This is one of those learning experiences en route to what the Mariners hope will be a contender somewhere down the road.
The Texas Rangers? They are already there contending. You can feel a palpable seriousness in this stadium that I have not experienced in 14 years of coming here for games. Folks who work here regularly tell me the same thing. There’s a tension in the air all around the Rangers. They just invested $112 million in Yu Darvish and took payroll up to the $120 million range and after two near misses in the World Series, they feel a real pressure to win it all this year.
That’s why, when you have a team like that on the ropes, you simply cannot afford to give them an inch of escape. Teams that need to win like these Rangers do will usually take advantage. And they did.
Afterwards, Brendan Ryan was pretty much accepting culpability. He knows he flubbed the throw on the back end of that double play in the first inning that enabled the Rangers to stay alive and cut a 4-0 lead down to 4-2.
Couple that with the added runs the M’s might have tacked on with some better at-bats at the end of the first and there’s a world of difference between a six-run lead and a two-run lead in this ballpark. It might not have mattered, as poorly as Hector Noesi was pitching. But you at least have to give him the chance to find it.
Ryan said he’d made that throw “millions of times” and knew it was off the second it left his hand.
“As soon as it left my hand I was probably saying a four-letter word under my breath,” he said. “Praying that we got a pop-up on the next pitch. It just never seems to work out that way.”
Ryan added: “You can’t give anybody outs at this level, especially these guys.”
Both Ryan and Mariners manager Eric Wedge felt that he made the right decision in the third inning by coming home to try to nab Josh Hamilton rather than trying for an inning-ending 6-4-3 double play. Nelson Cruz wound up hitting a three-run homer right after that.
Wedge said he discussed the play with bench coach Robby Thompson in the dugout and both agreed Ryan made the right decision there. Ryan said the angle he would have had to throw the ball at was too tricky to attempt the double-play, so he took what he felt was the more sure out at home.
On his three-pitch strikeout against Darvish in the first inning, Ryan said he went to the plate looking for something to hit. Darvish had just walked Munenori Kawasaki to force in a run and Ryan said the last thing he wanted to do was swing at a bad pitch and ground into a double play. He wanted to at least get the ball in the air to bring a fifth run home, so he hesitated at swinging on a pretty good-looking pitch he felt was a bit low and potentially groundball-inducing.
“I’m looking for something good to hit,” he said. “The last thing I wanted to do was roll over on a pitch and it came in a little low. I liked it, but once I’d committed, I wasn’t going to swing.”
Turns out, that was the most hittable pitch he saw. Ryan said the next pitch “really took off” on him like a two-seam, sinking fastball. After that, he was badly fooled by an 0-2 slider.
“He was obviously getting behind on everybody and missing up in the zone a lot,” Ryan said. “That’s when you make him pay. That’s why it was good we put up four there. But when you get those opportunities with that many guys on base, you really want to hit that bases-clearing double. Even if it’s scratching out one more there. Bases loaded and only one out, I’ve got to get the ball in the outfield.”
Wedge wasn’t all that worried about the aggressiveness shown by Ryan or Chone Figgins — who grounded out on the first pitch to end the inning. Instead, Wedge was more miffed by Ryan not turning the double play.
“That can’t happen,” Wedge said. “We come back in the dugout, momentum’s on our side, it’s 4-0 instead of 4-2. It just shifts the momentum of the game. The complexion of the game changes early on and you’ve got to fight that much harder.”
Wedge agreed that the Mariners were probably a batter or two away from knocking Darvish out.
“We were about to that point there,” Wedge said. “Obviously, they’ve got to be careful with him.”
But Wedge has been preaching for the past season plus that he wants his players going up there with a “ready-to-hit” mentality and wasn’t going to blame anyone for not adding to the 4-0 lead.
“If you feel like you’ve got a good pitch to hit, I’ve got no problem with it,” he said. “If you don’t and you pull off, that’s a little bit of a different situation.”
In the end, Noesi kept flying open with his mechanics and missed his spots every inning but the second, when he got the Rangers 1-2-3. It was going to take a ton of offense for the Mariners to keep pace with the Rangers hitting like they were.
Once Darvish’s offense got him back in the game, you kind of got the feeling he might come away with a victory. Even before the Rangers took the lead. They are just too dangerous to give that many chances to.
Even so, Darvish didn’t celebrate when pulled in the sixth to a rousing ovation. He didn’t even tip his cap to the crowd, which caught Ichiro’s attention.
“With that standing ovation, he didn’t tip his cap and you could tell he wasn’t very happy or satisfied with his pitching,” Ichiro said, through interpreter Antony Suzuki. “That shows pride. That’s a good thing to have.”
The Mariners get another chance tomorrow. They aren’t playing two games every week anymore, so they have an opportunity to quickly erase this one from their minds.
Keep hitting like they did early tonight, better things could happen. They still have a winning record, let’s not forget, and were a batter or two away in that first inning from really getting noticed nationally tonight.