Too often this season watchers of the Seattle Mariners have focused on the lack of power by Mariners hitters, and the lack of hits by right fielder Ichiro Suzuki.
But there is more to the game than that, a fact that was brought into focus Monday in a 6-3 loss to the Angels, a loss that dropped Seattle two games behind idle Texas in the American League West.
All the Mariners needed to win this game was to play crisp defense. If they had, they probably would have won. They didnt, and they absolutely lost.
“I dont want to talk any more about (winning Angels pitcher) Dan Haren, Seattle second baseman Adam Kennedy said. “We did not play good defense behind (starter Jason) Vargas tonight.
“It was that way all night. Weve been playing good defense generally, but it was definitely sloppy tonight.
The key play of the game came in the seventh inning with the Mariners holding a 3-2 lead. The Angels were trying to get close with base runner Jeff Mathis, not the swiftest of men, on third base.
With one out, Torii Hunter slapped a grounder to third. Mathis was running on contact, but third baseman Chone Figgins got the ball in plenty of time for the out at the plate. Figgins throw was on the money, and catcher Miguel Olivo had the ball. But when Mathis, also a catcher, came in hard, the ball was knocked loose.
Mathiss run tied the game. Vernon Wells, whod homered off Vargas in the third inning, followed moments later with a two-run shot that made it 5-3, and a winnable game slipped away from Seattle.
Vargas was quick to defend Olivo, saying “no one feels worse about that than Miggy, but the fact is the Mariners live in a world where one mistake is too many for a team that doesnt score many runs.
Seattle manager Eric Wedge didnt name names, but he did seem in agreement with Kennedy, who was charged with one of Seattles two errors, that sloppiness was the order of the day.
“Thats baseball, Wedge said when asked about the play at the plate. “We made a couple of mistakes that they capitalized on, but we were right in the game. (Even after the play at the plate) Jason was one pitch away from keeping it a tie game.
If there was one positive move for the Mariners Monday, it was that Ichiro, for the third consecutive game since getting a day off Friday in Detroit, had two hits. And he also stole two bases while scoring one run and setting up another.
In the first inning he singled to center, stole second and scored on Kennedys two-out double. In the fifth, Figgins doubled with one out. Ichiro surprised the Angels defense with a bunt single that got Figgins to third base and Brendan Ryans sacrifice fly got the run home that made it at the time 3-2. He stole second base against Haren in that inning, too, but wound up being stranded there.
“I think Ichiro is headed in the right direction, Wedge said of his right fielder and leadoff hitter, whose average, while still unexpectedly low, has climbed 10 points in three games to get to .262.
“He made something happen with that bunt. He had that early knock, and he was aggressive on the base paths. Youve got to be happy with that were seeing from Ichi.
With a little better defense, that might have been enough for the win.