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

September 3, 2007 at 4:53 PM

One small step

NOTE (9:25 p.m.): To “Oregongal” and “Baron” I did get the sense that Ichiro was only half-serious when he made the not-wanting-to-be-touched comment. But when he’s funny like that, who cares?
On to the post…
In reality, that’s what this 7-1 victory by the Mariners was here today. A small step, leaving the team 1-9 in its last 10 games. We wrote after the seven-game losing streak back in July that any more such streaks and the M’s are toast. They still may be. We’ll find out soon enough. But the streak is off their backs.
Things are getting very tight here in the Big Apple. The Yankees may have just swept Boston, may still have a fabulous record in the second-half, but they are coming apart at the seams pitching-wise. The loss of Clemens will hurt a lot more than the numbers might indicate. Hey, I’ve seen these Yankees in the playoffs firsthand for years, watched them overcome all types of obstacles in September. But I was talking to some pals who have covered this team for a long time and they assured me this squad is ready to be taken if somebody wants it bad enough.
We had that discussion on this blog not too long ago, about teams not seeming to want to reach out and grab playoff races that are there for the taking. The Angels did that last week in burying the M’s in the AL West. Does anybody want to step up and knock the Yankees off their perch? This was a first-step by the Mariners today. Beat the Yankees tomorrow night behind the pitching of Horacio Ramirez and it’s bound to garner a lot more attention than this one victory today.
Someone asked why J.J. Putz was pitching in the ninth. Well, he’s been underused, as you all know, and did not look or feel good in Toronto. He needs the work to stay sharp. Same with some of the other relievers we saw.
It was a happy clubhouse, post-game, as you might imagine. Plenty of hooting and hollering in the corridor as the players walked off the field.
“No champagne?” manager John McLaren joked as he entered the clubhouse.
McLaren said Felix Hernandez did what a No. 1 starter is supposed to do.
“It didn’t look like the Big Apple bothered him,” McLaren said. “He fit right in. I’m extremely proud of him. He met the challenge when we needed him to
“That’s what a No. 1 is supposed to do is stop a losing streak. That’s a No. 1 for me. It’s not winning 20 games. It’s stopping losing streaks.”
Hear McLaren’s post-game session with reporters right here. That strange music you hear playing towards the end is the sound of McLaren’s cellphone continuing to go off. Very bizarre ring tone.
“The guys were ready to play like they’ve been and we got us a win to show for it,” McLaren said. “There are a lot of reasons why we didn’t win. For us to be consistent, be a good ball club, we can’t have these long streaks.
“It’s not for a lack of effort. It’s just that we need to do some little things better in all phases of our game.”
How about that double-play turned by Yuniesky Betancourt and Jose Lopez and a “little thing” gone right? Snuffed a potentially huge rally.
“Those guys in the middle infield, Betancourt and Lopez, they play unbelievable,” Hernandez said. “I believe in those guys and in all of the defense. I just want to throw strikes and have them put the ball in-play.
“That’s what I’m going to do. Get ground balls and make some outs.”
In case you missed it, Betancourt had to dive to keep a Robinson Cano grounder from going up the middle for a hit with two on and none out. He backhanded a shovel-flip to Lopez, who barehanded the ball for one out before spinning and firing to first. Ben Broussard made a great stretch and managed to keep his foot on the bag.
“If I catch it with my glove, we’ll never get the out at first base,” Lopez said of catching Betancourt’s shovel toss with his bare hand.
Betancourt said the play “made the team happy today. We’d lost nine in a row and we had to stay close to the wild card.”.
Hernandez summed up his first Yankee Stadium experience by saying it was like any other game in any other park. One difference though. He knew there could only be one outcome if his team was to keep its playoff hopes alive.
“The only thing I had on my mind today is win,” Hernandez said. “No matter how, no matter what. Just win.”
Hear Hernandez’s audio on this clip.
And then there’s the team MVP, the guy who bats leadoff and just collected his 200th hit for the seventh consecutive season. Ichiro of course, who now has 201 hits after notching three more today. The home run off Roger Clemens gave the M’s a 2-1 lead — their first lead since Friday night. Ichiro then had a huge single to cap a three-run Seattle fourth inning off Clemens. The single made it a 5-1 game, which is preferable to a 4-1 lead when you’re facing a team as explosive as the Yankees. It gave the M’s needed breathing room.
Ichiro had been only 2-for-20 off Clemens in his career before collecting three hits today. But he says he didn’t get to study up on his pre-game video of Clemens pitching the way he’d have liked.
“The video system here wasn’t working very good today, so I couldn’t watch his video,” Ichiro said through an interpreter. “So, I was very anxious.
“It was the first time in my seven-year career that I thought I might say something mean to Carl Hamilton, our video co-ordinator.”
Funny guy, that Ichiro. It gets better. We asked him why, when he got caught in that fourth-inning rundown, he simply turned and trotted off the field.
“I hate being touched by other people,” Ichiro said. “So, rather than being touched I’d rather run away from them.”
So, the M’s are just a game back in the wild-card hunt. I never dreamed a season like this was possible from a team with so many losing streaks. Let’s see if the ride continues. Remember, lose the next two and it will seem like today never even happened. The M’s have severely reduced their margin for error going forward. They don’t have a lot of wiggle room.
Note: For you early-risers, I’ll be doing a live hit on ESPN’s First Take, talking about the wild-card race, in-studio tomorrow at 7:05 a.m. Pacific time. Hopefully, it’s not too late a night.

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