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May 25, 2008 at 1:07 PM

Mariners at New York Yankees: 05/25 game thread

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1:07 p.m.: Disaster strikes in the eighth inning as the Yankees score four runs to take a 6-5 lead. J.J. Putz threw a ball away at first base on a Hideki Matsui infield single. Would have been a great play by Putz had he made it in time. That scored the second New York run of the inning. A sacrifice fly tied it 5-5 and then, with Matsui at second base, Jose Molina hit a towering double to right center that fell between Ichiro and Wladimir Balentien. Ichiro looked at the ball, the Balentien, then watched the ball drop in.
Here, enjoy a video tour of Yankee Stadium.

For Chris from Bothell, those were some good questions. I just put the first couple of them to a colleague of mine in the Japanese media. He writes a daily blog as well, and assures me the fans in Japan are in a similar uproar over the terrible play of the Mariners. The blame list, he tells me, is Bill Bavasi first, then Richie Sexson and then, much further down in terms of intensity, John McLaren. Part of the reason for that is the closeness between McLaren and Ichiro. Many Japanese fans feel that if Ichiro sees the good in McLaren, he can’t be all that bad as a manager.
As far as “owner” Hiroshi Yamauchi goes, first off, he is still the team’s de-facto owner. The Japanese billionaire did sell his shares to Nintendo of America a few years back, for estate planning purposes. But he owns the darned company, so figure it out. Nothing has changed. Yamauchi owns the team. He gets up at 5 a.m. every day and — if the team is playing at that hour — watches them right away. If they lose, he’s on-the-horn to Ninetendo’s president asking what’s going on.
That president meets regularly with Howard Lincoln over lunch and they discuss what’s going on. Lincoln might have to start picking up a few more tabs and plying his lunch date with a little more saki this coming week because it’s sure not to be pleasant eating conversation.
Hope that part helps.
No, Mel Stottlemyre did not simply become mortal. This is what we’ve been saying the past two weeks. Last year, it was the fault of Mike Hargrove. So, he left and John McLaren came in. Then, it was the inexperienced coaching staff. So, they were purged and one of the most experienced staffs in baseball came in. Stottlemyre was considered one of the top pitching coaches of this era. Not yesteryear. Present-day. This decade. And look what’s happened.
I truly do not believe there is any manager out there who would have done a better job. There are problems built into the fabric of this team, as we began discussing last week when we talked about the difficulty of firing everyone in sight.
It would be one thing if McLaren was not positioning players to succeed. If he was setting them up to fail. But he keeps shuffling the lineup around to get the best hitters into the positions to contribute. And the players keep failing. Adrian Beltre is one of few guys on the team with an on-base-plus-slugging percentage of .800. But it’s at .697 with runners in scoring position. And .579 with RISP and two out. He’s making errors in the field. You want to point fingers of blame, start there. Don’t cherry pick and say this is all “old guys” with no talent sinking the team.
Beltre has loads of talent. He’s a Gold Glove infielder and one of the team’s best hitters. He’s got plenty of value and will be snatched up the minute he’s a free agent. Yuniesky Betancourt has “talent” but is also making mistakes in the field (and he’s not playing hurt like Beltre is) and has a .282 on-base-percentage. His numbers with runners in scoring position are actually very good. Trouble is, he doesn’t get that many opportunities, largely because he’s too big a free-swinger to be trusted higher up in an RBI spot in the order. He can’t get on-base.
Now, of course Richie Sexson has not done the job. Of course Jose Vidro didn’t start turning things up a notch until recently. They are as big, even bigger, as problems than Beltre and Betancourt. We all know that. But it’s not as simple as getting rid of those two guys and thinking all problems will be solved. This is a team-wide malaise. Raul Ibanez is a .240 hitter with RISP. All five pitchers have stunk it up this past month. Including Felix Hernandez. Including Erik Bedard. Hernandez has “talent”. Bedard has “talent”.
So, are these problems going to be cured by replacing “veterans” with “talent”? The “talent” on this squad is tanking as badly as everyone else at the moment.
So, adding “talent” sounds like the quick-fix solution. But that’s overly simplistic. Simply quoting PECOTA numbers and suggesting a GM should be stacking his roster with players projected to do well under similar systems also strikes me as a bit pie-in-the-sky as the answer here. Of course every GM would like to do that. But those players are not always out there. Sometimes, you trade “talent” to get back more established “talent”.
Look, you don’t have to argue with me on Bill Bavasi. He built this team. If he loses his job after this season, because of what’s gone on, it will be a deserved firing. He’s had five years.
But that’s a question for later on. Not right now. Firing a GM right now will not make one iota of difference on this team. Figuring out just how internally ridden with trouble this clubhouse is would be my top priority. This management team and ownership has to go beyond the simplistic and look at factors many of you cannot see daily. But just because you don’t see them does not make them a “myth” or unimportant.
That kind of analysis, dismissing what you can’t see and looking only at things that are easily quantified, is what gets clubs into trouble on the first place. It’s the same criticism I see of writers who are reluctant to take sabermetric statistics seriously. No sense ignoring something because it intimidates you.
To ignore clubhouse troubles, for me, in a case like this is just as ignorant. Not saying it’s the entire problem. But it’s entirely plausible that it’s a huge part of the collapse we’ve seen. You’ve had players of all stripes, young, old, “talented” and marginal, who are underperforming both PECOTA expectations and their career norms. Who are regressing with age, but also not progressing in their youth.
If a culture of losing exists in that clubhouse that makes it easier for players to accept mediocrity, or sub-mediocrity, then it has to be weeded out. Otherwise, you could start Alex Rodriguez at third base tomorrow and David Ortiz at DH tomorrow and it won’t make one bit of difference.
Well, maybe a little difference. But not enough to turn this team around. This team is getting used to losing. It’s accepted losing, perhaps grudgingly, but it’s learned to live with it. That can’t happen. If you expected this to be a .500 team, then you have to be at least a little curious as to why it’s a .360 club. And to find answers, you have to be willing to dig a little deeper, perhaps even slide outside your field of expertise.
We all get intimidated by stuff inside the clubhouse. My access is limited, my interaction with players based on what they’re willing to tell me. Also on my powers of observation. But I’ve tried to highlight some potential areas of concern for you these past two weeks — before Bavasi and Carlos Silva spoke out yesterday.
Many of you have called on Bavasi to step outside the so-called box as well, assuming he does not fully grasp statistical analysis. That may be true to an extent. And to ignore the stats would be foolish of him. But by the same token, those of you who have little grasp of what the inside of a major league clubhouse is like might also have to admit that you don’t have all the answers and that some of them — not all but certainly some — just could be hidden behind those doors.


12:21 p.m.: Seattle just put two more runs across in the seventh inning, both coming on a Jose Vidro single to left that finished off Yankee pitcher Chien-Ming Wang for the day. So, it’s a 5-2 lead for the M’s. Jarrod Washburn now out of the contest and Sean Green on to work the seventh. A good day for Washburn, who got defensive help from Richie Sexson and Adrian Beltre on the corners. Not to mention some timely double-plays. He allowed only four hits, but walked three batters, so he had his challenges. But he did his job. More of these over the last five weeks would have helped. By the way, the Johnny Damon stolen base in the third inning snapped a string of 121 2/3 innings Washburn had gone without allowing a steal when he was on the mound.
To answer seadog in the comments area, I don’t know of any reporter who says “what goes on in the clubhouse stays in the clubhouse”. That’s a player and coach line. I know reporters have tried to present some examples in recent days and weeks of things going on in this particular clubhouse. And there are many ways to make intelligent comments about that. But for someone who has never been inside a clubhouse before to suggest these issues are a “myth” or unimportant, to me smacks of ignorance. It would be like someone saying that “Guam sucks” just because they heard it from someone else who had never been there. I’ve had people scrunch their faces in mentioning poor old Guam. But I’ve been there, seen it with my own eyes. It’s a very nice place. But if I found it to be a lousy place and said so, I’d have more credibility than someone drawing their opinions off of hearsay.
You’ve seen examples presented to you of clubhouse troubles with the Mariners. Heard comments from George Sherrill, Bill Bavasi and now Carlos Silva, suggesting the Mariners clubhouse is not the greatest place to be. You can ask questions about how this relates to on-field play. You can make comparisons to what others — like Jim Leyland — say in-contrast to assertions that chemistry can impact on-field play. That’s intelligent discussion. But to take a firm stance that it has no impact at all, ruling out all other opinion, when you’re arguing from a position of ignorance, makes no intelligent contribution to a discussion. Just because you aren’t well-versed on that particular area does not make it irrelevant. Hope that helps answer your question.
11:51 a.m.: A sharp play by Richie Sexson just saved Jarrod Washburn from potential disaster in the fifth inning. The Yankees got a run to narrow the gap to 3-2, but it could have been worse. There were runners on second and third with one out when Johnny Damon ripped one that appeared headed up the right field line for at least a two-run double. But Sexson, diving to his left, snagged the ball, then flipped to a covering Washburn to barely nab the speedy Damon. A run scored, but could have been worse. Maybe Carlos Silva threw Sexson up against a clubhouse wall or something pre-game? Or, at least, shoved Sexson’s knees up against a wall? Who knows?
11:27 a.m.: Seattle now has a 3-1 lead heading to the fifth, scoring a pair of runs in the fourth after loading the bases with none out. Yuniesky Betancourt got the first run home with a single to left on a poor 1-2 offering from Chien-Miong Wang. Ichiro then hit a tailor-made double-play grounder to Shelley Duncan at first base. But Duncan booted the ball, allowing another run to score. Jose Lopez then grounded into a bizarre double play to end the inning. He lined one to Duncan at first base. The ball hit his chest. But Duncan picked it up and threw home for the first out. Catcher Jose Molina then threw to second for the force out on baserunner Ichiro, who’d hit the dirt to avoid the initial line drive and was slow getting over to second.
11:14 a.m.: We’re tied up 1-1 after three innings. Ichiro gave the Mariners a 1-0 lead in the top of the first by tagging Chien-Ming Wang for a solo homer to right field. Jarrod Washburn then gave up his first hit of the day in the bottom of the frame, a Johnny Damon double that rocketed over the head of right fielder Wladimir Balentien. The rookie got a poor initial read on the ball and was caught flat-footed. Damon stole third base and Derek Jeter then ripped a run-scoring single to left, snapping an 0-for-18 slump.
10:27 a.m.: Here we go, time to get the finale of this road trip out of the way so we can gear for the Mariners to fly home and face the defending World Series champion Boston Red Sox. What a warm reception from Safeco Field fans the M’s are sure to get.
We’re now scoreless as we get set to begin the second inning.

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