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Daily coverage of the Mariners during the season and all year long.

June 26, 2011 at 11:59 PM

Dustin Ackley kept his head in the game and secured his team a win

If you missed Geoff Baker Live! pre-game, we played you a clip of Eric Wedge discussing his plans to keep Michael Pineda and other starters pitching through September if the team stays in the race. You saw Doug Fister hit the double tonight. Want to see him in batting practice? Watch this clip, in which we weigh the merits of trading him or Jason Vargas…IF, and only if it ever came to that.
I gave my two cents worth about the King’s Court and the one-man attempt of a fan Saturday night to replicate Friday night’s magic with Miguel Olivo on his own.
Somebody asked me whether Pineda is “a lock” for the All-Star Game. Hmm, not totally sure. Here’s my rundown of all-star potential Mariners. Do I think Ichiro deserves to go? Here’s my answer. Somebody wanted to know whether I think Franklin Gutierrez could be trade bait this year if his hitting improves. Another wanted to know whether Brendan Ryan’s emergence as a shortstop power makes Class AA prospect Nick Franklin expendable via trade. One viewer asked me to explain the difference between pitches in batting practice and a game itself. Good question.

On to the post…
One of the things teams worry about with young ballplayers at the major league level is their ability to stay focused every pitch of every single game. It’s not as easy as it sounds. I’ll admit that even I looked away from the field and penciled in an intentional walk to Carlos Peguero on my scorecard before Florida Marlins pitcher Steve Cishek had finished throwing the four balls needed.
So, who could have blamed Dustin Ackley for maybe a little mental doze in that situation? I mean, Ackley was on third base with one out because he’d alertly tagged up and made it to third on the flyout to left-center by Miguel Olivo.
Not every runner would have made it in there safely. Ackley’s pretty quick and the throw arrived just a step behind him.
“Their guy did a good job, made a good throw,” M’s manager Eric Wedge said. “It was maybe a little closer than I thought it would be. You can’t be a clogger out there and do that. But at that point in time in the game, you know you’ve got to do that, get there and tag.”
And Ackley did it. So, time for a mental break, right? Nope. Good thing for the M’s that was not the case.
Marlins reliever Cishek throws from what he calls a “funky” three-quarters arm slot and once in a while, even routine throws like a pitch-out for an intentional walk can go astray. It’s happened to Cishek once before in Class A ball and Ackley — though he didn’t know Cishek had thrown one away previously in a pro game — was paying attention.
“You have to stay close to the bag because they’re holding you there and everything,” Ackley said. “But after I saw him throw a couple pitches I was like, ‘Man, he’s throwing a couple wide.’ I thought maybe for a guy throwing from that angle it might be easy for one to get away from him. So I was pretty ready and when I saw it get by, I just told myself to run as hard as you can and hope you get there.
“Datzy (third base coach Jeff Datz) was yelling, too. I was going no matter what. If a ball goes to the backstop, you’ve got to go. Even though it got a bad bounce and went right back to the catcher, I was just like, ‘You’ve got to go no matter what.”
Marlins catcher John Buck had the errant throw bounce straight back to him off the backstop and it was a pretty close play at the plate. Had Ackley been dozing off at the bag and not broken immediately, he’d likely have been out.
But Ackley, for whatever else we want to applaud him for, appears to have great baseball instincts and focus.

Once again, I can’t stress how important it was that he kept his head in the game. How many of us have seen rookies picked off bases because they’re too worried about replaying their hits in their minds?
Happens to veterans too. But to young players quite often because they aren’t used to the speed of the game in the majors. Or the intensity level. You really can’t let up on any single play, or any pitch. Imagine if Ackley had just hesitated, held his ground and then the m’s hit into an inning-ending double-play? We’d all be talking about that right now instead of Ackley’s three hits.
So, while I don’t want to harp on this forever, that sequence of events really does show you how every moment of every MLB game makes a difference. And how there is so much more that goes into winning a major league game than talent alone. Focus and mental toughness is so important.
The defense tonight was outstanding. Brendan Ryan was great once again, Justin Smoak had one of his better games in an M’s uniform with the glove and Adam Kennedy made two fantastic plays at third base.
There was the barehand on the bunt right before the game-tying double. If Kennedy doesn’t make that play to get the hitter — the quick Emilio Bonifacio — then there are two on for Omar Infante and maybe the game is lost on the double? Who knows?
Instead, it was only tied.
Then, with a runner on in the 10th, you had Kennedy getting his body in front of that tough smash, knocking the ball down, picking it up and making a rather routine throw to first for the out. That was a polished third baseman’s play. Not a backup guy. Kennedy didn’t panic when he failed to catch the ball right away.
If he does, maybe Brandon League doesn’t go on to get the save, and David Pauley the win.
The Mariners couldn’t hit worth a lick when it mattered, other than Ackley and that one inning where Doug Fister doubled and scored on Ryan’s single.
But they played a near-perfect game otherwise. Fister was great again for eight innings, allowing just one run when Infante fouled off eight straight pitches in a 12-pitch at-bat.
“At the end of the day, it’s not about personal stats,” Fister said after his team closed to within 1 1/2 games of the first-place Rangers. “It’s about how we’re doing and the morale in the clubhouse.”
Now, the M’s have to figure out how to win without being perfect all the time. They need some bats. I’ll just keep writing it after every game. Maybe something will happen, who knows?

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