With Felix Hernandez on the mound, a clear night, the most people Safeco Field will see in quite some time, as well as a moribund opponent, Friday night was a chance for Mariners fans to get jacked for the future.
Instead, they were hijacked to the past.
Anyone hoping not to hear “same-old, same-old” was disappointed in the Mariners’ tepid display on Opening Night against Oakland and Bartolo Colon, the new/old nemesis who stuffed a 4-0 three-hitter down their throats.
But the eternal optimist, Mariners manager Eric Wedge, again cautioned against 162-game conclusions from the home opener.
“We got in late last night,” he said, referring to the Thursday arrival from Texas that ended their two-month sojourn across deserts and oceans. “Once we settle in, we’re going to be more consistent.”
Excuse or not, the Mariners had nothing going against Colon, 38, who crushed them Tokyo March 29, and lost to them in Oakland. The A’s, on the other hand, got a little something off Hernandez — seven hits and three walks. The A’s blended three of the hits and one of the walks for two runs in the third inning, and Colon took it from there.
Wedge said Hernandez “didn’t have his best stuff,” although his fastball was up to 93 mph, about 3 mph more than his previous starts, which had been a growing concern among the radar-gun cognoscenti.
The problem Friday was not velocity, but movement. It appeared Hernandez’s trademark sinker wasn’t sinking.
Said Wedge: “It was more true than it had been.”
That would be baseball-speak for coming in wide, fat and happy for the A’s hitters.
Even though Hernandez insisted he had good command, he owned up to the fact that if “you throw a fastball in the middle of the plate, you’re going to get hurt — that’s what happens when you get behind in the count.”
In seven innings, he threw 107 pitches, 69 for strikes, and some of those strikes were long fly outs as opposed to the grounders typical in a well-pitched Hernandez game. In Oakland five days earlier, he had a similar game — 6.1 innings, 102 pitches, 64 strikes, eight hits and six runs.
The King is not yet right. But he didn’t seem particularly disturbed.
Asked if he and his team were tired from the long time from home, Hernandez smiled and offered a big of a non-sequitur.
“It was awesome — I slept in my own bed last night,” he said. “Now that we are home, we can relax and just play the games.”
In fairness, the Mariners’ schedule has been ridiculous. They came to camp early because of the Japan trip, then took eight days from spring training to play four games in Tokyo, where they were properly celebrated and pulled in multiple public-appearance directions. Unlike the A’s, who flew from Tokyo to Oakland to complete spring training, then opened the season with five home games (two against Seattle), the Mariners resumed spring training in Arizona with five more fake games before the two real ones in Oakland, followed by four in Texas against the toughest team in the American League.
The trip to Japan had value on different levels, but from a standpoint of major league competitiveness, the combination of bookings has left them temporarily debilitated. Flatly, it was unfair.
Obviously, no one at MLB is going to offer them a pity party. And the discombobulation won’t last much longer. But in the home opener, it was the worst they’ve looked.
Fans open to cutting new leadoff hitter Chone Figgins a break saw a particularly pitiful 0-for-4 — including hitting into a 6-3 double play in the eighth inning after Colon’s replacement, Brian Cook, walked the first two batters — and bobbled a ball in left field.
Behind the plate, catcher Miguel Olivo had another passed ball, an egregious gaffe in the eighth in which he failed to catch an ordinary breaking pitch that led to an unearned run.
And there was even an E-stadium.
From the first inning through the sixth, the registers at concessions stands failed to process credit cards, resulting in a total shutdown and reboot by the fifth innning before order was restored. The local Twitterverse was filled with fan complaints about long lines at the stands and ATMs.
It marked the first time in Safeco history for such a stadium-wide register blackout, as well as a first for the Mariners being unable to take money from fans volunteering to give it away.
The opening ceremonies were fun, the return of the retired Mike Cameron for the first pitch was great — nobody ever said the franchise wasn’t good at festivities — but opening night was a faceplant.
It’s hardly the worst thing. But for a team that has been sputtering for years, to start with a stop is like, well, complaining about traffic from a potential sports neighbor. Sends the wrong message.