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

June 10, 2007 at 5:40 PM

Sweep city

To paraphrase “Kyle” (and that Dave fellow) from the previous post, “My, oh my!” The Mariners just made some noise on a very large level this weekend. Yes, they still have concerns in the starting rotation. But sweeping a team as hot as the Padres have been? In their home park? Well, that will get the M’s noticed around the league.
Now, note this: the Angels lost! Yes, they lost. Not a good weekend backs-wise for the Weaver clan. Mariners now 4 1/2 back. Do you think the Angels are feeling a little ticked? They play something like .650 ball all month and still have the Mariners and Oakland A’s breathing down their necks. Now, this is a division to get excited about. Why am I excited? Because the Mariners didn’t do this against a last-place team. They beat a team that might be contending for a World Series in a few months. They swept that team. Seattle trailed, or was tied, in the late-innings of all three games. And once again, it’s Ichiro getting the job done today. He gets the nod, yet again, for the big hit. As was the case on Saturday, if Ichiro doesn’t come up with a hit in that seventh inning, the M’s likely lose.
And Willie Bloomquist deserves a shout-out. For a guy who sits as much as he does, more than many backups I’ve covered, he sure can come through in some key situations. That hit in the ninth, then the stolen base at third? Last week, it was that superb throw to second to nab the lead runner on that bunt in the ninth by the Orioles, down a run at the time.
This team is winning as a team. That excites me.
Where’s “Lance”? Your man, Miguel Batista, did the job today in the eighth after that leadoff double. Hey, maybe he’ll win 15 if he can “vulture” a few like this. Seriously, though, this is what happens to a bullpen forced to log this many innings. Great strategy on Mike Hargrove’s part to use Batista on his throwing day like that. Might have earned the M’s another win he won’t get credit for down the road, perhaps even tomorrow night against Cleveland. Spares the set-up men additional work. I’ll tell you, whatever reputation Hargrove had in Seattle prior to my arrival, based on in-game moves, he has done a fair job of erasing that based on his bullpen management of the past month.
I have never, in a decade of covering this game, seen a manager get by as well as he has with a bullpen forced to work three or four innings per night, seven days a week, with virtually no off-days to speak of. Before anyone runs out and questions his use of Batista this afternoon, think about the situation. Please. This bullpen is going to burn out unless someone in the starting rotation steps up soon. Six-man, seven-man, or eight-man bullpen. The relief staff is being asked to pick up half a ballgame several times per week. Hargrove deserves praise around the game for what he has done here. No, putting Batista in there was not revolutionary. But a lot of managers would not have had the guts to make a move like that so early in the season.
He’s not just playing for his job. He’s playing for this team’s future. There is no margin for error in the AL West right now. The Angels made one today and the Mariners and A’s pounced. Hargrove just spared the rest of his bullpen for another day and possibly another needed win.
Yes, I’m a lot more optimistic about this team now than I was after the loss to Baltimore last Wednesday. This team just showed us all something. With a little more help from the starting pitchers, many things are possible. Felix Hernandez had a much improved outing in this game — despite two more long balls. He’s still not there yet, but at least he threw a “quality start”. Get a seven-inning “quality start and I’ll be really impressed. Still much to do this week, but the Mariners, by sweeping in San Diego, just prolonged their contender status.
By tomorrow morning, all of baseball should be starting to mumble a bit about what’s going on with this team. Seven games above .500 after the stretch these guys have been on? That’s huge. The big test now. Keep the momentum going. The Cubs and Astros aren’t going anywhere this season. No time for a letdown. The Indians will be tough tomorrow. But do you know what? The M’s right now are playing as tough as a team can play — for nine innings. Enjoy what just happened.

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