(Photo by Associated Press)
Eric Wedge had some provocative comments before Sunday’s game, which turned into another disheartening loss. But he didn’t know that at the time. Wedge was speaking in the wake of Philip Humber’s perfect game, the morning after, and reiterating his absolute, resolute confidence that the Mariners will weather the rough times and reach the ultimate success.
You’ve heard it before, but at times like this, you’re reminded that Wedge’s hero is John Wayne for a reason. He’s not going to waver, pilgrim, no matter how tough the times get. In fact, the tougher the times get, I’ve noticed, the more defiant is his rhetoric.
“For me, this has to be my strongest day,” he said. “Because it doesn’t change my thought process on what I know we’re going to do. Hell, I did it the first time (in Cleveland) running through a landscape that had never been run through before. I can damn sure do it next time when I’ve already done it once. I’m talking from a leadership standpoint.
“I don’t have all the answers right now, but we will figure this out. I don’t want to take anything away from that kid (Humber). What he did yesterday was special. We’re going to find out sooner than later how our kids react to this. It’s going to help us figure out where we are that much sooner.
“…We’re going to be a championship team here. I know a lot of people haven’t figured that out yet and doubt that, and that’s fine. It’s their right. But we’re going to be a championship team here. I say that with humility, but with confidence. But there are certain steps we’re going to have to go through. I didn’t see this one yesterday. Didn’t see this one coming.
“But it happened. If we’re going to be a championship team, it’s not an easy road, man. You have to go through things that help you be that much tougher, that much stronger, that much better. It’s hard for people to understand that, because most people have never led, and never been a part of this type of team, or a team at this level. That’s fine. But this is going to be a part of it.”
Those, actually, aren’t the comments I wanted to discuss. The ones that interested me more came when I asked Wedge how he would respond to fans who are saying, “Same old Mariners” right about now.
“They’re the doubting Thomases,” he replied. “I would say this: Everyone is going to be on board when we turn the corner. Hell, anyone could do that. I would say this: If you’re a fan of the Mariners, and we’ve got so many great fans out there, just take that leap of faith before. It’s going to be that much more special to you when we’re there. Because when everyone else is on board after we get there you can say, ‘Hey, I was on board before.’
“Hey, fans, you’ve got to love ’em. Whether they’re pro or con, as long as you’ve got a word, that’s what I want. It means they care. It means a lot to me. Criticism comes with this sport, it comes with my job. I have broad shoulders and a thick skin. But just to have that leap of faith will mean a great deal to them personally when we get there. Because as I said, we are going to do this.”
I just have a sense that a large percentage of fans are not in a mood right now to make that blind leap. And I can’t blame them. Not when the same deficiencies are rearing their head, particularly offensively. So far, the Mariners are still a highly inadequate offensive team, despite Wedge’s assurances that things are getting better at the plate. I bought into the notion they would be improved this year, but I’m just not seeing it. They have already sunk down to the customary spot at or near the bottom of the rankings in virtually every offense catgeory. The young players who need to take steps forward have not done it yet. Chone Figgins, after an encouraging start, is sinking back to the Mendoza Line with an ungodly number of strikeouts. No more needs to be said about MIguel Olivo and his issues. Really, the one guy I’ve been impressed with is Ichiro, who may say that he’s not going to change his approach as the No. 3 hitter but sure seems to be. He is driving the ball with much more authority than he did last year, and while he’ll never be an Albert Pujols power monster, he’s done a decent job in his new role.
I still believe the Mariners can be a better hitting team this year, and that in the big picture, there is some reason for optimism, moving forward. But at this point, they have to show me. Until proven otherwise, they are nothing more than a struggling baseball team with a lot of holes and a lot of questions.
No leap of faith here.