory.
The following night, May 14, the Mariners took a 2-0 lead into the ninth behind the pitching of Felix Hernandez and David Aardsma. Manager Don Wakamatsu again called on Morrow for the save — and again watched him self-destruct. Blalock led off with a solo homer to halve the lead. Morrow got Nelson Cruz to pop out, but David Murphy double, and Chris Davis belted a two-run, walk-off homer (the aftermath of which is pictured above in the Associated Press photo).
Contrast that with the consecutive games this past week. On Thursday (May 12), at Baltimore’s Camden Yards, the M’s took a 1-0 lead in the top of the 12th on an RBI single by Miguel Olivo, only to have League cough it up in the bottom of the 12th on J.J. Hardy’s two-run single.
The next night in Cleveland (May 13), the M’s took a 4-2 lead into the bottom of the ninth, and manager Eric Wedge again called on League for the save — and again watched him self-destruct. This time, it was back-to-back doubles, then a two-out, two-run homer by Travis Hafner.
As Patashnik astutely notes in his e-mail:
“Nearly 2 years to the day, both Morrow and League blow back to back games. The first game in each scenario the M’s score a run in the top half of an extra inning frame only to give up two runs in the bottom half. In the next game, the Mariners have a two run lead and and give up three runs in the bottom of the 9th-both of which ended in two run walk-off homers.
“Anyways, I thought you would appreciate the weird coincidence. I guess it’s a bit ironic the 2 players were traded for each other.”
The upshot in 2009 was that Morrow was removed as closer the next day by Wakamatsu and replaced by Aardsma, who held the job for the rest of the year and all of the 2010 season. Morrow became a starter a couple weeks later, and has been a starter throughout his Toronto tenure.
Wedge, for now, seems intent on leaving League as Seattle’s closer (even though he had two other losses, and one other ugly blown save, earlier in the week). Wedge doesn’t have an obvious alternative — mainly because Aardsma has been out all year following hip surgery and then elbow problems, which will shut him down past the All-Star break and perhaps all season.
After Morrow’s second loss in Texas, the Mariners had dropped nine of 10 and their record fell to 16-19. After League’s loss in Cleveland, the Mariners had dropped six in a row and their record fell to 16-23.
Patashnik concluded: “The M’s went on to win 85 games in ’09, maybe they can turn it around and have a similar fate.”