The photo above shows Adrian Beltre coming through with the game-winning single in the ninth off Orioles reliever Jim Johnson. Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu felt the key to Beltre putting himself in position to deliver the single was laying off a 2-1 pitch out of the zone by Johnson — a guy who throws 96 mph and can unleash two-seamers that have the bottom drop out on them.
Beltre had bit on a bad 2-1 pitch with two on and two out in the seventh and later grounded out to the pitcher. This time, he worked the count to 3-1, then fouled some balls off, but eventually got Johnson to leave a pitch up and made no mistake.
Beltre agreed the entire key to the at-bat was laying off the 2-1 pitch and getting a more favorable count where Johnson could not afford to throw a two-seamer down low and miss with the bags and the count full.
Maybe all of this preaching about plate selection and patience is finally paying off?
I already saw one comment in the post-game blog that, to me, misses the point about the offense needing a revived Beltre. Yes, the Mariners only scored three runs tonight, and if you look at it that way, it does seem like the same old team.
But the difference is, that team now has Beltre — hitting .368 his past 13 games — as someone who can pick the offense up on nights Russell Branyan and Ichiro can’t get it done by themselves. Ichiro did extend his hitting streak to 27 games tonight, but he wasn’t the threat he has been in recent games. He can’t do it all the time. Neither can Branyan. The difference is, that would have meant defeat at any other time back in May. Not tonight, because Beltre was there to drive in all three runs. He looks to finally have arrived for the 2009 season.
I had a one-on-one conversation with Ken Griffey Jr. post-game and he told me a lot of players — himeself included — have pressed too hard at times because they are not living up to career norms. Griffey does not think this offense has lived up to its capabilities yet.
“We’ve had some good days, some bad days,” he said. “We’ve shown signs of what we can do.”
Sometimes, he said, they just get beat by good pitching. And sometimes, they beat themselves.
For the record, Griffey doesn’t think he’l lbe seeing any better pitches because of the shift of Branyan to the No, 2 spot.
“You just can’t hide,” he said with a laugh.
He added that teams will either pitch to him, or to Beltre. And that’s the way it’s going to be all year long. Some days, he’ll try to “expand the zone” and go after a borderline pitch if he’s seeing the ball well, Other days, he stands there and takes his walks. Amd other times, well, like during the 0-for-22 recent slump, he’ll swing at balls he shouldn’t.
Like Beltre, he’s trying to cut down on it. As is most of the team.
Beltre also doesn’t think he’s seeing better pitches with Branyan at No. 2.
“I don’t think it matters,” he said. “Of course, you always want Ichiro on in front of you…stealing bases and scoring runs for you. But it doesn’t matter who’d in front of you. If you have an idea of what to do, you just need to do the right thing.”
We’ll see if that happens, now that the team appears to have Beltre, along with Ichiro, Branyan and maybe Jose Lopez, as serious hitting threats. Griffey has also been collecting some hits of late. Like we said, this will never be a killer offense. But it can win games where it scores more than a run or two per night.
Also, when it gets the performance it did from Rob Johnson, who threw out a pair of runners in key situations. The Orioles had runners at second and third with two out in a 2-2 game in the sixth when Johnson caught Aubrey Huff leaning too far off the bag at third on a pre-arranged pickoff play with Beltre.
“It worked out that they had a left handed hitter up,” Johnson said of his clear view to the bag.
Johnson later threw Huff out at second base in ninth after a leadoff single. The Orioles tried two straight hit-and-runs with Melvin Mora at the plate and both were fouled off. The hit-and-run was then called for a third straight pitch and Mora swung and missed.
A chugging Huff, looking somewhat winded, was easily thrown out at second to cap the double-play.
“He’s not a speedster anyway,” Johnson quipped, adding that he’s been on the bases in similar situations and gotten poor jumps after a few aborted tries.
Anyhow, those little things added up big tonight. A big series win by the Mariners. That’s two in a row. They’ll have to keep it up, get back to .500, then wait for the NL West to arrive.
June 3, 2009 at 11:27 PM