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April 14, 2009 at 9:10 PM

Betancourt, Silva: early redemption

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Few faces were smiling brighter after this 3-2 thriller won by the Mariners than Yuniesky Betancourt and Carlos Silva. Let’s face it, these two have both faced their share of adversity and gotten on the nerves of Mariners fans these past 12 months or so.
Both for differing reasons of course. Betancourt in 2008 was known as the master of hitting into the 6-4-3 double-play when things mattered most. Of never putting a ball to the right side with a runner on second and none out like he saw in today’s 10th inning after a leadoff double by Franklin Gutierrez.
But there was Betancourt in the 10th, dropping a near-perfect bunt up the third base line and forcing Angels reliever Scot Shields to rush an errant throw to first base that brought the winning run home.
And of course, the Mariners needed a game like this out of Silva. Silva needed a game like this even more, bringing a personal seven-game losing streak and 1-16 record since last April to the mound today.
And while Silva didn’t win the game, despite retiring 10 in a row to start the contest and allowing just two runs on four hits over seven innings, he may have recaptured the hearts and minds of a few of the legions of fans who wanted him run out of town just last week.
The slimmed-down sinkerballer admitted it was a big day. But he tried not to put too much pressure on himself.
“As soon as i got out on the field and they started introducing the players, it was amazing,” Silva said. “When they called Felix (Hernandez) and Ken Griffey, I was still throwing on the mound but I stopped to watch it. It was amazing. I’ve never seen anything like that. But it was great. It was a great feeling. I think that helps a little bit too. Because with that crowd and that intensity it’s like, ‘Let’s go!’ That was really nice.”
Silva is an intense guy. Sometimes too intense. He wants to win over the Seattle fans, but had been worrying about it way too much.
“The crowd is very important,” he said. “I respect the crowd 100 percent. But it’s one thing I’ve got to take out of my mind. I’ve got to pitch. I don’t have to worry about crowds, I don’t have to worry about anything. That’s one of my biggest problems. I worry too much about the outside stuff. And that’s what I tried to do today — it’s Johjima and me. I pitched and he tried to catch the ball.
“Because when I throw my bullpens, I don’t have any crowds, no hitters, nobody. And like I said the other day, my bullpen is one of the best. So, I’m trying to take whatever happens in the bullpens into the game and whatever happens, happens.”
Silva was asked whether anybody from the team has tried to talk to him about blocking out external factors.
“There are a lot of people talking to me, man,” he said, bursting into laughter. “Not too many. Yesterday, (manager Don) Wakamatsu talked to me a little bit too, (pitching coach) Rick (Adair) talked to me, the mental (coach) guy talked to me. A lot of guys, but i really appreciate that because I think it’s one of the things I think we needed last year, especially in the hard moments. Because when everything is good, you don’t need anybody. It’s when stuff is hard that you need people next to you.”
As for Betancourt, he’s been getting constant reinforcement from teammate and Spanish-speaking mentor of sorts Endy Chavez on the fine art of bunting and other small ball.
Chavez had a dugout chat with Betancourt after he’d squared up to bunt on a slider in the fifth inning with a runner on second, only to pull back at the last moment. The slider can be a good pitch to deaden the ball with and third baseman Chone Figgins was playing back, but Betancourt still hesitated.
Chavez spoke to him about it later, saying he can’t afford to hesitate when conditions are optimal for bunting. And to his credit, Betancourt didn’t hestiate against Shields in the 10th. Shields throws a nasty sinker. But with a runner on second and no out, the chance of a ball getting away from the catcher and moving that runner to third makes the sinker a risky pitch to throw.
Betancourt was aware of the situation. So, when Shields threw him a slider — not his best pitch — Betancourt took full advantage and got a great bunt down. Later, Betancourt was pummeled with reporters’ questions about the bunt and joked that he’d never been asked so many queries about a sacrifice play.
But he added that he enjoys bunting and has benefitted from Chavez’s advice.
“We talk about it every chance we get,” Betancourt said. “He’s got a lot of experience in that. Just moving the runners over, doing the little things. He’s really helping me out on that.”
Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu is impressed with Betancourt’s work so far this season.
“He’s done a lot of good things and he’ll get better,” he said. “He’s working on it every day and he’s got a chance to be a great player.
“You look at the small things, like Endy Chavez, Endy does it and he’s a role model for a lot of these guys,” he added. “And so, it’s part of Endy’s game but it’s also part of several of our guys…these guys are playing aggressive baseball.”
Wakamatsu had a front-row seat to the ovation given Ken Griffey Jr. before the game.
“It was unbelievable,” he said. “To watch him walk through that, just the reception…we’ve been thinking about that moment since we got him in spring training. What’s it going to feel like when we get him back home and the crowd grows crazy. And they didn’t disappoint.”
Mariners reliever Shawn Kelley, participating in his first home opener, stood awestruck by the thunderous applause Griffey received.
“It was just amazing,” said Kelley, whose wife, Kelsey, made the trip up to see him participate, “Everybody thinks that just because we’re players, we’re immune to all of this and it doesn’t get to us, they couldn’t be more wrong. We were all just standing there, taking it all in and enjoying every moment. It was great being out there and high-fiving and being a part of it.”
Not all the news was good for the Mariners on this day.
They announced that top prospect Carlos Triunfel is to undergo surgery tomorrow on that fibula he broke in a Class AA game last week.
“We’ll find out how severe it is,” Wakamatsu said. “It’s a tough injury, obviously. He’s a great player. I had a chance to see him in the clubhouse yesterday and talk to him a little bit, and he’s in good spirits.”
As to time Trinufel will miss;
“We won’t know until tomorrow after the surgery. Hopefully, it’s not too serious. We’ll cross our fingers.”
Wladimir Balentien told me after the game that his wrist and elbow felt “great” after taking batting practice today and that he’s ready to get back in the lineup.
After the game, Angels’ manager Mike Scioscia was bemoaning the Angels’ struggles with runners in scoring position. They were 0-for-7 on Tuesday and dropped to .209 (14-for-67) on the season.
“There’s been one theme to these last seven games, and that’s not hitting with guys in scoring position,” Scioscia said. “You go through spells like this. You’re going to have to pop a hit in there somewhere if you want to get where we want to be. It didn’t happen today, and it’s been a tough week along those lines.
“We’re getting guys on base, that’s obviously the first step. But we’re leaving way too many guys on base. Hopefully, as we keep pressuring teams, we’ll start to crack through and get some hits with men in scoring position.”
On Betancourt’s bunt: “It was a good bunt. There was a little pressure on the time element to get it there. Scotty just yanked the throw a little bit.”
Asked if the 2009 Mariners had “a different feel,” Scioscia said: “They’ve got a good club. We’re working on getting the feel of our club before we start looking at other clubs. There’s some things we need to do on a consistent basis out on the field that are very important to us. We’re trying to get into the flow of the season. That’s where our focus is going to be.
“All the clubs in our division are tough. Every time you take a step out there on the field, you’re going to have a challenge. It doesn’t make much sense to look around to what other clubs are doing and what they’re feeling. We need to get our house where it needs to be, and that’s what we look to do.”
Angels second baseman Howie Kendrick, who struck out with the bases loaded at a key juncture of the game in the fifth inning, had praise for Mariners’ starter Silva.
“I don’t know what he did in his first start, but he made his pitches today,” Kendrick said. “He pitched inside really well. With me, he stayed in. He was either in on the corner, or off the plate. Especially with the bases loaded, he made his pitches. I fouled off a couple, and he came back with that changeup and struck me out.”
Scioscia said he saw managerial potential in Wakamatsu when he was an instructor and minor-league manager in the Angels’ system from 1999-2002.
“No doubt,” Scioscia said. “There was absolutely no doubt he had the capability to not only one day manage in the big leagues, but also what he was going to bring to an organization as a terrific teacher, and a great communicator.
“You never know when guys, or if guys, are going to get the chance to manage. There’s a lot of guys that have all the makings to be a great manager that might not get the opportunity. But Wak, he brings lot to this game. He brought it as minor-league instructor and manager, he brought it as a major-league coach, and he’ll bring it as a major-league manager, too.”

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