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June 26, 2010 at 6:39 PM

Brian Sweeney savors his second life in the majors after leading Seattle to a 5-4 win

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Sorry it’s taken so long to get the post-game blog up. The internet at Miller Park is terrible, kept conking out and forced me to leave the stadium and cab it back here to my downtown hotel to finish things off.
The story of today’s game was clearly Brian Sweeney, who turned 36 just two weeks ago and seemed to have had his big league career pass him by. He’d spent the last three years in Japan before recently signing a minor league deal with the Mariners.
And if he never pitches another inning, he’ll have shown he still had something left at this level.
Today’s game looked destined to become a slugfest, with the M’s on the receiving end, when Doug Fister bowed out after four innings. But Sweeney took over with a 5-4 lead to start the fifth and allowed just one hit through the next four frames. He retired the final 10 hitters he faced, then turned it over to Brandon League for a 1-2-3 ninth.
Talk about a performance.
He hadn’t pitched in the bigs since September 2006. His last win was on May 12 of that year.
Sweeney was awarded the win today, even though Fister left with the lead and pitched an equal number of innings. It’s the scorer’s discretion and he made the right call.
We spoke at length to Sweeney afterwards and he talked about how three years pitching in Japan helped him. How the constant repetition of pitching motion over there helps pitchers become more consistent. And how the times alone, in his apartment pondering the future, taught him about himself.
“There’s a lot of time to think,” he said. “A lot of time to learn. Sometimes, it’s bad thinking, thinking about the future,being 35 years old. You know, what’s going to happen after a difficult season last year?”
But his wife never wavered in her support of him, he said. She and their two daughters, ages 10 and 6, would come over there until August, then head back to the U.S.for school. The Japanese league runs until November.
“When I’m back in that apartment by myself, it’s just me and my mind and thinking about what’s going to happen,” he said. “When you’re having a good year, everything’s cool. But when you’re having a bad year, you start thinking a little bit too much. So, it does get a little bit lonely.”
But in the end, there was one conclusion he drew from it.
“That I could still pitch,” he said. “And I could still pitch confidently.”

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Seeing is believing and he showed us that confidence today. He needed to,because what’s left of the bullpen (pictured above — images may not be exactly to scale) was starting to look cobbled together and not too reassuring.
I asked manager Don Wakamatsu how a pitcher can come in and shut down an attack like that just as the Brewers appeared ready to slug Seattle’s depleted bullpen out of the stadium.
Wakamatsu put credit on Sweeney’s change-up, a “plus” pitch that tends to feed off the aggressiveness of opposing hitters and works against them. The Brewers came out swinging. Sweeney took something off and the Brew Crew failed to adjust.
Later, I spoke alone with Sweeney for a few minutes.
He admitted this second time around for him feels that much better than his first stint in the majors.
“I put less pressure on myself, for one,” he said. “”I know now that win or lose, at the end of the day, there’s a hug waiting for me at home.”
This is a game of failure. And when a guy fails to the extent he’s out of the majors and has to go to Japan to play, it can take a toll. It takes a lot of confidence and determination to overcome that and get a second chance at big league life.
“As you get older,” he said, “you tend to see things differently.”
I’ll guess that he sees himself differently too. Probably in a much more favorable light. It doesn’t make you a bad person, or a loser, to struggle at this level of sport.
Now, he’s earned a second shot and is enjoying the ride. Here’s hoping it can last a whole lot longer for him.



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