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May 24, 2007 at 6:03 PM

Mariners blow chance

No better words than those above to sum up this day. A team compiles 18 hits, puts 24 guys on base and winds up losing to a starting pitcher with the worst earned run average among his AL peers (8.10). Well, that’s actually only the beginning for these Mariners after a 13-12 defeat to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.
Let’s see, they waste a chance to gain a game on the Angels, who got smoked in Detroit. Saw Horacio Ramirez suffer that initial injury everyone had figured would come sooner or later (it’s shoulder stiffness for now) and, oh yeah, they burned out every long man in the bullpen.
Felix Hernandez had better have something more than five innings in him tomorrow night against Gil Meche. Of course, the M’s could make the world perfect again by sweeping in Kansas City. Don’t know how likely that is. A record of 4-2 in this six-game stretch against cellar dwellars seems more likely. Sure, that’s good. Probably not good enough.
How ripe for the picking were the D-Rays? We’ve gone into it all before, but Jae Seo had nothing today. Zip. Unfortunately for the M’s, neither did Ramirez or Sean White.
“My location didn’t help,” said White, who allowed seven runs, six hits and four walks to 11 batters while throwing 40 pitches and recording only two outs in the third inning. “It didn’t help to be behind in the count. They were hitting pitches.”
But oh yeah, wait. You don’t want to hear about the third inning. It’s that fourth you’re really all curious about. The decision by third base coach Carlos Garcia to wave around Jose Lopez for an attempted inside-the-park homer, with nobody out and his team down by six. Garcia was as visibly upset as I’ve ever seen him afterwards, uttering a profanity-laced tirade — at himself.
“It really pisses me off,” Garcia said. “Because I’m really well-prepared when I go out there. I know the situation. I know every thing that’s going on and then all of a sudden ‘Boom!’ he got thrown out at the plate. Down six. It doesn’t make any sense.”
That’s about the best I could salvage for a family paper.
He wasn’t as upset about getting Lopez thrown out by 10 feet in the second inning when he tried to test the cannon arm of rookie right fielder Delmon Young.
“It was the first time we played them,” Garcia said. “I didn’t know he had such a good arm. But now I know.”
Oh he knows, all right. He’ll know a lot more by the time manager Mike Hargrove finishes talking to him about what went on. Hargrove wouldn’t comment on the plays, but he clearly wasn’t pleased.
Hargrove is also holding his breath on Ramirez’s health status. He’ll know more after the pitcher sees a doctor in Kansas City tomorrow. The Mariners will likely have to call up another arm from Class AAA with their long relievers now gassed.
Ichiro summed it up best after going 3-for-5 with a two-run homer in his 1,000th major league game.
“It was a game that was very easy for us to win,” he said. “So, it was not fun at all.”
Had a good conversation with Ichiro about what’s ahead in his next 1,000 games, which he hopes to play. I asked him whether he still wants to pitch for someone and he confirmed that yes, it’s a dream of his. He then told me about an all-star games in Japan back in 1996 in which he was brought in to pitch with two out in the ninth inning.
The opposing hitter was Hideki Matsui. The crowd went nuts. But the opposing manager spoiled the picnic by bringing onetime White Sox closer Shinjo Takatsu in to pinch-hit for Matsui. Say what? Ichiro felt the same way.
“The best way I can express it to you,” Ichiro said, “is that the fans were going crazy, I felt like boiling hot water and in an instant I became like ice.”
He didn’t try all that hard. Told me he saved his splitter for another day.
“Since it was a pitcher, it’s not much of a competition,” he said. “So, I just threw easy fastballs right down the gut and it was a groundout to the shortstop.”
See? Ichiro almost always gives us interviews. At least when I’ve been around. We all get along fine. We’re all pros. We all talk. I know that because I’m in there and see it daily. Am I going to change my mind on what I wrote today? Nope. I didn’t collect those thoughts over a bagel this morning. I’ve actually put some thought into them. Just remember what I said. Ichiro is a great leadoff hitter and an excellent defensive player. I have never thought otherwise. Don’t always agree with his comments, or his apparent second-guessing of Hargrove last week, but I’m sure he doesn’t agree with all he reads here. This is all about the decisions the M’s have to make going forward, involving a big picture and not just one player.
For me, it has zero to do with the interviews he grants, or the clothes he wears. Or the language he gives his interviews in. He’s Japanese. If he wants to give interviews in his language, it’s his right.
Tell you what though, if Ichiro keeps having the impact on games that he has this month — as opposed to last month — I’ll become a little more maleable on this topic as the season progresses. He doesn’t have to notch 300 hits this season. He just has to keep reminding me he’s in the game. The way he did so many times when I saw him in past years. Didn’t see that as often in April as I am now. The Mariners need a potential MVP for their $15 to $20 million, not just a leadoff star. That’s my point and there’s a fine line between the two where he and his always-high statistics are concerned. They need pitching as well and that’s a problem they have to solve next winter.
Still a long way to go. But for the Mariners, not that long, really. Some big decisions are looming and may not be too far away. They didn’t finish taking care of business here. Not by a longshot.
I have a feeling this loss could hurt them for a lot longer than one simple Thursday in late May.



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