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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.

June 22, 2011 at 8:06 AM

Baseball not a game for reactionary thinking

Thumbnail image for billgates.jpg

This picture is apropos of nothing except the fact my friend Les Carpenter and I took a quick stroll through the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery yesterday before the game and saw this prominently displayed portrait of Bill and Melinda Gates. You might remember Les as a former Seattle Times ace reporter; he’s now working for Yahoo and living in the D.C. area. We both have strong Dodger roots from our childhood, and we were actually looking for the portrait of Tommy Lasorda. Never found it, but I decided to snap a photo of the Gateses’ painting — yes, it’s a painting — by Jon Friedman. I’m always looking for the local angle. Sorry about cutting off the top of your head, big guy.

This is a post I’ve been contemplating for the past week, but in light of last night’s game, it seems a good time for it. (I put this up on the website about an hour ago, but somehow it was gobbled up by the computer, so I had to re-write a portion of it).

Lots of raw emotion emanating from that game, which is understandable. It was an excruciating loss, as excruciating as any this season.

Yet upon reflection, that’s not exactly true. All you have to do is think back to May 10 in Baltimore, when the Mariners took a 6-5 lead into the bottom of the 13th, only to have Brandon League give up four hits, including a two-out, walk-off single by Matt Wieters for a 7-6 Orioles win. Or May 12 in Baltimore, when the Mariners took a 1-0 lead into the bottom of the 12th, only to have League give up a single, hit two batters, and yield a two-run, walk-off single to J.J. Hardy for a 2-1 Orioles win. Or May 13 in Cleveland, when the Mariners took a 4-2 lead into the bottom of the ninth, only to have League give up two doubles for one run, and then a two-out, walk-off homer by Travis Hafner for a 5-4 Indians win.

There was a very vocal contingent of fans who were calling for League’s head, having concluded that he was a bust as a closer. The anti-League sentiment was very strong. But manager Eric Wedge resisted the temptation to make a knee-jerk change. He gave League a brief “mental break,” then put him right back in as the closer. It proved to be the right call. He responded by converting 11 consecutive saves.

Baseball, more than any other sport, is such a long grind that it requires patience and faith even when those qualities are hard to summon. Ichiro is another example. He went through a six-week stretch that was as bad as any we’ve ever seen from him, and many people were ready to write him off as washed-up at age 37. Yet here he is, over the last nine games, looking as vital as he ever did. Over that span, Ichiro is 18-for-39 (.461) with four doubles, a triple and four stolen bases to raise his average from .252 to .279.

Then there’s Chone Figgins, who is providing Wedge with his biggest challenge in the patience and faith realm. There’s faith, and there’s blind faith, but at some point the patience runs out when the faith is not rewarded. I think the fact that Figgins has sat in favor of Adam Kennedy in two of the last three games (and I expect Kennedy to play tonight as well after getting three hits on Tuesday) tells me Wedge’s faith has worn thin. And yet the Mariners have too much invested in Figgins to simply give up on him, as many, if not most, fans have. Their best solution to the Figgins’ dilemma is not trading him (unlikely to find a partner) or releasing him (too much money at stake right now). It’s somehow figuring out a way to get him going again, as he did in the second half last year.

Wedge has impressed me with his ability to nurse along struggling players (including Miguel Olivo early in the year) and to not over-react to these brutal losses. I’m sure he does his venting in the brief cooling-off period before the media is ushered into his office, but he’s been calm and collected after each of those games.

Fans are different, of course. They have every right to rant and rave and even over-react in the heat of the moment. It’s part of being emotionally attached to your team. It’s what make fans fans.

Managers have a different responsibility, and Wedge’s approach has been sound

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