You may have missed Geoff Baker Live! earlier tonight (see it in the video above), where we previewed the Dustin Ackley debut. We also told you how Adam Kennedy would be doing the Mark McLemore super-sub thing around the infield. I played a clip of Eric Wedge discussing Justin Smoak as a clean-up hitter. A viewer wanted to know whether I’d spoke to Raul Ibanez, so I played him a clip of that.
On to the post…
That was quite an impressive night by the Mariners. Not just Dustin Ackley, but the entire team. Michael Pineda delivered, shutting down the vaunted Phillies for most of the first six innings.
Brendan Ryan came through at the plate and in the field on that game-ending groundout with two on.
Ichiro, of course, delivered as well. Three more hits. Three runs scored. That’s the Ichiro we all know and remember. That’s the Ichiro a contender needs. He has 13 hits in his last six games.
“You guys have seen him a lot more than I have,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said after the game. “But you see that bat head staying in the zone a lot longer. The plane of his bat is where it needs to be. Like I’ve said before, he’s a tough hitter to critique because it’s a very, very unique approach.
“But I think the one thing we’re seeing is that his timing’s a little bit better, his direction’s a little bit better and it’s paying off for him and for us. He had a big night for us.”
Wedge was highly impressed by a pair of defensive plays in the eighth and ninth. First, the 5-4-3 double-play turned by Chone Figgins and Ackley. Then, the play by Ryan at the very end.
“That’s not an easy play,” Wedge said. “That is a tough play right there with a lot on the line and we’ve seen him do that quite a few times this year.”
Yes, we have. I asked Ryan about the play, in which Ackley cut in front of him only to be called off the slow grounder.
Ryan told me it was Ackley’s ball, but he was trying to help the young second baseman out. Didn’t want him having to make a game-changing play in his very first game.
Moments earlier, the Phillies got an infield single on a ball that Figgins managed to knock down at third base going to his left. Ryan said he’d have liked a better crack at that ball and wanted to make up for that on the ensuing one he let Ackley off the hook on.
Ryan termed the Figgins-Ackley double-play as “the play of the game.”
“I don’t know what they’re teaching these kids in the minors, but you get Pineda and Ack (Ackley), these guys they all come up, they have really good poise,” Ryan said. “I know on my first day, I was a mess. So, they’re both very calm and act like they’ve been here before, which has got to be nice to see if you’re a manager.”
Ackley said the double-play was indeed tough because the runner was barreling in on him and he had to get rid of the ball quickly. You only learn to handle such plays through repetition and experience and Ackley said it was one of the things the Mariners wanted him to know how to handle before he came up to the bigs.
I asked Ackley how many of those plays he actually got to make in the minors and he told me he’d turned a similar DP in Fresno a few nights back.
Ackley had his share of jitters, no matter how calm he looked.
“It was kind of nerve-wracking,” Ackley said. “I wanted to swing at the first pitch but he (Roy Oswalt) got into the windup and I was kind of mesmerized. The bat didn’t come off my shoulder. But when you get that hit later in the at-bat it was a great feeling to see the ball go up the middle and get my first hit.”
Ackley said “it was pretty special” and “a weight off my shoulders” to get that first hit in his first game.
More importantly, the Mariners got a huge win in his first game. They’re all huge when you’re a half-game out of first place and taking on the team with the best record in baseball.
Felix Hernandez pitches tomorrow night.