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May 22, 2007 at 4:06 PM

Mariners vs. D-Rays, Game 1

We were talking earlier today about why Mike Hargrove did not deserve to be drawn-and-quartered over his Monday decision to leave Cha Seung Baek in the game in the seventh inning against Cleveland. The point was that the M’s were still trailing in that game and needed to rest their bullpen set-up guys for a series here in which Seattle had a chance to pick up some wins.
So, are you at least a little glad he did that? It was nice for Mariners fans, I’m sure, to see a rested Brandon Morrow replace Jarrod Washburn with one out in the seventh and the dangerous Elijah Dukes at the plate. Dukes is a righthanded speedster and a ball in the gap could spell big trouble for the M’s in a two-run game. So, having Morrow enter with his late-inning heat got the Mariners a huge strikeout and ensuing popout by B.J. Upton. These are winnable games, whereas that situation in Cleveland last night was not necessarily so. The M’s have put themselves in a position to win tonight by having a fresh and prepared bullpen. So, while I’m not advocating a parade be thrown in Hargrove’s honor, this is one case in which a short-term sacrifice can reap a long-term gain.
No, Hargrove won’t get credit for “winning” this game with his decision of Monday night. But I’m writing this merely to show that, sometimes, short-term decision-making can have a long-term impact. Remember, if the Mariners hang on tonight — and Tampa Bay’s bullpen just coughed up an eighth inning homer by Kenji Johjima to make it 5-2 — Seattle will be poised for a sweep with two 7.80 ERA starters opposing them tomorrow and Thursday. Boy, that Sexson hit in the fifth inning was huge, wasn’t it?
And what were we just saying about that D-Rays bullpen and tie games? Well, the Mariners knocked Scott Kazmir out after only five innings. Kazmir allowed just four hits and two runs, but threw 96 pitches. Not a particularly strong effort by a guy with talent, but who I’m still not sold on as a staff ace. In came the bullpen and it took just two batters for the Mariners to go up 3-2 in the sixth as Yuniesky Betancourt parked a 1-0 pitch deep into the left field stands. This bullpen is terrible. We’re talking bleh! Seattle’s hopes for a series sweep are alive and well heading to the bottom of the sixth.
Anybody else thinking that was the season on the line in that fifth inning with the bases loaded, two-out and Richie Sexson up? I mean, a 3-0 count had just been whittled down to 3-2, the crowd was anticipating a strikeout and that whole runners in scoring position thing was about to rear its ugly head again. Sexson had been, after all, hitless in his last 15 tries with runners in scoring position. But then, Sexson did something very strange. Something he’s paid lots of money to do. Lined a hard single to left that easily scored a pair — the runners were all on the move with the count full — to tie the game 2-2. With the Angels winning in Detroit and the M’s losing here, seeing Sexson strike out could very well have been the point we all looked back on in October and called it a season. Now, it’s a brand new game and the Mariners are that much closer to getting into the Tampa Bay bullpen. Once that happens, with the score tied, the D-Rays usually lose each and every time.
This is the type of stuff that drives me nuts. The Mariners make Scott Kazmir throw 20 pitches in the first inning, then 18 in the second. After that, they allow him to skate through a 10-pitch third inning. Jose Guillen capped if off by swinging into a first-pitch, lazy flyout to right. That stuff I mentioned earlier about the D-Rays bullpen and Seattle having a shot if Kazmir goes seven and the M’s are less than four runs down? It’s a nice theory, but the Mariners really shouldn’t be striving to test it out. They should probably try to get a couple of runs across before the bullpen comes in. Many more innings like the last one, Kazmir won’t need his bullpen. Not a good effort there. Still a 2-0 game in the fourth, Tampa Bay leading.
No Raul Ibanez in tonight’s lineup again. Spoke to him before batting practice and he told me he overdid things by playing in that game last Friday. Should have just taken a second straight day off instead of rushing himself back in there and hurting his back some more. Ibanez could be available for pinch-hitting duty tonight and back in the lineup tomorrow.
The M’s had more meetings today than the hordes of conventioneers staying at the team hotel. Manager Mike Hargrove said plenty of the meetings delved into the team’s inability to hit with runners in scoring position.
“The frustrating thing about us hitting with runners in scoring position,” Hargrove said, “is that there’ve been times we’ve hit the ball hard, but right at somebody…but there have also been times we’ve gotten in good hitter’s counts and then tried to make something happen that really just wasn’t there.
“And that’s not a lack of effort,” he added. “It’s wanting it too badly and going outside whatever it is they do naturally to allow their talent to work.”
Some of the meetings involved smaller groups of players, others larger ones. One of the meetings, before BP, featured Richie Sexson, Jose Guillen, Raul Ibanez, Willie Bloomquist and Adrian Beltre sequestered in the manager’s office. About 20 minutes after that meeting ended, Hargrove had a regular meeting with all of his hitters.
We’ll see if it pans out. Someone mentioned a rival blogger stating that Hargrove would be fired if the team comes out of this Tampa Bay-Kansas City portion of the trip with a losing record. I’d have to say, if the plan is to eventually fire the manager, using a losing record in those two places as an excuse would be about the best one the M’s will come up with.
As I mentioned today, the D-Rays represent this team’s best chance for a three-game sweep. Get past Scott Kazmir tonight and a couple of 7.80 ERA starters are up next. Even if Kazmir shuts Seattle down for seven innings, this Devil Rays bullpen is so bad that anything less than a four-run lead won’t be safe for Tampa Bay. Seattle can go 5-1 against these two clubs without so much as breaking a sweat if things roll the right way. A losing record is simply unfathomable. If that happens, it’s the excuse the M’s are looking for. No two ways about it. So, I agree with my Tacoma colleague.
All that said, the M’s just stranded another runner in scoring position in that first inning, with Beltre bouncing out 5-3 after a gift error left runners at second and third. And Elijah Dukes just led off with a triple to the right field corner that wasn’t played all that well by Guillen. It was followed by a walk, a bouncing single by Carl Crawford through the right side and an error by Beltre on a shot to third base that deflected off his glove. Jarrod Washburn then saw a pitch scorched by Brendan Harris — but right into Beltre’s glove, with the runner caught off second for a double-play. Very fortunate that happened because an ensuing single by Delmon Young would have made it about a 4-0 or 5-0 game with still nobody out. Instead, Washburn got an inning-ending groundout and escapes the inning with one earned run allowed as well as an unearned marker. Now 2-0 for the D-Rays after one inning. That’s why they play the games. These D-Rays have loads of talent. But they lack a supporting cast. As we mentioned earlier today, talent alone can’t always win for you.
But this was not the start Seattle had hoped for.
The lineups:
CF Elijah Dukes
2B B.J. Upton
LF Carl Crawford
3B Ty Wiggtinton
SS Brendan Harris
RF Delmon Young
1B Carlos Pena
C Dioner Navarro
DH Jorge Cantu
LHP Scott Kazmir
CF Ichiro
DH Jose Vidro
RF Jose Guillen
1B Richie Sexson
3B Adrian Beltre
C Kenji Johjima
SS Yuniesky Betancourt
2B Jose Lopez
LF Jason Ellison
LHP Jarrod Washburn



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