Suckers that we are for a good weeper, the teensy planet of Marinerworld was pulling for Jeremy Bonderman Sunday. A state kid once a major league star coming back to the majors after two years of ailments, Bonderman was called up from AAA Tacoma and had a 1-2-3 first inning against the Twins in Minnesota. Then he was marinated in the franchise juices.
Bonderman didn’t finish five innings before he gave up seven runs. Hollywood hung up. Fairy tales don’t come true. Bill Gates forgets the source code.
Then again, what did we expect? The guy had an ERA near five in the Pacific Coast League, so what did we think would happen in the majors? He wasn’t ready. As Brandon Maurer wasn’t ready. As Dustin Ackley, Jesus Montero and Justin Smoak weren’t ready.
But even if Bonderman were ready, he’d have to have been Felix Hernandez Sunday just to get a no-decision. When the offense can’t score once, the only other option is a rainout.
The irksome part is not that Bonderman flopped; it’s that he was asked to take part. And then was given zero chance to win. Two years gone from the majors, I’m sure he was happy to be there, but his physical and mental therapists might suggest otherwise.
A day after they blew a 4-2 lead in the ninth inning, the Mariners had five hits against Twins starter Scott Diamond, packing a 5.22 ERA entering the game. Again, the only guy doing anything was Kendrys Morales, who had two singles at his old job at DH while the Mariners tried out Alex Liddi at first base.
Liddi, a third baseman, is a good kid with a good story too, being from Italy. But the Mariners are doing spring training stunts in June. While the facts say that Smoak, Mike Morse and Franklin Gutierrez are out with injuries, it is also true that if all were healthy and played Sunday, the Mariners would have lost 10-1.
The two singles did push Morales’s average up to .300, which, from the non-Ichiro perspective, turns out to be a startling number. In the long fall from the summer of 2001 — I find myself asking for additional forensic evidence to prove that season really happened — when the club had four hitters at .300 or better, do you know how many times the Mariners have had another regular position player besides Ichiro hit .300?
Three. None in the past six seasons until Morales this week.
Not saying that .300 is the definitive milestone, nor that a player can’t be a big contributor hitting .260 with some power. And it’s true that throughout baseball over the past decade, the “average average” has declined from around .270 to around .250.
But one would think that in a dozen seasons since ’01 (Ichiro .350, Bret Boone .331, Edgar Martinez .306, John Olerud .302), the Mariners would have developed a few guys to deliver consistently near a premier benchmark.
Well, there was one — Raul Ibanez. The Mariners twice ridded themselves of him.
In 2004, Ibanez hit .304. That was one of the three, after Olerud’s .300 in ’02 and before the .314 of designated hitter Jose Vidro in 2007.
Back for a third go-round, Ibanez, a 36th-round pick in the 1992 draft by Seattle who turned 41 Sunday, is nobly prevailing against the odds with nine home runs and 24 RBIs. But he’s hitting a modest .227.
During his second tenure as a Mariner, the five seasons from 2004-08, he hit a collective .292. At 36, the Mariners let him go into free agency, from where he signed with defending world champion Philadelphia and helped the Phillies get back to the World Series in 2009, where he hit .3o4 in six games.
Ibanez is the rare position player the club has helped develop who has produced at a consistently high level wherever he has been. Never a big star, but good enough that the club brought him back again, this time mostly for intangibles. But he’s also hit nine tangibles. Or two more than Smoak, Ackley and Montero combined.
Ibanez is a success story that never seems like one for the Mariners, because they never capitalized. Always there seems to be many more personnel questions than answers that continue to befuddle the franchise, not only in the eyes of fans, but within baseball. The cavalcade of personnel mistakes, drawing withering attention lately with the demotions of Montero and Ackley and the modest improvement of the injured Smoak, explains how only one American League team, Houston, is farther out of the division races than Seattle.
It is never hopeless (Kyle Seager), but never is it anticipatory. Since they can’t get free-agent hitters to come to Safeco, the Mariners must grow their own or acquire by deal, the latter the most expensive way to do business. In trading away pitchers such as Cliff Lee, Doug Fister, Michael Pineda and Brandon Morrow for close to nothing, the Mariners are forced to backfill from the retread bin with Bonderman, Kevin Millwood, Aaron Harang and Joe Saunders because the touted young pitching prospects either never come or don’t stay long.
Sometimes the backfill works, sometimes it doesn’t. After 36 years in business and four playoff appearances, you can see what wishing has wrought: A legacy of perpetual misfire.
Only four teams have fewer playoff appearances, according to baseball-reference.com’s accounting: Montreal/Washington (1), Miami (2), Tampa and Colorado (3). And the Marlins won the World Series both times.
The Yankees have been to the postseason 51 times, the Dodgers 26, the Cardinals 25. The several versions of the Athletics have accumulated 24 post-season entries, same as the New York/San Francisco Giants.
The Mariners are tied at four with general manager Jack Zduriencik’s old team, the Milwaukee Brewers. Oldsters may recall the franchise began baseball life here in 1969, as the Pilots.
The Seattle baseball legacy remains two outs and nobody on.
But if there’s any solace in company, Monday’s opponent at Safeco, the Chicago White Sox, have nine playoff appearances in 112 seasons, about once every dozen years. But at least the White Sox can hang a hat on winning the 2005 World Series.
The Mariners hat remains on the floor, where they hope that a guy two years out of the majors can pick up, the way they hope a bartender out of the game five years can close down.