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September 2, 2007 at 7:20 PM

The challenge ahead

Just arrived in New York, so I apologize about not updating the post-game thread right away, but I had a plane to catch. I sit here trying to make sense of what has gone on with the Mariners in the past week. It seems incomprehensible to me that a team contending through until late-August, with one losing streak of seven games just a month in its past, could reel off another nine losses in a row. It is a sheer miracle that the Mariners are still in contention, but I’ll tell you what. If they don’t take two of three in New York, they are done. Never mind the three and a half weeks that will remain in the season. Three games is enough to make up on any team. Never mind two teams.
“We’re still in good shape, it’s amazing,” Mariners manager John McLaren said of the team being only two back of New York in the wild-card race. “We have the ability to strike the other way. Now we’ve hit a big bump in the road.
“Let’s be right up front, it’s not getting any easier,” he added. “It’s not getting any easier and we know it. We’ve got to fight our way out of it.”
The Detroit Tigers lost tonight, but are creeping back up on the M’s and only a game behind. Both the Tigers and Yankees have superior hitters and over-all talent. Seattle has a bullpen that has carried it this far and some streaky hitters that, when hot, can be as good as what New York and Detroit has.
Is that enough to win a sprint in September? Only if the M’s are about even or ahead of the Yankees coming out of here. Forget about the Safeco Field advantage. The Yanks have done even better at home of late. And frankly, this Yankees group has found a way to make the playoffs year after year. Until proven otherwise, they have to be the favorites. Which means, you pounce on them when you can. Which means, right now.
As for the Tigers, you also have to assume that whatever Dog Days of August freakishness has afflicted them is also about to vanish. This was looking like a World Series winner in Detroit not so long ago. No reason to believe that team won’t revert to winning form.
The Mariners? Everyone has hinted all year that this team was overachieving. I was ready to believe otherwise a week ago, but took a “wait and see” attitude and now look where they are. It sounds harsh, but if the M’s want everyone to shut up they are going to have to shut them up. No more talk. Action please. Is this a contender? Or a .500 team playing over its head? We’re about to find out. Because even .500 teams can win 87-90 games every once in a while. Depends on their last big winning streak. But will this be a contending team after this week? After this series?
I detected a lot of frustration inside that clubhouse after the game. John Hickey of the PI and I were standing inside McLaren’s office and a stone-faced Jose Guillen walked in and told us he had to speak to the manager privately. Guillen is as fierce a competitor as there is in that clubhouse, is a big McLaren fan and is furious with what’s gone on. He had been convinced about a week before the Angels series that his team would be in first-place by now. Not fighting for its playoff life. Guillen truly believed the M’s had what it took to win the division. McLaren’s door closed. I don’t know what was said in there, but I’m sure the two chatted about what’s gone on with this team.
I asked McLaren about Jeff Weaver and him exchanging words after the starter was pulled. You all saw it if you were watching the CBC feed. McLaren didn’t try to hide the fact that there had been words.
“I don’t think he was happy. I think he wanted to stay in,” McLaren said. “He said something when he was walking off.”
Hear the post-game audio from McLaren.
McLaren tried to play down the exchange with Weaver. The pitcher himself said there was nothing there, that he was simply frustrated about coming out early and letting the team down.
“He had already made the decision,” Weaver said. “Like I said, it was a situation where I’d hoped to get deeper into the game and it was cut short. That’s all it is.”
Hear Weaver’s take on his performance.
By the way, we asked McLaren about his latest use of Rick White. The manager said he was saving Brandon Morrow for the eighth inning and that he had other relievers unavailable for the seventh. He felt White was his best right handed option for that inning. Which might be saying a lot about something. We’ll know soon enough. This bullpen got the team here. if it can’t get the job done in September, the team’s chances will die along with it.
Not much else to say. The Mariners know this is a big series coming up. Felix Hernandez goes into Yankee Stadium for the first time. If ever a rotation needed a “King” to ascend a throne, this would be the time. Hear what Raul Ibanez had to say about the series upcoming.
“I think right now what we have to do is focus on playing whoever’s ahead of us and keep the emotions in check,” he said. “I believe we’ll come out of this and the rest of this road trip is going to go very well for us.”
Jose Vidro summed it up:
“It’s definitely a big series for us,” Vidro said. “We’ve got to find a way to get a ‘W’.
“We’ve got the same team we had the first two or three months of the season,” Vidro added. “We are capable of winning a lot of games in a row the same as losing them. Once we get it going, it’s going to be hard to stop us. But we’ve got to take this series very seriously.
“We’ve got to find a way.”
Like I said, talk is cheap at this stage. The M’s have to do it.



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