For a team having its best season in 15 years, with a record (65-50) every fan would have been thrilled with at season’s start, the Mariners are beset with a trudge through a compost pile of unusual size and odor. Worse, it has been of their own creation.
As if ending a playoff drought of 16 seasons wasn’t sufficiently difficult.
The 11-7 loss in Texas Wednesday (box) would have been worse than the 11-4 defeat Tuesday, except Tuesday contained the latest and most gruesome chapter of the rolling debacle that is Felix Hernandez.
Sending out the one-time franchise superstar for the fifth and sixth innings when he had nothing, leading to a career-worst 11 runs surrendered, was perhaps the most wretched single-game episode for a star athlete in my time writing about Seattle sports.
His agonizing public fade follows the magnum foolishness from Robinson Cano that caused his 80-game suspension for use of a masking agent that violated MLB’s PED policy. That was preceded by the awkwardness with Ichiro, who was forced upon the Mariners roster at the request of minority owner Nintendo despite the fact that he could no longer play at a major league level.
Beyond the player-personnel fiascoes, ownership and management contributed its share of tumult when the Seattle Times disclosed episodes of sexual harassment in the front office earlier in the decade that resulted in settlements with victims. The perps included club president Kevin Mather, who issued a statement of apology but has not otherwise explained himself nor acknowledged any sanctions.
At nearly the same time, ownership went to King County with a request for more than $180 million over 20 years to help with capital projects at Safeco Field.
Regardless of the terms of the lease, the ask for revenues from a hotel/motel tax comes at a time when homelessness in Seattle has become a nearly unsolvable crisis. The controversy puts politicians who support the request in the crosshairs of advocates who say private enterprise should be part of the solution instead of adding to the problem. When the Mariners need friends, they created contempt.
It’s true that every team every season has personnel dramas and off-field controversies. Good teams often find ways to overcome. As bad as the Mariners have played since their eight-game win streak ended July 3, they are only 2½ games behind Oakland for the final playoff spot.
Still, the Mariners’ baseball mess seems more acute because it consumes their three highest-profile baseball figures, all of whom are in decline, and two of which are its highest-paid.
The baseball people finally pushed Ichiro off the roster into a made-up job that saved some face and kept him in uniform. Cano’s embarrassment officially ends Tuesday when he returns to the lineup. But no one knows whether his offense has degraded, nor how he will respond to the first position change in his long career.
There is no good solution for Hernandez, unless you think hiding a guy on the disabled list is the right answer for someone who, in his last outing, pitched six innings without a health issue. His problems are emotional and psychological — he’s embarrassed and furious that he can’t adapt to his diminished physical prowess in order to postpone his professional demise.
Since realistically he can’t be traded, cut or demoted, Hernandez will have to be marginalized and ignored — after letting him twist in the wind Tuesday. It’s true that Monday the Mariners burned through seven relievers to eke out a one-run win in 12 innings. But to get caught the next night needing six innings from a franchise icon at his most vulnerable is bad personnel management.
They had to know each of his starts would require a long man ready in the pen — unless the club wanted to create a message to Hernandez as well as his teammates by embarrassing him. I choose to think the Mariners are better than that, but such speculation is inevitable in light of watching the sordidness of his final innings.
Even his good friend, the Rangers’ Adrian Beltre, after hitting a home run off him, could not work up the gumption to indulge in the tandem’s tradition of good-natured mockery.
“I couldn’t do that in that situation,” Beltre told reporters Wednesday. “We talked last night. He expected me to do it and asked me why I didn’t do it. I couldn’t do it. If it was a close game, yeah, I would do whatever. In that situation, I’m going to respect him and his teammates.”
Respect? Maybe. I’d say it’s more like Hernandez as an object of pity. For an elite, highly competitive athlete who is also a team leader, there are few more compromising positions.
After Marco Gonzales (seven runs and 12 hits in five innings) Wednesday duplicated Hernandez’s futility, and after new reliever Sam Tuivailala strained his Achilles tendon in a botched rundown, manager Scott Servais resisted raging.
“I think (steadiness) is the key,” he said post-game. “When it gets hot, fuses get shorter.”
Perhaps so. Better to stay cool when facing Astros’ ace Justin Verlander in Thursday’s start of a four-game series in Houston. Otherwise, the hot mess gets hotter and messier.