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September 20, 2007 at 9:58 PM

Mariners throttled, criticized

Sure looks like the Mariners are about to watch an opponent celebrate a division-clinching win off them for the second year in a row. The M’s watched the Oakland A’s dance around at Safeco Field last year and now have to fend off the Los Angeles Angels three more nights to avoid a repeat this time around. Seattle took a 9-5 loss here in a game that didn’t even appear that close. It was the Vladimir Guerrero show. He came into the game hitting .500 off Seattle pitching before going 3-for-4 tonight with that two-run homer.
Guerrero’s head also seemed to attract some Jorge Campillo pitches. The first inside offering wasn’t that close to Guerrero’s head, but it obviously stirred him up a bit. Guerrero planted the next pitch in the seats, which is the best way to answer that kind of stuff.
When Campillo threw a pitch that appeared to go behind Guerrero’s head in the sixth inning, the slugger also responded in what players regard as the best way possible. He pointed angrily at Campillo and took some menacing steps towards him. The melee that resulted didn’t actually involve any real fights. Both dugouts and the bullpens emptied. Miguel Batista and John Lackey were the first players who latched on to each other as they charged across the field. That Batista is quite active in these things. Remember him back in Oakland? It took several players to hold him back — and that was just because he was upset with the umpires for throwing him out of the game.
This time, he just looked ticked off at anything in a red uniform.
But anyway, it’s neither here nor there. Campillo throwing anywhere near the head of a player Guerrero’s stature is bush league if it was intentional. If not, he’s got to be more careful.
The Angels weren’t happy after the game.
“That’s very disturbing,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. “Don’t know where that guy came off throwing at Mathis and Guerrero, and if it came from the bench, that’s even more disturbing.”
Guerrero has never so much as growled at an opposing pitcher before tonight. That’s how much Campillo took the game’s “code” and tore it up into little pieces with what he did.
“The difference is, if I’m going to get hit, that’s fine, but please stay away from my head,” Guerrero said. “And when you do it twice, that’s enough. Also saw what they did to my catcher (Mathis), that’s what really got me going. Hit me all you want. Not near my head.”
This isn’t me picking on an unproven guy like Campillo. He’s worked hard to get to where he is today and he may one day become a regular major leaguer. But I’d be doing this to J.J. Putz. Jarrod Washburn or anyone else. The thing is, you won’t see those guys go headhunting.
Just to clarify that point, because some of you asked, no, it’s never OK for anyone to have a ball thrown at their head. It can kill you and it’s happened before, to Ray Chapman. But yes, I do think it’s even worse when a pitcher with barely any resume to show for himself in the major leagues goes head-hunting for one of the game’s marquee players. Take out Guerrero for the year, or permanently, and the game suffers. Take out Jorge Campillo and nobody bats an eyelash. If every nickel-and-dimer is allowed to put the livelihood of the game’s elite bread-and-butter at risk, you wouldn’t have much of a sport.
I’d be ticked off if I was a Mariner right now. I’d be embarassed about what happened out there. Guerrero showed what a winner does when someone brushes him back cleanly, as Campillo did the first time. Guerrero smoked the very next pitch. We all saw that coming, didn’t we? But when you throw right at a guy’s head, or behind it — where the natural inclination will be to leap backward straight into the ball’s path — that’s just wrong. Like slew-footing a guy in hockey, or chop-blocking in football. You do it, you’re on your own, pal. Do it with a marquee player and you won’t last long in this game. Too many livelihoods depend on the marketability of guys like Guerrero. Baseball’s had enough trouble finding superstars fans don’t have some kind of problem with. Guerrero’s one of those players who — despite a lack of English — appeals to fans because of his raw skill. Poor Ryan Feierabend threw him a pitch a half-foot off the plate and gave up a single.
You’re going to sacrifice a guy like that so Jorge Campillo can live to pitch another day? Uh, no you’re not.
So, yes. I do draw a subtle distinction. And anyone with any business smarts would as well. Morally, it’s always wrong. We don’t need any more Chapmans or Art Howes (hmmm, on second thought, it was Howe’s teammate, Dickie Thon, whose career was forwever altered by a beanball to the head. Sorry about the mixup. That’s what you get for posting too late at night).
Here’s what John McLaren had to say: “Guerrero’s hitting .600 against us. We threw the ball in the dirt and he hits the ball. Campillo throwing up and in and he overthrows? Whatever.”
Yeah, OK. If I’m a Seattle hitter, I’m a little worried about what John Lackey might do in a couple of days. He was the first one out of that Angels dugout, looking absolutely incensed. I wouldn’t want to be stepping into that batter’s box against him wearing Mariner blue.
McLaren was ticked for a different reason. He wanted Guerrero thrown out.
“I thought Vlad headed out to the mound,” McLaren said. “I knew the warning, I knew I was out. I wasn’t arguing that. I was arguing that if their guy starts going towards the mound…when you go out towards the mound I just thought you were gone. Obviously, you’re not.”
Well, yeah. But it’s not like Guerrero got to take a swing of his bat at Campillo’s head or anything. Make that the penalty and no pitcher would throw inside on hitters — ever. Yes, it’s part of the game, but there’s an art to it. No room for butchers.
Hey, this isn’t the end of the world. The Mariners didn’t go burn some foreign village to the ground. But this was serious tonight. It was not a good thing.
The M’s played this game the way they have so many others against the Angels this season. They made mistakes in the field, at the plate and on the basepaths. They argued with the umpires, who again blew at least one call at third base. But this whole M’s vs. the umps is getting a little tiresome. And I don’t have a hard time believing that some of it is now coming back to bit the Mariners on close plays. Maybe not here. But it seems a little too coincidental. Sometimes, it serves teams better just to pipe down and take it. Especially when you’re arguing a checked-swing, as Ichiro was, down five runs in the late innings. Those calls are almost always borderline. Can go either way. Like holding in football.
Anyhow, Feierabend showed us nothing tonight. Where does this rotation sit heading into next year? Who knows? Like I told you, it’s going to be tough to head into a season with both Brandon Morrow and Feierabend as starters if you want to win anything next year. Too many growing pains. But hey, who knows? If the M’s get blanked on the free-agency and trade market to the extent they did last winter, it’s probably better to throw some young guys out there than to deal away top talent for a pitcher with an ERA+ of 75.
The rotation is the biggest question mark heading into next year, obviously. Last season at this time, we saw Cha Seung Baek step forward and show he could be a viable rotation candidate. This year? No such luck. At least not yet. Not tonight in any case. But at least Baek, who went 2 1/3 scoreless innings in relief in this game, will get to show something. McLaren says he’ll probably start against Texas on the final weekend. I still think the team should keep Baek around for next year. Even in a long relief role. The way this rotation is shaping up for 2008, the team may need lots of capable starters hanging around.
For “Angels of Bellevue” nice to see you back. We don’t have enough front-runners contributing to this site. Sorry about the spelling. I changed the headline just for you. Let’s see you get the LA bloggers to do that.



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