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August 25, 2011 at 8:28 AM

Cleveland series best of the year so far by the Mariners

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It’s been a crazy season of ups and downs for the Mariners, who made everyone forget their three-game sweep in Tampa Bay by taking three of four from Cleveland — pretty much ending the Indians’ bid at a playoff berth.
For me, this series rates as the best of the year so far by the Mariners. They were just a Brandon League blown save away from a four-game sweep. Seattle led every game going into the bottom of the ninth inning, which is where every team wants to be on the road.
The difference-maker, for me, between this series and others the M’s fared well in, was both the quality of opponent and the way in which games were won. This wasn’t all pitching, as it’s normally been through most of the team’s high points. The M’s did indeed use pitching to eek out a 3-2 win in the series opener, aided and abetted by some incredibly poor Indians relief work in the ninth. And they had some pretty good pitching in the first game of Tuesday’s doubleheader, along with decent offense, only to lose on the ninth-inning homer allowed by League.
Then, the final two games, the M’s bounced back with the kind of offense we’ve rarely seen in consecutive games from this squad. It wasn’t just an offensive display, it was a blitzkrieg. The Indians didn’t know what hit them. Talk about payback for what Cleveland did at Safeco Field the first home series of the season. We’ll resist, for now, making too many calls on what this all means for the future. Some young bats did indeed have incredible performances, along with older ones like Wily Mo Pena (Photo Credit: AP) and Ichiro. But there is still more than a month left in the season and this was one series. For now, let’s stick to that: the best M’s series of the season, in which they used both pitching and hitting to take three of four from a quality opponent with something at stake.
Here are my other nominees for the next-best series this team played in 2011:
1. Mariners sweep Tigers 3-0 in Detroit on April 26-28: Their season in disarray to that point, the M’s waltzed in to Comerica Park and outscored a contender Tigers team 24-6. After scoring three runs or fewer in most of their games to that point, the M’s managed at least seven in all three contests and didn’t allow more than three in any one game. It was a rare example of using pitching and hitting on three consecutive nights. Also the first time to that point that the team showed any type of sustained power.


2. Mariners take 3 of 4 from the Tampa Bay Rays at home June 2-June 5: The Mariners beat another solid team in this series, showing an ability to come from behind. Miguel Olivo went crazy with home runs in this series and the M’s again played different types of games, winning 8-2 and 7-0 in the first two, losing a 3-2 mound duel, then winning a 9-6 slugfest late. This series might also be remembered as the team’s final offensive stand before falling out of contention a month later.
3. Mariners take 2 of 3 from the Yankees at Safeco Field on May 27-29: This series came on the heels of a sweep in San Diego and a series win in Minneapolis. But the Padres were mere roadkill as a team back then and couldn’t hit if you underhanded them the ball, while the injury-riddled Twins were not much better. The Yankees were one of baseball’s premier teams and the stakes were ratcheted up for a suddenly-contending M’s team. We talk about games that mean something in a season and these did. The pressure builds for players, with winning becoming more important than the stats-collecting the occurs once a team is all-but-eliminated. And the M’s showed guts and resolve those first two games, coming back to win 4-3 and 5-4 with great bullpen work each time. They were smoked 7-1 by C.C. Sabathia and friends in the finale, but these were meaningful games and the M’s played as if they understood that.
4. Mariners take 2 of 3 from the Phillies at Safeco Field on June 17-19: Just like the Yankees’ series, this one had plenty of advance build-up, huge crowds and games that were meaningful. The M’s did not face the best Phillies pitchers, but still played three tight games. Unlike some of the other series above, this one was all pitching. Seattle scored only seven runs total, but allowed just seven — five of those runs coming in a 5-1 loss in the middle game. But Jason Vargas threw the game of his life in the finale and the M’s managed a pair of bloop singles from Justin Smoak and Adam Kennedy for a 2-0 win. Unfortunately, the ninth-inning collapse in Washington, D.C., in which a 5-1 lead became a loss, happened right after this set. Pretty much killed the momentum and the downhill slide followed soon after.
5. Mariners take 2 of 3 from Red Sox at Safeco Field on Aug. 12-14: As with the Indians series just-completed, the Red Sox came to town with plenty to play for. The Mariners led in all three games, losing the opener but then hanging on the final two times in some of the more exciting ball we’ve seen played all year. The pressure was more or less off the team by that point as far as meaningful games go, but this was still fun to watch, coming off a tough road trip to Anaheim and Texas in which the M’s played hard but kept finding ways to lose.
There were other well-played series this year, to be sure. But all those poundings of the Oakland A’s didn’t have quite the same feel. The M’s also won a series at Fenway Park right after the April sweep in Detroit, but seemed to be running out of offensive gas at the time and didn’t pick it up again until later in May.
Nice to see two of the best series coming in August. The M’s have played .500 ball since the 17-game losing streak ended four weeks ago yesterday. They’ll have to keep playing it if they want to avoid 90 losses.

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