Such is the disruption attending the Mariners season that the big moment for a big Safeco crowd (38,252) Saturday came in the third inning when it was alerted via scoreboard message than the heretofore almost invisible rookie, Brandon Bantz, was stepping up for his first major league at-bat. A warm ovation ensued, leaving Bantz momentarily paralyzed.
“That was something I wasn’t expecting,” he said, grinning. “It brought some chills to my body. I remember thinking, ‘Do I wait? Do I keep going? Do I step in? I looked at (home plate umpire Laz Diaz) and he said, ‘You’re not getting in that box until you give them a wave.’
“I said, ‘What?’ He said, ‘Yeah.’ So I said, ‘Well, OK.”
Bantz tipped his batting helmet to acknowledge the greetings. The moment was sweet. He grounded out. The fairy tale, and the game, were mostly over.
As Mariners fans cooed over a kid realizing a dream, the Yankees were the Yankees, sucking the sporting life out of a pleasant afternoon with tandem of crypt-keepers, starter Andy Pettitte, 41 next week, and closer Mariano Rivera, 43.
It was hardly fair. The Gotham demi-gods were working over kids besides Bantz, the Mariners’ fourth-string catcher behind Jesus Montero (inability, knee injury), Kelly Shoppach (fatigue) and Jesus Sucre (wrist injury forced him to the disabled list). Alex Liddi had to step in at first base in the fifth inning after back spasms forced Kendrys Morales out of the game at first, where he was the backup to Justin Smoak (disabled list).
There was another rookie in Seattle’s lineup, second baseman Nick Franklin. There also was a guy who can’t run, designated hitter Michael Morse. The old guys who were planned to be the fourth and fifth outfielders, Jason Bay and Raul Ibanez, found themselves again in the starting lineup, putting hard miles early on bodies that no longer are best used in daily service.
So there was little surprise that the Mariners managed four hits and two walks off two of the game’s best pitchers. In the traditional Mariners way of diminished expectations, the 3-1 defeat was actually almost respectable.
Hey, they managed to get the winning run to the plate with two outs in the ninth against Rivera, which was a little like plinking the webs of Spiderman. Rivera crushed Franklin in four pitches, and it was time to go to the Sounders match across the street from Safeco.
Pettitte’s fifth win of the season and 250th of his career was among his easiest. He threw only 85 pitches in 7.1 innings, setting down Mariners so fast that his counterpart, Seattle’s Joe Saunders, complained that “next thing you know, he’s got two outs and I haven’t got a chance to piss.”
That would be annoying. The Mariners had two baserunners in only three innings, scoring in the fourth on singles by Bay and Kyle Seager and a sacrifice fly by Morse, the one-legged DH. Thereafter, Pettitte retired 11 in a row, while Jayson Nix, the Yankees’ sub for shortstop Derek Jeter, drove in runs in the fifth and seventh with singles.
Pettitte “has been a great Yankee,” said manager Joe Girardi. “When you talk about the all-time greats, that’s what he’s been. He’s been a pleasure to play with and a pleasure to manage.”
Meanwhile, Mariners fans settled for admiring Bantz, 26, a 30th-round draft choice in 2009 from the sub-immortal baseball school of Dallas Baptist, who was on no one’s radar in spring training as a potential major-league candidate. But a compendium of misjudgments and ailments elevated him to the big time. The Mariners apparently are in no hurry to promote Mike Zunino, the heralded No. 1 pick a year ago who has found the move to AAA more difficult than anticipated, hitting .235.
Bantz “did a good job back there,” said Wedge. “And he got a standing ovation, which isn’t a bad start.”
A chance to rise on behalf of a Mariner achievement are slightly fewer in Seattle than New York, so the moment was seized.
“I’ll never forget that moment from the Mariner faithful,” Bantz said, beaming. “Pretty cool.”
Asked whether he received any amusing advice from teammates before his first start, Bantz said, “Because TV cameras are here, I’ll give you the PG version: ‘Don’t mess it up.'”
A fine bit of often-unheeded advice for many in Mariners employ.
NOTES — Wedge said Morales’s back “locked up” mid-game but didn’t think it was serious. He was walking around the clubhouse after the game appearing in no discomfort . . . New York RHP Michael Pineda, the former Mariner traded for Jesus Montero, began a rehab assignment in single-A Tampa Sunday. He has yet to pitch this year after after undergoing shoulder surgery 13 months ago. The Yankees hope to have him on the major league roster by the All-Star break . . . 1B Justin Smoak is eligible to come off the disabled list Thursday and is swinging a bat after straining an oblique muscle. He will probably head to Tacoma for rehab. “He took some hacks,” Wedge said. “He’s definitely in pretty good shape from the right side. We have to get the left side squared away before we activate him. He’s going to go out for a couple days, too, it’s just a matter of when.” . . . Yankees RF Ichiro had stopped his eight-game hitting streak, during which he hit .391 . . . Seager’s single extended his hitting streak to 12 games, in which he batted .367 . . . Liddi is 0-for-7 since his call-up May 29.