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

August 21, 2007 at 12:23 AM

M’s bury Twins early; hear post-game audio

I see “Skipper” and “Megapaw” are still awake. How about the rest of you? Going to let these two do caffeine and beer shots by themselves? OK, now “Oregongal” and “Merrill” have checked in. All the regulars. If you haven’t seen “Merrill” argue the impact of humidity on baseballs, you haven’t seen anything yet. Sorry for the delay in getting this up. Here’s the deal. I’d done my nightly game story and notebook for the paper, then spent an hour preparing the blog. But our software is designed in such a way that one wrong touch of one wrong button can make you lose your entire post. That’s what happened. At that point, I was the last guy in the Metrodome already. So, I calmly packed up, walked out through the parking garage, found myself a pub for a beer to calm down, and am now writing this. Please forgive. I know some of you stay up for this stuff. So, here it is:
Any win by the Mariners here is a great one because they automatically gain ground on the Los Angeles Angels or the New York Yankees, who opened a three-game series on Monday night. The Yanks lost that one, so the M’s, who beat the Twins 9-4, are now 1 1/2 games up in the wild-card race. Can you believe it? Me neither. Anyway, what an early power display put on by Raul Ibanez, Richie Sexson and Kenji Johjima. Whatever Matt Garza was doing wrong on the mound, the Mariners jumped on it.
And that hasn’t always happened for Ibanez and Sexson this year. Let’s talk about Ibanez first, with nine home runs in his last 13 games after clubbing two more tonight. Is he on a hot streak? You bet. One of you asked me today whether there were any tangible signs that Ibanez might snap out of his slump. Whether I’d seen or heard of anything real that might suggest his previous pathetic numbers could be injury related.
All I’ll say is, when I spoke with Ibanez on July 31, after he’d collected a pair of hits, he told me he felt it could be the start of something. He’d been working a little while on shortening his stride towards the ball when he swings — which had been much too long and was throwing him off-balance. He’d developed that bad habit while compensating for injuries that had plagued him the first-half. So, I guess that’s the answer. Yes, there was something tangible.
Ibanez has never looked back since that night we spoke. That hot streak he sensed was coming, because of all the work he did in BP, standing in a golfer’s stance when he swung to prevent himself from striding, appears to be paying off. Will he continue at this home run pace? Of course not. But based on his history, I’d say his slump numbers were an even bigger fluke. I mean, the guy did have an .870 on-base-plus-slugging percentage in June, even though he slumped for part of it. He has not been a total write-off all year. I’d say his July numbers were more of a “fluke” than even his sizzling numbers now.
The big difference I see? He was missing hittable pitches before. Not so now.
“You always want to not miss your pitch, but it’s a hard game,” Ibanez said “It’s a hard thing to do. When things are going well, you want to keep doing what you’re doing and just ride it well.”
Hear some Ibanez audio right here.
What did Richie Sexson have to say? Here’s what he told me: “It’s getting better for the most part,” he said. “I’ve been able to hit my pitches when I get them and that’s always key.”
Yes, it is key. Missing their pitches is what Sexson and Ibanez had been doing all season prior to lifting his numbers somewhat this month. Ibanez missed plenty of pitches in late June and all through July. Both have done extensive work with hitting coach Jeff Pentland. In Ibanez’s case, it probably didn;t hurt having Adam Jones called up as well. He’ll never admit to it. But being pushed is human nature. I have no doubt that Ibanez was due to improve, having fixed his problem of overstriding towards the ball. But is it possible it’s a combination of that and perhaps being pushed to produce by a young prospect just up from Class AAA?Of course that’s possible. It’s more than likely.
Whatever the reason, it seems to be working.
For Sexson, let’s wait and see. Even he shrugged when I asked him why things seemed to be clicking for him now after a season-long wait. He knows all about his numbers and is as fed up as some of you with how they’re compiled. All he knows is, he’s hitting some of the mistake pitches he was missing earlier.
“It’s a work in progress,” he told me.
Fair enough. It helped win the game tonight. By the way, did anyone see Ibanez’s baserunning on that scoring play in the seventh? He was motoring hard enough that he convinced third base coach Carlos Garcia to be aggressive and wave him around. The gutsy call — albeit with a sizeable lead — forced the Twins to rush their relay from left field and make a poor throw. As a result, Ibanez beat the play home with ease.
Mariners manager John McLaren agreed when I asked him whether the “mistake” pitches by Garza that Sexson and Ibanez ripped in that first inning were examples of the types they’d been missing earlier. He threw in the observation that missing such pitches could cause a slumping hitter to fall into a deeper slump because of frustration.
“When you’re not going well, you get your pitch and you foul it back,” he said. “And that’s where it really eats at you. Because you know you had your pitch. You know you were there on your approach. You know you had your pitch and you know you didn’t do anything with it.
“It’s a head game,” he added. “And I think we’re well down the road with that.”
Hear the McLaren audio on this right here.
McLaren was furious over that botched double-play opportunity that Jose Lopez couldn’t get a single out on. You’ve got to get at least one out on that play. It cost Horacio Ramirez two runs and an eight-inning outing. McLaren let Lopez know it the minute he got back to the dugout as well. Hear McLaren’s take on that right here on this clip. It’s pretty good audio, I promise.
Ramirez looked far better than he had recently. Yes, I know, a 7-1 lead by the third inning will get most pitchers the win and enable them to be aggressive without fear of getting hit. But hey, Ramirez has been everybody’s whipping boy the past week. Any of you think he’d go eight innings with two runs allowed tonight? That’s what he would have had if Lopez succeeded on that double-play attempt.
Ramirez credited pitching coach Rafael Chaves the most. Chaves told him to keep his hands down near chest level during his windup rather than bringing them up over his head. Too much movement was messing with his release point. If you’re not releasing the ball at the same spot, you have no clue where your pitches are going to end up going.
By finding a consistent release point, Ramirez managed to lose a few mph on his changeup — creating the needed differential in velocity with his fastball — and sharpened up some of his breaking pitches. Ramirez also got some needed advice from Jarrod Washburn on how to approach AL hitters. Nice to see the veteran pitchers taking the lead on stuff like this. This is the kind of stuff that doesn’t show up in an ERA total. Miguel Batista has been working on Felix Hernandez with getting a routine together. Now Washburn is helping a younger teammate who’d been getting pilloried on the mound and in public. It’s quiet leadership. And yes, it’s a bit of a cliche. But if you want to win, it doesn’t hurt. A few weeks ago, I wrote that some of the vets had to step up and speak to Hernandez about maintaining his mound composure. They apparently did that as well. The little things have to be done right in the clubhouse to get the right results on the field.
Hear what Ramirez said right here.
So, that’s it. A long night for me, but a very productive one for the M’s. I like the way they’ve built a four-game winning streak with relative ease. They are playing like a contender now. And they won their 70th tonight. As some of you mentioned, that was a season not too long ago. Only eight wins shy of last year with nearly six weeks to go. You’ll take it, right? Enjoy this time.
For those of you who stayed up late, here’s a little extra tidbit you’ll only find on the blog. I was standing in the dugout well before the game, chatting with Adam Jones and another reporter about the MVP race in the AL. Jones was the only player seated in the dugout, but then Jose Guillen emerged from the tunnel. Forget about Guillen’s comments when Jones first got here. He said his piece and it’s done. He and Jones are fine. But they had a funny little veteran-rookie type of exchange.
GUILLEN (scowling): Everwhere I go, you’ve got to show up.
JONES: Want me to quit? I’m not going to quit for you. I’m staying right here.
(Guillen shakes his head and starts to turn away)
JONES: I’m not going anywhere. I’m going to the Dominican (says the word with a Spanish accent) too!
Hilarious stuff. I wish I had audio for that.

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