The video above is not about the Mariners, but a Mariner once removed, Munenori Kawasaki. He hit a walk-off double Sunday that won the game for the Blue Jays. Just wanted to share a moment of baseball fun for Mariners fans, in case matters Sunday drew more grim. Instead, there was joy in Seattle too, albeit the kind that comes after averting travail, which is different than conquest.
“This was probably bigger than people will let on,” said Jason Bay, who was just as accurate with the remark as he was with his final swing. His sharp single over shortstop in the 13th inning scored Kendrys Morales, the 4-3 walk-off win over the Rangers as large in drama as it was painful in its truth for the Mariners.
The eight-game losing streak was starting to pop rivets. The Mariners during the week sent down one of their prize acquisitions, catcher Jesus Montero, brought up a rookie catcher, Jesus Sucre, and rookie infielder, Carlos Triunfel, and plotted overhauls of the starting rotation while star pitcher Felix Hernandez was sacked for a second outing in a row.
The incompetence was generating a sort of twitchiness that befalls a general manager and field manager in their final contract years. Jack Zduriencik and Eric Wedge seem to have a team pickled with Inspector Clouseaus, and the leaders are developing nervous tics in the fashion of Inspector Dreyfus.
The win offered relief, and it also betrayed a truth. In Bay, 34, and Raul Ibanez, 41 next Sunday, the Mariners acquired after-thoughts who have become primary assets because the youngsters upon which “the plan” was based continued to flail. And in Morales, 29, acquired in the off-season for pitcher Jason Vargas, they have a similar veteran hitter who knows how to calm down when the pressure is up.
Bay, Morales and Ibanez drove in all the runs and had six hits in support of starter Hisashi Iwakuma, who was again impressive after a bumpy start. Even Endy Chavez, 35, now the leadoff hitter, had two hits.
These guys have in common the ability to manage their at-bats with a plan, and a grasp on each situation and their emotions. Doesn’t always work, but it works for them more often than it does for Montero, Justin Smoak, Dustin Ackley and Michael Saunders, youngsters who are, 50 games into the season, in varying degrees of offensive despair. Which is part of the reason the Mariners are at 21-29, no better than they were at this point a year ago. And that’s with the fences and the Houston Astros in, and Ichiro and Chone Figgins out.
At the MLB level, experience and wisdom count for a lot more than they do in the NFL and NBA. It is apparent that the four youngsters mentioned are still in search of same, and looking at the at-bats of Michael Morse Sunday, he might be in the same dubious mix. Morse (hitting .244) swung at strike three in the fourth inning on a pitch that was so wide it seemed closer to the first base coach than the batter’s box.
First baseman Smoak sat out Sunday with a rib injury, unable to pad his total of eight RBIs. Second baseman Ackley’s 0-for-5 dropped his average to .205, or six points under the perennially plate-enfeebled shortstop, Brendan Ryan. Outfielder Saunders is 5-for-46 over his last 12 games and has lost the leadoff spot.
As a result, since the astonishing 12-2 win over the Yankees in New York May 15, the Mariners in the last 10 games are 2-8 and have scored 30 runs. Even a solid 1-through-5 rotation would have a hard time hanging on to .500 with that kind of support.
Ibanez was asked how long it took him in his 17-year career before the light bulb went off regarding managing the pressure of a big at-bat. He recalled a specific moment in the 2002 season when his wife was driving him to the park in Kansas City and they were listening to an interview of Hall of Famer George Brett on the car radio.
“He was talking about how, in late-game situations, he became more relaxed,” said Ibanez, whose 11th-inning solo homer off closer Joe Nathan re-tied the game after the Rangers had gone ahead in the top half, 3-2. “Ever since then, I’ve tried to do that. It doesn’t always work, but I’ve had some success with it.
“I’ve learned to try to create an internal environment that I can control, as opposed to letting the external environmental control me.”
An elegantly simple plan, But according to Ibanez, he didn’t get a grip on it until he was around 30.
By that reckoning, it’s way early to give up on the Mariners’ young hitters. The problem is the Mariners have finished last seven of the past nine years, many fans have quit, the current failures are eating up franchise assets in the rotation and bullpen and potentially forcing young players into MLB action before they are ready. Then, as mentioned, there is the matter of Zduriencik and Wedge being in their contract years.
So many previous personnel failures have shortened the leash on the current players to the point where they are not only not reaching their potential, they can’t even match what they did earlier. The Mariners had to take chances on one-year patches such as Bay, Ibanez and Morse to keep things barely on the rails. This is called dysfunctional.
The Mariners shouldn’t be relying on the old guys. Then again, they shouldn’t be relying on bobbleheads, dancing groundskeepers, beard hats, video hydros and live TV shots of fans making faces and dancing rally jigs.
They could have left all that entertainment to Kawasaki. And at .228 for the Jays, he’s outhitting Ackley, Ryan and Saunders.