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Daily coverage of the Mariners during the season and all year long.

May 30, 2007 at 1:11 AM

Biggest game of the season

Like it or not, this is it. The biggest game these Mariners may play all year. Mike Hargrove will hate that I’m writing this, the players will try to shrug it off, but let’s face it, after a 4-1 loss to the Los Angeles Angels last night, this game tonight at Angel Stadium is not merely like any other in a 162-game schedule. Sure, there will be more tests to come should they pass this one. But for now, this is the biggest yet. Fail and there may not be any more tests worth taking.
Here’s why. All of the good accomplished by the Mariners on this trip, a first sweep of a three-game series, winning six of seven, scoring 50 runs in a five-game span, taking over the AL lead in hitting, can be erased with a loss tonight. Think about it. The Mariners went into a series at Tampa Bay trailing the first-place Angels by five games. Lose tonight and they sit 5 1/2 back. All that good, just to lose a half-game in the standings. See what I’m getting at?
Not to mention that 5 1/2 games is getting to be a little too far back for comfort. As for 3 1/2 games? Much more palatable. Win tonight and the M’s are there, having gained 1 1/2 games in a week against one of baseball’s hottest clubs.
No, baseball is not special and immune to the “four-point game” theory of other sports. Yes, I know that the 162-game season makes each game a little less meaningful than in the NBA, NHL and very much so the NFL. But the Angels simply are not going to start playing sub-.500 ball the rest of the way. The pitching they have is too good. After tonight, when the M’s send ace Felix Hernandez up against the other Weaver brother, Los Angeles will have its own aces — two of them — in John Lackey and Kelvim Escobar taking on the Baltimore Orioles at home. Not exactly the recipe for a losing streak. In other words, if the M’s plan to gain ground on the Angels this month, doing so tonight is not a bad idea.
Talked to the Mariners and their manager after the game and they felt they hit the ball hard all night off Ervin Santana. Some of the hits were hard, that’s true. But infielders are paid to field hard ground balls and the solid Angels defense did just that. One exception was that rocket by Jose Guillen in the first inning that was snared up the third base line by Robb Quinlan. He doesn’t get that, it’s maybe a run or two more for Seattle. Tough break. Kenji Johjima’s double-play ball? Hit it hard, but on the ground where he could be doubled-up. Didn’t smoke a line drive into anyone’s glove.
The media in Orange County and Los Angeles felt Santana did a better job than the Mariners gave him credit for. This story talks about how he caught some Mariners looking at strikes as they tried to patiently wait him out, which they did so well in the first inning. Throwing strikes solves that problem unless the opponent starts hitting balls in the gap and over the fence. That didn’t happen tonight. Almost in a few cases, but then again, the Angels also hit some hard balls that were caught. But here’s where Sanatana starts to lose credibility with me. Blaming the media for the fact he stinks on the road? You don’t see Horacio Ramirez pulling that stunt. Guess that’s why his mother named him “Ervin” and not “Johan”. I think that six-man rotation idea might be a good one. Oh yeah, forgot to mention, Angels getting this guy back in their bullpen. Very good and very underrated pitcher. Another reason for the Mariners to make up ground tonight while they still have a chance.
Hey, at least the M’s still have a stranglehold on second place. OK, maybe not a stranglehold. But they are in second.
Liked the job Ryan Feierabend did tonight, which is better than what Ramirez has given on the road. After the game, though, Mike Hargrove was reluctant to confirm that he would be starting again. The M’s have to wait to see what winds up happening with Jeff Weaver, who they will try to talk into going out on a rehabilitation assignment. My gut feeling is that Weaver will listen to what the M’s tell him to do and go to the minors for a couple of weeks. Which means Feierabend gets another start on Sunday against Texas.
If Weaver decides to play hardball with the team, it could get interesting. But let’s see what happens first.
Feierabend impressed me not only with his pickoff move, but his ability to escape some jams.
“Throughout the first two months when I was down in the minors, that’s how it seemed to go for me,” he said. “I’d give up a few singles, or whatever, and have to work out of jams down there. So, me being able to get out of jams up here is definitely a positive I can take out of tonight.”
OK now, the interview you’ve all been waiting for. Does Ichiro really send “mental signals” to the baseball? Guess so. He’s also got a sense of humor, so here’s the full transcript of what he said.
A reporter asked him about that fly ball that soared over his head by a good 10 feet and landed for a double as he stood trying to find it in the twilight sky that big fourth inning.
“The ball became the same color as the sky,” he said, through interpreter Ken Barron. “So, I wasn’t able to see it. It’s not that I had my eyes closed. I was lacking mental signals. I was sending mental signals for the ball not to come my way, because during that time of day it’s impossible for me to see the ball so I lacked mental signals. I lacked in that area.”
Think I saw that on Star Trek once. Didn’t Kirk send mental signals? Or was it Spock? He had that whole Vulcan mind meld thing going. Would have shown that baseball who’s boss.
But back to Ichiro. As a follow-up question, a reporter asked whether he’s used to the mental signals actually working.
“Usually, I don’t send mental signals,” Ichiro replied. “So, because this is the first time, I thought, please don’t come my way.”
Another reporter asked whether it’s tough for a player usually so in-control of his own abilities to feel so helpless on a fy ball.
“That’s what I mean,” he said with a laugh. “Because I was lacking in the mental signals, that’s what I regret.”
The M’s regret it, too. But I have to say, i find it endearing, somewhat humanizing, for Ichiro to describe a situation most Little Leaguers can relate to. How many of us, at one point or another, stood out there in the outfield as kids just praying to some unseen force that the ball wouldn’t be hit our way? Shows you these big-leaguers, for all the money, bravado and cockiness at times, are just human beings deeo down. They get anxious. They get scared.
The M’s should be scared right now. They can’t lose this game tonight. The world won’t end if they do, but things could get a whole lot less interesting in a hurry.

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