Baseball fans know that many things must go right to create a no-hitter in MLB — pitching, hitting, fielding, luck. But in Seattle, there’s an additional obstacle: The front office’s inadvertent yet relentless attempt to thwart progress.
Which is why I asked Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon what he said around the July 31 trade deadline that may have helped keep Hisashi Iwakuma in a Mariners uniform for the majestic moment Wednesday when he delivered the fifth no-hitter in club history.
McClendon is almost always politically correct, saying little that would convey dismay with his bosses. But the Safeco Field afternoon was so joyous that he couldn’t help himself.
“I don’t really talk about what the general manager and I talk about as far as trades or who’s gonna stay or who’s gonna go,” he said. “That’s just something that you don’t talk about publicly.”
He paused, then smiled, in way that is best described as impish, except no one would say that about guy who makes sharks turn around.
“I can tell you this,” he said. “I would have been gone with (Iwakuma). How’s that?”
Whether he actually threw himself over Iwakuma’s body likely will never be known publicly. But from what I know of McClendon, the idea of finishing out the last two months of the season with a rotation nearly as crippled as the bullpen was repugnant.
It’s one thing to give up your most reliable reliever, Mark Lowe, because there’s a decent chance to backfill from trades or the farm. But patching the hole left by a No. 2 starter? No way. As it is now, McClendon is forced to stretch out a reliever, Vidal Nuno, for the traded No. 5 starter J.A. Happ.
The Mariners could not replace Iwakuma from available resources. McClendon would have been right to walk out the door with the same fury that escorted his predecessor, Eric Wedge, who left scorch marks all over GM Jack Zduriencik, then-president Chuck Armstrong and CEO Howard Lincoln for their stewardship of the franchise.
But Iwakuma, despite his pending free agency at 34, was kept. And lo and behold, the Mariners have won eight of the past 12.
“If you look at this club since the All-Star break, we’re playing real good baseball,” McClendon said. “Probably should have won three out of four in Minnesota. Took the series in Colorado and we won our last three series in a row. So we’re starting to pick it up. This type of game only helps.”
In fact, the Mariners are 13-13 since the break, which contradicts McClendon’s claim of “real good.” But he was giddy, so some slack is cut. And they won another series against a good team.
I’m not suggesting a playoff run is underway. But I will suggest that while management may have thrown in the towel with the trade deadline moves, McClendon and his players have not.
I’d like to immerse readers in a detailed account of the drama, because a no-hit bid is like nothing else in a single game in sports. The tension draws out slowly, nine men against one, each out knocking down a bit of improbability and drawing viewers to the edge of their seats and screens.
In my case, its magnetism drew me across Lake Washington. Since it’s training camp for the Seahawks, which as we know is more important than water and air, I was in Renton writing about TE Luke Willson when word went around than Iwakuma was clean through six.
I hesitated; nah, he’ll tire out. The ragamuffin pen will be invited to play, and the Orioles will have an eight-run ninth. Back to Seahawks.
Then he was through the seventh. Seahawks writer Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times looked over at me. Well? His arched eyebrows said.
Gah. Gotta go. In the sportswriting dodge, this is unicorn stuff.
I grabbed my laptop, whooshed out the door and experienced a minor miracle of my own: I-405 and I-90 had no delays. A two-headed unicorn. On the radio, Rick Rizzs was so excited I could hear his tail banging against the pressbox wall.
Then the shocker: As I was approaching the Safeco garage with the bottom of the ninth about to begin, about a dozen, maybe 20 fans were hustling out of the stadium and crossing Edgar Martinez Way.
What?! How could they? These must be the bobblehead-hoarders and frat-boy drunks who slobber on women that give Mariners fandom its bad rep. Unfortunately, I left my vat of boiling oil home Wednesday or justice would have been served.
I parked in time to hear Rizzs joyously call the third out. The cacophony rolled out of the stadium as I began walking against a joyous tide. I missed the game, but was good with it. In the interview room post-game, they brought in C Jesus Sucre, McClendon and Iwakuma. The smiles looked so wonderfully out of place on men easily misidentified this summer as basset hounds.
“To be honest, when he first hit that ball,” Iwakuma said via translator of the final out, “I thought that ball was going to drop for a base hit. I was like, ‘Uh oh.’
“Right when I saw (CF Austin Jackson) showed his glove up in the air, I was like, ‘Yes!’ ”
Overcoming injury, layoff, ugly outcomes, grand disappointment and the franchise’s historic instinct for self-destruction, Iwakuma delivered a yes to a beleaguered fan base.
Better than Seahawks training camp, better than their history. Best game I’ve never seen.