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

February 7, 2012 at 11:49 AM

Remembering when Chris Gimenez took one (literally) for the team

gimenez.jpg

(Seattle Times staff photo)

Glad to see that Jamey Wright has landed a job, signing a minor-league contract with the Dodgers. Wright gave the Mariners a solid performance last year — a 3.16 ERA in 60 games. The Dodgers are the 11th organization for Wright, who turned 37 in December. The list: Rockies, Brewers, Cardinals, Royals, Giants, Rangers, Indians, Cubs, A’s, Mariners and Dodgers (including two separate stints with the Royals, Rockies, Mariners and Rangers).

So Chris Gimenez has been designated for assignment, which is the plight for players like Gimenez, who has spent most of his career on the shuttle between Triple-A and the major leagues. I wouldn’t at all be surprised if he signs back with the organization, because manager Eric Wedge has a soft spot for him, and his versatility is appealing. But the road back to the majors is considerably more difficult, of course, as a non-roster player, because Gimenez’s ascension would then necessitate clearing a spot on the 40-man roster.

Either way, I think one of the more memorable performances of last season for the Mariners was provided by Gimenez, and deserves mention if he is indeed parting ways with the organization. Or even if he’s not.

The date was June 28, and the Mariners were playing an interleague game against the Braves at Safeco Field. They began the day with a 39-40 record, just two games out of first place. Hope still ruled the day, though their massive collapse — a 17-game losing streak beginning on July 6 — was just around the corner.

On this night, Michael Pineda opposed Tommy Hanson, an enticing matchup of rising young pitchers. In batting practice, Gimenez tweaked his left oblique muscle but wasn’t too concerned, since Miguel Olivo was catching that night.

Well, in the fourth inning, Olivo had to leave the game with leg cramps. Out of necessity, Gimenez entered the game (it was either him or emergency catcher Adam Kennedy, who had never actually caught at any level of baseball and whose experience was limited to warming up Brandon League between innings once).

In his first at-bat, Gimenez swung twice and aggravated the oblique injuury even more. “It felt like someone stabbed me,” he would say after the game.

He insisted on toughing it out, but the Mariners told him not to swing the bat so he could remain in on defense. Wouldn’t you know it, with the game hanging in the balance in the seventh inning — runners on first and second, two outs, Braves leading 5-4 — who should come to the plate but Gimenez? Wedge stuck with him, but the crowd of 21,769 was perplexed when Gimenez tried to drop down a bunt. And they were annoyed when, after working the count full (without a swing), he struck out looking on a fastball down the middle.

Here were some of the comments on Geoff’s Mariners’ blog during and right after Gimenez’s at-bat (cut and pasted verbatim):

–What a pathetic AB.

–Granted that I’m sure the bunt would’ve caught the Braves off guard, but…Gimenez? Seriously? You ain’t exactly Usain Bolt, y’know…

–Now, runners on 1st and 2nd with two outs, and the catcher tries to bunt the runner on second base home. Unbelievable! If this catcher can’t hit, the Mariners need to bring someone up that can at least give an attempt.

–who’s idea is this-bunt? Mickey Mouse is running this show.

–Stop with this bunting crap…swing the freaking bat with 2 outs and a runner in scoring position!

–Man, he was afraid to swing the bat.WHAT A FIGGING JOKE! I JUST WANT TO PUKE! GOOD GOD ALMIGHTY!

And so forth. Here’s what Gimenez said afterward:

“I just got as close as I possibly could to the plate and was like ‘just hit me. Please hit me.’ I got to 3-2 and had a shot and then he throws it right down the middle and everybody is booing me and I’m like, ‘This is great.’ I swear, there was a reason for it. I would never do that normally.”

Gimenez showed his mettle in the ninth inning when Jason Heyward tried to tag up on a fly. Ichiro unleashed a perfect throw, requiring the ailing Gimenez to catch the ball and apply a sweeping tag on Heyward (pictured above), which he did for the third out of the inning. It was not an easy feat for a guy with a serious oblique injury.

“He really had to dig deep on that throw from Ichiro,” Wedge said afterward.

That gave the Mariners one last chance, and they got the tying run, Brendan Ryan, to second base with one out off Atlanta closer Craig Kimbrel. But Kennedy struck out looking and Justin Smoak popped out.

The upshot is that Gimenez was placed on the 15-day disabled list the next day, and transferred to the 60-day DL in July. He finally returned to play in eight games in September, by which time the season was officially a lost cause. And now he’s off the Mariners roster, trying to figure out where his career will take him next. Rest assured that those teammates who witnessed Gimenez’s performance in a losing cause in June will always have admiration for the way he sucked it up and kept playing that night.

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