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June 27, 2010 at 2:54 PM

Script for Russell Branyan re-entry could not have been written any better

You’d think the Mariners front office had gone out and written the script for today’s stinker of a series loss.
ACT 1: Bring in Russell Branyan via trade at nearly midnight. Have him fly to Atlanta, then arrive right at gametime like the prodigal returning son.
ACT II: Tell the offense to get zero extra base hits. Milton Bradley’s bloop double could have been caught. No one let the Brewers in on the plan.
ACT III: Make sure the singles come sprinkled in with the infield variety. Don’t want to start a trend of hitting the ball hard.
ACT IV: For good measure, make things look more ridiculous by having Ichiro try to bunt his way on base with two on, one out and his team down by three runs.
ACT V: Once you’ve let the starting pitcher with a near-6.00 ERA go eight shutout innings against you, make sure to strand Branyan in the on-deck circle, where he represented the tying run.
Now that the full-length feature is complete, we can start preparing the sequel: Repatriating Russell Part II. Written, directed and produced by the Mariners front office.
After watching today’s 3-0 debacle, Mariners fans everywhere should be salivating at the prospect of seeing something other than a slap hitter or black hole in the lineup. Yeah, that sounds harsh, but if you wanted to do a sales job as to why this trade was made, we saw Exhibit A played out for nine innings today.
Brewers starter Chris Narveson looked nothing like a National League pitcher with a 5.76 ERA as he mercilessly attacked the zone with early strikes. He threw first-pitch strikes to 19 of his 28 batters faced, especially early on in the game. Then, when he forced the M’s to panic a little and start swinging, he made sure not to put anything where they could do damage.
“I think with him, he did a heck of a job of getting ahead,” Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu said. “I thought we helped him out after that. You look at probably, going down the list, five of the first seven, just watching the game, we were swinging at pitches outside the zone. Is it all us? Is it just him? I thought he pitched a good game. We usually do a pretty good job of working the pitcher. And again, because he got ahead, I thought he put us a little bit more into a swing mode.”
But why wouldn’t any pitcher, reading a scouting report, not try to aggressively attack the zone on these guys? Put one on, even two, who is going to make you pay? The M’s loaded the bases with none out yesterday and the best they could do was get one run. And that’s an improvement. Narveson was probably sitting there with a clipboard taking notes yesterday and laughing to himself. Well, maybe not. Yesterday was a rare day in which the team actually hit not one, but two long balls in the same game. For many teams, that’s not unusual. But if Narveson follows the “Every Dog has its Day” theory of baseball, he’d probably be thinking Seattle’s long ball reservoir was just about dry in time for today.
I’ve scratched my head all year at why some pitchers try to nibble with the M’s. The ones who succeed come in, attack the zone and almost dare them to hit the ball. There is nobody in the lineup who is a threat to consistently make teams pay for putting guys on base. This team scores more runs off of sac flies, passed balls, wild pitches and errors than any club I can remember. What it does not do is hit very many three-run doubles or grand slams. So, why not get a little daring and throw early strikes?
So, enter Branyan. He was catching up with all his past teammates, now present again, after the game. It gave the clubhouse more of a festive feel that is usual after a loss.
“It was a big surprise,” Branyan said. “Excitement though. I was looking forward to coming back when I heard the news.”

He’d heard it about 11 p.m. local time last night as his Indians team was in Cincinnati, preparing to wrap up a 10-day road trip. He joked about needing to do some laundry. Could have done that at home in Georgia today as his flight schedule took him here via Atlanta of all places.
Back to on-field stuff, Branyan feels better at the plate than at any point this season. He missed most of April still getting his back into condition to play again.
“I’ve got a lot of memories from here last season,” he said. “I had a lot of good times here. a lot of great people associated with this organization. So, I had a smile on my face. I said my goodbyes to the guys in Cleveland. And I’m moving on. I’m a Seattle Mariner now and I’m looking forward to getting out on the field.”
So, why didn’t Branyan and the M’s get a deal done last winter?
“I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t know.”
The inability of the sides to reach agreement may have contributed more than anything else to this team’s rapid fall from contention. The Mariners tried to find a power bat after that but could not.
So, we’ll see what happens the rest of the way. I’ll tell you what, though, if this team all of a sudden starts winniung six of every 10 and scoring 4.5 runs per game, the missed opportunity of 2010 is really going to sink in.
Tell you what, though, it can’t get much worse than what we saw from the bats today.



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