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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.

August 22, 2011 at 10:03 AM

Mariner road-kill: My year of traveling dangerously

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(Photo by Associated Press)

I don’t believe in jinxes. I really don’t. A pitcher does not lose a no-hitter because someone talks about it, or tweets about it, or blogs about it. He loses it because he hung a curve or grooved a fastball.

Players don’t extend streaks by wearing lucky underwear. And the Mariners most certainly are not racking up heartbreaking, staggering losses on the road because I’m covering them.

But I sure have watched a lot of them this year.

I’m in the middle of my third road trip filling in for Geoff. The first was a two-city jaunt to Baltimore and Cleveland in May in which the final two games were rained out. The second was three-game quickie to Washington D.C. And now I’m headed for four games in Cleveland after three in Tampa Bay.

That’s 10 games so far – and I’m still waiting to cover my first road victory this year. Mind you, they’ve lost plenty of games away from Safeco without me. The M’s have more road defeats (40) than any team in baseball except Houston and Baltimore. That means they’ve lost 30 without my presence. When they got swept three games in Texas in April and four games in Anaheim in July, I wasn’t there, nor was I on the July trip they began by losing eight straight in Toronto, Boston and New York.

But when you tote up the Mariner road misery I’ve had to chronicle this season, I’ve got to admit, it’s pretty staggering – unfiltered by any victories. At all. The gory totals: 0-10, two rainouts, six walk-off defeats, four in which they entered the final inning with a lead, needing just three more outs.

That’s a lot of deathly quiet clubhouses to walk into, a lot of drawn faces, a lot of shell-shocked personnel to interview.

One generalization: The Mariners have been remarkably standup in the face of the most galling defeats. Brandon League was always there after his string of final-inning blowups. So were David Pauley and Chris Ray, both departed from the ballclub. Adam Kennedy was frank and forthright acknowledging his role in a couple of defeats.

Manager Eric Wedge has been ceaselessly patient and positive, yet not afraid to point out mistakes and call out his team. Maybe he’s exploding behind the scene, but he’s always presented a composed front and a clear message, no matter how tough a loss: that no matter how bad things look, they will get better under his watch.

And some of them have been oh so tough. Here is a game-by-game summary of the road games I’ve covered this year. (Warning: This is not for the weak of heart):

Tuesday, May 10: Orioles 7, Mariners 6 (13 innings), Camden Yards. Walk-off.

The Mariners’ first game after Milton Bradley’s release shaped up as one of the biggest feel-good stories of the season: Career minor-leaguer Mike Wilson, called up to replaced Bradley, not only throws out the potential tying run at the plate in the ninth, but gets an RBI single – his first major-league hit, no less — in the 13th to put the Mariners head, 6-5. Believe me, I had some heartwarming stuff already written and ready to send after League got out of the bottom of the 13th. Except he never got out of the bottom of the 13th. League (who had also lost the previous game at Safeco against Chicago in the 10th inning) gave up four hits and two runs, including a game-tying single by Felix Pie (off the glove of second baseman Jack Wilson, and a game-winning hit by Matt Wieters.

Quote: (Wedge on the ball to Wilson): “He has to come get it. He started back-pedaling to the ball. When you do that, it’s going to be tough play. He had to come get that ball. If he does that, it’s probably a different outcome there.”

Wednesday, May 11: Orioles 4, Mariners 2, Camden Yards.

I remember this one as the “Bedard-trade backlash” game, as Chris Tillman worked six strong innings for the win, and Adam Jones went 4-for-4 with two runs batted in. Meanwhile, Felix Hernandez was not as sharp as normal, giving up seven hits and three walks in five innings. He gave up a two-run triple to Jones in the fifth that keyed a three-run inning.

Quote: (Wedge) “I was disappointed in our at-bats. He was up (in the strike zone) for the most part. He did a real good job keeping us off-balance with his changeup, moved his fastball around a little bit, but he left some pitches up we didn’t do anything with. We sure as hell have to get better offensively.”

Thursday, May 12: Orioles 2, Mariners 1 (12 innings), Camden Yards. Walk-off.

I can still vividly picture this horror show: Nine shutout innings for Jason Vargas, matched by nine shutout innings for Baltimore’s Zach Britton. But then the Mariners push across a run in the top of the 12th on an Ichiro infield single, two ground outs that moved him to third, and a clutch two-out hit by Miguel Olivo. Three outs from victory, but again League self-destructs. He gave up a leadoff single to Derrek Lee, hit both Vlad Guerrero and Adam Jones, and then, after getting Wieters on a lineout (on a sensational diving catch by shortstop Luis Rodriguez), allowed a single by J.J. Hardy that scored two. If you’re scoring at home, that’s three losses for League in four games (with more agony to come).

Quote: (League): “I just didn’t do my job. That’s all it comes down to. I didn’t do my job coming in to close out the game. I’m going to have to recuperate and forget about this series.”

Friday, May 13: Indians 5, Mariners 4, Progressive Field. Walk-off.

It’s mind-boggling, three months later, to recap League’s horrible week. This time, after the Mariners scored three in the seventh to go up 4-2, he started the ninth by giving up back-to-back doubles to Michael Brantley and Asdrubal Cabrera that brought the Indians back to 4-3. But League then got two ground outs, and was poised to get out of it – until Travis Hafner crushed a three-run homer to center.

Quote: (League): “I just have to try and stay as positive as I can. I’m going through a really, really rough patch right now. I don’t know if they’re seeing the ball off me, I don’t know if I’m just having bad luck right now. But you could see what happened tonight. All I can do is keep battling and hopefully, it’ll turn around.”

Saturday, May 13: Rainout in Cleveland.

The game was called with two outs in the bottom of the first, with Cleveland runners on first and second off Erik Bedard. Wedge had said before the game that Jamey Wright, and not League, would close that night..

Quote: (Wedge): It’s not so much re-evaluation as just finding out where he is. You’ve got to be careful how you phrase that. I don’t want to mislead anybody. I talked to him a little last night, and today. I’ll give him the day off because he needs it, physically, and it’ll be good for him mentally too.:

Sunday, May 13: Rainout in Cleveland.

This time, they never even started the game. The upshot: A disruption of the Mariner schedule that includes a doubleheader tomorrow, and a makeup game Sept. 19 on what would have been a day off.

Quote: (Wedge): “These guys are fighting. We’re in every ballgame. They’re fighting, working to get better. They’re pulling for each other. And we’ll continue to get better. As we continue to get better and find ways to win, the results will be different.”

Tuesday, June 21: Nationals 6, Mariners 5, Nationals Park. Walk-off.

This was easily the most devastating Mariners loss of the season, and that’s saying something. First, the context: They had just taken two of three at home from the Phillies to move to 37-35, one-half game out of first. It looked like the Mariners might actually be for real, maybe even a contender. And when the took a 5-1 lead into the bottom of the ninth against the Nationals, behind a strong Doug Fister effort, they seemed ready to take another step forward. And then, disaster. With League on the mound, Jayson Werth reached on a Justin Smoak error. Roger Bernadina walked. Ryan Zimmerman hit into a double play – one out to go, and still a four-run lead. RBI single by Jerry Hairston. 5-2. Single by Mike Morse off League’s lower leg, knocking him out of the game. David Pauley in with two out and two on. RBI single by Danny Espinosa. First and second, two out. Boom – three-run homer by Wilson Ramos. Ballgame.

Quote: (Wedge): “Every once in a while, you’re going to get kicked in the teeth like this. And when you do, you pick yourself back up, learn from it, shelve it, and come back out tomorrow with a fresh frame of mound.”

Wednesday, June 22: Nationals 2, Mariners 1, Nationals Park

This time, the Mariners were done in by two errors (by Chone Figgins and Olivo) leading to two unearned runs. The Mariners managed just six hits and watched Ichiro get caught off third base on Smoak’s smash off the glove of third baseman Ryan Zimmerman in the sixth. A gem by Erik Bedard went for naught.

Quote: (Wedge): “The offense is really the story. We really tried to push it late, making some moves that we did (three pinch-hitters in the seventh), and we’re still one hit away. I think it’s been pretty consistent: When we haven’t got it done offensively, it’s because we’re one hit away. We’ve got to do a better job with two-out knocks. Do a better job of finishing off innings. I keep saying it, because it’s true. That’s where we are.”

Thursday, June 23: Nationals 1, Mariners 0, Nationals Park. Walk-off

This game will forever be remembered for Jim Riggleman shockingly stepping down as Nationals manager after their victory. For the Mariners, it will be remembered for another heartbreaking, ninth-inning defeat set up by anemic offense (four hits) that undid a great starting effort (Pineda). This time, it was Chris Ray who coughed it up on a couple of singles (the latter a bunt), another bunt by Ivan Rodriguez on which first baseman Kennedy threw too late to third, and a sacrifice fly by Laynce Nix.,

Quote: (Wedge): “It’s a long season. I’m not happy about this road trip; no one out there (in the clubhouse) is. But we go back home, we separate from this, and we’ll get right back on track. We have to keep our head down and keep going.”

Friday, Aug. 19: Rays 3, Mariners 2, Tropicana Field

Again, it looked like a feel-good angle was developing when Kyle Seager’s first career homer gave the M’s a 2-1 lead in the seventh. Felix Hernandez flirted with a no-hitter, only to watch the game slip away in the eighth, when the Rays got five hits and scored two to go ahead. The killer was Johnny Damon beating out a grounder to third, on which Wedge felt Kennedy was a little too slow getting rid of the ball on what could have been the third out of the inning.

Quote: (Wedge): “We gave it to them. That the only way to put it. Felix was outstanding tonight. He had great stuff. He was in control of the ballgame, probably set up to go the whole way. We gave it to them there in the eighth.”

Saturday, Aug. 20: Rays 8, Mariners 0, Tropicana Field

Just a routine blowout as Charlie Furbush, coming off a gem against Boston, couldn’t make it out past the third inning. The least agonizing loss of the 10, because it was so decisive.

Quote: (Furebush): “I was throwing strikes; I just wasn’t throwing good enough strikes. That’s how it went today.”

Sunday, Aug. 21: Rays 8, Mariners 7, Tropicana Field. Walk-off.

I remember this one like it was yesterday – the blown 4-0 and 5-2 Mariner leads, the Johnny Damon grand-slam turned three-run double, the game-tying, two-run homer by Wily Mo Pena, the desperate tag by Dan Cortes on Matt Joyce trying to score from third on a wild pitch, and then, in the end, the leadoff homer in the ninth by Damon on Cortes’s first pitch to end it.

Quote: (Damon): “I was looking for a strike, and the first one I saw, I was going to jerk something,”

When you look at it cumulatively, it’s pretty ugly. And some Mariners’ officials, having figured out my link to disasterous finishes, have been joking about banning me from the stadium (at least I think they’re joking). But I’ll be at Progressive Field tonight, wondering if I’ll finally be covering a road victory by Seattle.

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