Some day the Mariners are going to be the talk of baseball. For baseball results.
Until then, they get to be part of the sideshow. The occasional controversy, followed by ennui.
The Mariners beat the AL Central Division-leading White Sox (45-32) two of three over the weekend in Chicago. Last week at home, they swept four from the then AL East-leading Tampa Bay Rays. Seattle has won 21 of its past 31 and is in Buffalo, temp home of the Toronto Blue Jays, for three games starting Tuesday, with an 18-7 record in one-run games.
Nevertheless . . .
Which club gets to be the first dinged by the mid-season rules changes adopted by MLB to keep the game from sliding off the cliff? Of course.
Not saying there’s an anti-Mariners conspiracy. It’s just how the forces of baseball align when futility is the franchise trademark.
We could go back 43 years, but let’s stay topical and start with spring training, when Kevin Mather’s casually toxic remarks got the club president fired and subjected the franchise to national ridicule.
Sunday, the first pitcher to be busted after MLB’s recent decision to begin enforcing rules against doctoring the baseball or the pitcher, is a Mariner. Cue the snickers from national media and fans.
Reliever-turned-spot-starter Hector Santiago was ejected in the fifth inning of Sunday’s first game — he was tasked to complete Saturday’s three-inning series opener suspended by heavy rain — because the newly developed standard of an in-game search by umpires discovered a sticky substance inside his glove.
The four umpires met, discussed and ejected a nervously grinning Santiago after the end of the fifth inning. The glove was bagged and sent to the forensics unit of CSI Manfred in New York.
Where, from the perspective of Santiago and his manager, Scott Servais, they will find a glop of rosin mixed with sweat, both still legal substances in baseball.
“They can go ahead and look at it,” Servais said post-game. “There is no sticky stuff in the glove.”
Said Santiago: “Yeah, definitely. I think once they take it back and check if it’s just (going to be) sweat and rosin and we will be all right . . . I know that I didn’t use anything today. I wasn’t using anything besides rosin, which was given to us.’’
It’s possible that Servais and Santiago are lying, or stupid, or both. But I think the chances are greater that MLB needs to find a perp to justify its overdue vigilance that could have begun in spring training instead of June.
Servais contested the decision, but notably not in an animated way, especially knowing how the ejection would complicate his bullpen management on a doubleheader day without a starting pitcher. It’s almost as if he felt sorry the umpires had to make the call.
“Our guys are doing the right thing,’’ he said. “They are following the rules. The umpires are trying to do the best they can. They’re in a tough situation.”
But since the ruling now is in the hands of the cronies of Commissioner Rob Manfred, who has been excoriated for failing to punish Astros players for their roles in a cheating scandal, and seems unwilling to tell players and the public when he alters at the factory the physical characteristics of the baseball, the chances diminish for an objective rendering of Santiago’s glove.
For the Mariners (an unexpectedly prosperous 41-38), fairness is kind of a big deal right now. If Santiago is judged guilty — he claimed he didn’t know the rules prohibited rosin on the gloved hand, and you know what is said about ignorance of the law — he draws a 10-day suspension (with pay) and the the Mariners by rule are not permitted to replace him on the active or 40-man rosters.
Given that they had to use six pitchers the first game, a dramatic 3-2 triumph (box) that clinched the series following a 9-3 win Friday, then another five pitchers in a 7-5, seven-inning loss that concluded six hours in high humidity, Santiago’s availability is most helpful. The Mariners used all of their healthy relievers Sunday. On a minor league deal, Santiago, 33, entered the day with a 2.45 ERA in nine appearances over 14.2 innings.
The staff stress was magnified because scheduled starter, Marco Gonzales, was back home on paternity leave, Justin Dunn is hurt, and so are Nick Margevicius, Erik Swanson, Ljay Newsome, Casey Sadler, Andres Munoz and James Paxton.
None of that information will be part of the pending judgment. Neither should MLB’s need for a pelt to justify its we-really-mean-it-this-time argument.
Crew chief Tom Hallion, who was not on the field for the first game, seemed eager to back the conclusion of his brethren.
“He was ejected for when his glove was inspected, for having a foreign substance that was sticky on the inside palm of his glove,” he told a pool reporter. Hallion said when home plate umpire Phil Cuzzi first noticed the substance he called over other umpires and “we were all in agreement” that it warranted ejection, calling it “very noticeable . . . just obvious.”
If MLB agrees with Servais and Santiago, the umpires and Manfred are going to look silly. If it decides to save face and do the wrong thing, well, it’s just the Mariners.