UPDATED WITH POST-GAME QUOTES
Days like this are made tolerable for Mariners fans by the presence of Ichiro, who collects MLB milestones the way some mortals rack up frequent flier miles. Ichiro notched his 2,000th major league hit on the second pitch of the game, then the Mariners went out and competed for the most part, but didn’t do enough to avoid a 5-2 loss.
What they did not do was build off the quick start Ichiro provided against starter Gio Gonzalez. Seattle got a first-inning, run, then another in the sixth, but enabled the A’s to hang around this one a little too long and got burned on Scott Hairston’s slam off Shawn Kelley in the seventh.
Not a good finish to a series in which Seattle took the first two games, only to wind up with a split.
Doug Fister lasted five innings and left with a 2-1 lead. What’s more impressive is that he battled a blister problem that started in the third inning and grew worse with each passing frame.
“There was a little thing on my finger, but that didn’t affect me,” said Fister, downplaying the problem.
Fister said he never felt all that good on the mound and had to battle much of the day. That he did, avoiding big innings despite allowing a plethora of baserunners.
“He really did a heck of a job to get through five innings,” Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu said.
One of the better jobs came with the bases loaded and one out in the fifth. Fister got a foul popout and a called strikeout to escape the jam. He also had some help from the ball on a double by Rajai Davis that looked like it would score Adam Kennedy.
But as it reached the left field corner, the ball, which was skipping along the ground, took a bizarre hop and seemed to climb up and over the left field wall. Kennedy had to halt at third on the ground rule double and wound up stranded there.
“That was the first time I have ever seen that,” left fielder Michael Saunders told me. “I was playing it to shoot off the wall. As soon as it hit, it stuck and rolled.”
A huge break for the M’s. But they couldn’t hold on.
That’s now eight runs given up in the late innings by the Mariners the last two games. Wakamatsu warned that he can’t keep using his back of the bullpen guys to pitch in every game and that others have to step up. You know about the Sean White injury situation, which has left him unavailable. The long guys have to be held back in case a starter gets blown out.
It could be an interesting final four weeks with several relievers pushing their career thresholds. The M’s might wind up losing a few more games like this one in the interest of preserving arms for the future.
Speaking of health, team officials wanted to clarify today that Ken Griffey Jr. does not have a swollen knee. Some of the medical updates given by Wakamatsu, including one this morning, have mentioned swelling, but that’s apparently not technically accurate. Don’t blame him. He’s not an MD.
Griffey had swelling earlier this season when his knee was drained of fluid. There is apparently no fluid problem in there now, just pain and irritation. It may sound like splitting hairs, but there is a difference between the two, With swelling, that would have to come down first before he could play. Now, it’s only a matter of managing the pain. In any event, Griffey isn’t going to play until Wednesday.
So, there you have it — clarified.
Now, the team moves on to Anaheim.
And on days like this, at least fans can fall back on Ichiro. Never mind 2,000 hits. He has an excellent shot at 3,000 if he can stay in top condition and stave off some of the effects of aging we’ve seen this year. Aging that sidelined him with that calf injury and the early season bleeding ulcer, which can be triggered by long-term stress. Happens to everyone. But I see no reason why Ichiro can’t play until he’s 40. If he keeps doing that and compiling 200 hits a year, he’ll get his 3,000 hits in MLB to go along with the 1,278 from Japan.
“I’m not a fortune teller, so I don’t have the ability to look into the future,” Ichiro said, through an interpreter. “But that’s why it’s fun, because the future is unknown. And also, if I set a goal for myself like that, it kind of makes a barrier and in that way might lower my potential.”
Ichiro went on to say, with a grin, that achieving the milestone gave him some satisfaction because of the media criticism he endured when he first arrived here in 2001. That’s no small thing. It wasn’t only the media. Some baseball players past and present day wondered whether his style would be suited to MLB. Managers and coaches as well. But yes, media certainly did have a hand in the criticism before he became a star. Ichiro said he never was tempted to change his approach.
And now, years later, most Mariners fans are glad he remained true to himself.
There was other stuff involving Ichiro that I’ve written in my game story, so I’m not going to repeat it all here. Just thought you’d enjoy a few words from the guy who really was the story today. These Hall of Fame type moments, as frequent as they’ve become with him, should never be taken for granted.