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April 23, 2007 at 5:14 PM

Mariners vs. Rangers, Game 1

You could almost see this coming, the way the Rangers teed-off on Baek in that fifth frame. It’s now 4-4 and only because Brandon Morrow finally “arrived” in the big-leagues with some 97 mph heat just in the nick of time to prevent Seattle from falling behind. Baek was unlucky in the Sammy Sosa at-bat, with his team still up 4-3, in that I thought his 1-2 fastball was perfectly placed on the inside corner. But umpire Mike Winters called it a ball, the count eventually ran full and Sosa delivered a tying single.
I think Mike Hargrove made the right call by not allowing Baek to face Hank Blalock again. With one home run off Baek already and the way seven of the previous 10 hitters had managed hits off him, Blalock was clearly too big a risk for the Korean to face — even after only 78 pitches.
To be honest, I thought Morrow was about to blow the game, especially with that opening wild pitch he threw to put runners at second and third. I also think he got away with murder on that fastball he sent straight down the middle on a 2-1 count to red-hot Ian Kinsler with the bases loaded. Kinsler seemed to be sitting on something else. Otherwise, the Mariners would be down by four the way he’s hitting home runs. So, what does Morrow do? Rears back on the very next pitch and blows another 97 mph heater right by Kinsler. Good God! That was some at-bat.
Poor old Nelson Cruz had no chance in the ensuing at-bat, with Morrow fanning him on another 97 mph fastball on a 1-2 pitch. Good to see Morrow’s velocity climbing back up. Seems a little activity the past few days was all it took. Eric O’Flaherty now on the mound for Seattle in a 4-4 game in the sixth.
FIFTH LOOMS LARGE
I have a feeling the fifth inning is going to be pretty big for Cha-Seung Baek. He’s in a 4-2 lead heading into the fifth, having just surrendered a two-run homer in the fourth by Hank Blalock. Baek started to get hit hard that inning. He’s now thrown 40 pitches the past two frames and is up to 59. The good news for him is, a three-run triple by Ichiro — booted around by right fielder Nelson Cruz, I might add — had already made it a 4-0 game before Baek got hit a bit.
The top of the Texas order is due up in the bottom of the inning. It could be a good indicator of where the rest of this night is going to go.
BAEK CRUISING, RANGERS FUMBLING
This game continues to be two different tales for Mariners fans. One of offensive ineptitude, the other of some quality pitching turned in by Cha-Seung Baek. What strikes me is that the Rangers have only hit one ball truly hard off of him — that single by Kenny Lofton in the third. The fly balls off Baek are more like pop-ups being caught by outfielders. The best moment he’s had, I think, came right after the Lofton single when he got Frank Catalanotto to ground out meekly to the right side. I’ve watched Catalanotto play for years up close and he rarely hits the ball that softly. Usually, it’s on a line. Had Catalanotto gotten on, there would have been two on with the heart of the Rangers order due up. It was a key early moment and Baek emerged unscathed.
As far as Seattle’s offense goes, I think they should take it upon themselves to try as hard as they can to force the Rangers into making plays. I’m not convinced the Rangers are up to it. We’ve seen them throw one ball away already on the Jose Lopez single, then watched Ichiro leg out another infield hit and Raul Ibanez do the same this fourth inning. This is how the Mariners walloped these guys twice in Seattle. By watching the Rangers boot balls around and throw them away. Even on the Jose Vidro groundout to end the third inning — a routine grounder if there ever was one — second baseman Ian Kinsler still bobbled the ball. Something to watch for.
Lopez just came through with a single through the right side. Now 1-0 for the M’s, one out and the bases still loaded.
BAEK ALREADY AN IMPROVEMENT
One inning down here and the Mariners already managed to strand Ichiro at second after a leadoff double. At second! They couldn’t even advance him one base. Situational hitting? What did we stand around Arizona all spring for? It certainly wasn’t about the competition for positions — there was none.
The good news is Cha-Seung Baek truly is “pitching to contact” so far, getting through a 1-2-3 first inning on just nine pitches. Don’t forget, Baek has held the Rangers to a .143 batting average in three career starts. There’s a reason for it. He isn’t afraid to come inside and back their ferocious hitters off the plate. Not as ferocious this year, perhaps, but the Rangers still have some firepower.
Here are tonight’s lineups:
TEXAS
CF Kenny Lofton
LF Frank Catalanotto
SS Michael Young
1B Mark Teixeira
DH Sammy Sosa
3B Hank Blalock
2B Ian Kinsler
RF Nelson Cruz
C Gerald Laird
RHP Kevin Millwood
SEATTLE
CF Ichiro
2B Adrian Beltre
DH Jose Vidro
LF Raul Ibanez
1B Richie Sexson
RF Jose Guillen
SS Yuniesky Betancourt
2B Jose Lopez
C Jamie Burke
RHP Cha-Seung Baek
So, who among you back on Feb. 28 thought they’d see a Cha-Seung Baek-Jamie Burke battery this early in the season?

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