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Listening to the Mariners talk about today’s 2-1 win and first series victory of the season — three of four from the Los Angeles Angels — it’s pretty clear they got the message that was delivered to them last week.
During an embarrassing road trip to Texas, where they went 1-5 against the Rangers and Astros, the Mariners flat-out looked like they weren’t into it for a couple of the games. You could see the emotion on the face of Michael Morse today when he hit the go-ahead home run in the eighth inning. Many suspected it was because he hadn’t gone deep since April 9 — a span of 56 plate appearances — but Morse told a different story.
“We wanted to win this series bad,’’ he said. “We’ve been fighting. It was a tough game. It was a pitcher’s game. We’re going to have a lot of these one-run games, and to come out on top like that – there’s a lot of character on this team.’’
Indeed, the Mariners were fighting in this series. They showed fight when down 5-0 early on Friday and could have won that game and swept the series with a couple of timely hits. And they showed fight as well last night when trailing 2-0 to the Angels and having again seeing runners stranded for the first five innings.
They showed more fight today after Robert Andino booted that sixth inning grounder that led to an unearned run.
And they also showed fight on the mound. The bullpen kept things close all series and didn’t allow close games to degenerate into blowups. The starters, other than Aaron Harang, also showed plenty of fight like Hisashi Iwakuma today, going six strong and fanning eight even with that blister on his finger.
In other words, more of a complete game all around. The Mariners still aren’t getting timely hits in bunches and big innings. They aren’t quite there yet. But at least they are getting runners on base at this point, while also receiving some MLB-caliber mound efforts in the process.
The biggest thing is, they aren’t just going through the motions.
“You play the whole game,’’ said Jason Bay, whose tying homer in the seventh set the stage for Morse’s late knock. “You’ve seen the last few nights when we’ve gotten down. There were times earlier on in the season when we’ve gotten down and we rolled over. And lately, we haven’t been doing that. We got big hits and it helped.’’
There’s that expression we’ve heard many times in recent years: “rolled over”.
Until the Mariners stopped doing that when the going got tough, nobody was going to believe this team has changed from previous editions. And nothing has been permanently proven in that regard, either. There is still more than five months of season to go and still plenty of time left to roll over when things start to go bad.
That rollover technique by the Mariners is what had their manager so frustrated last week. It’s what had fans downcast once the team trailed 2-0 or 3-0.
But this weekend, those deficits weren’t automatically lethal. That’s because the team kept on putting pressure on the opposing pitchers, even when they didn’t score. There weren’t a whole bunch of 1-2-3 innings, up until today when Jason Vargas looked downright unhittable at times with his changeup.
But this is where some veteran bats can help a team out.
Bay has put together some of the better at-bats by the Mariners the past week or two. Not just extending counts, but reversing them from the pitcher’s favor to his own.
He has also been looking for specific pitches to drive. Today, after getting owned by Vargas and his changeup in two early strikeouts, he went to he plate with a plan.
“His change-up was really good today,’’ he said. “So, I was trying to get to a situation where I didn’t have to see the changeup. And that was, if I get a fastball early, I’m going to attack it.
“Which is the plan a lot of times. But I just got one I could handle and I didn’t miss it.’’
And that’s what good hitters are supposed to do. That’s what the Mariners want their hitters to do more of. Not just engage in long at-bats, but smart ones. Even if they last only one pitch.
Anyhow, it’s a process. And it’s far from being done. But for now, it may have bought the Mariners a couple of days to breathe.
“To clinch the series, that’s the type of thing that can get you going,’’ Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. “These guys, I like the way they’re carrying themselves right now. They’re starting to get back on track. Obviously, we still have a ways to go offensively. But you can see certain indicators with certain guys that they’re starting to head in the right direction.
“Eventually, that will collectively translate and then we’ll be on our way.’’
He’ll have to hope. But with more than five months of season to go, there’s still plenty of time for his team to decide what it wants to be.
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