Seattle Mariners postsTuesday October 20, 2015
Last week, after Joe Posnanski wrote THE BEST ARTICLE EVER about a baseball inning, he added a pretty good follow-up, “Everything's Coming Up Royals,” in which he talks about how snake-bitten the Kansas City team was in the years between George Brett and Lorenzo Cain.
But his opening graf might as well describe the current Seattle Mariners:
There is something about being a terrible team that goes beyond wins and losses and boos and jokes and all the other obvious stuff. It's hard to explain precisely, but every fan of terrible teams intuitively understands. When a team is terrible, everything goes wrong. It's like reverse mojo — let's call it “ojom.” Seemingly sound draft picks bust. Logical free-agent acquisitions turn into disasters. Promising young players get hurt. Sensible coaches and managers lose their marbles and start doing self-destructive things. Owners panic and overreact.
Change “overreact” to “underreact” and you've basically got the M's from the end of the Edgar Martinez era to now.
My friend Jim and I talked about the M's bad luck this summer. How we couldn't catch a break. How everything we touched seemed to turn to shit. Among others:
- We pick highly touted prospect Dustin Ackley with the 2nd overall pick of the 2009 draft (Mike Trout went 25th), and watch him flail for the next six years before trading him to New York.
- We trade a great rookie pitcher to New York for highly touted prospect Jesus Montero, whom everyone agrees is the real deal, and watch him flail for the next four years.
- Cliff Lee for Justin Smoak? Thank you kindly.
- We sign Chone Figgins, 32, who is a lifetime .291 hitter with a .363 OBP, and is coming off a career year. Over the next three seasons, he hits .227 and puts up a .302 OBP. His OPS goes from .751 with the Angels to .585 with us.
- We finally catch a break with Franklin Gutierrez, who seems like the real deal. Consequently he pulls hamstrings, then gets irritable bowel syndrome, then develops ankylosing spondylitis.
- We sign superstar Robinson Cano to a 10-year, $240 million contract, and in the first half of his second year he puts up some of the worst numbers in baseball; then he announces he's suffering from acid reflux.
And on and on. A lot of it is bad management but not all of it.
M's fans, what would you add?
Edgar Dreams of Hitting
David Laurila at FanGraphs recently posted an interview with Mariners batting coach Edgar Martinez, one of baseball's purest hitters, and some of his lines reminded me of what Jiro Ono, the great Japanese sushi chef, says in the 2012 documentary “Jiro Dreams of Sushi.”
A food critic in the doc, for example, sums up Jiro's philosophy thus: “Ultimate simplicity leads to purity.”
And here's Edgar Martinez on hitting:
We sometimes make it complicated, but the simpler it is—the simpler the mechanics—the better your chance of hitting a fastball. Sometimes we think too much about the mechanics. If we go to the plate thinking about our legs or our hands, we're not focusing on what we need to focus on, which is hitting the pitch.
You hear that lesson a lot: in writing, design, art, food. Now hitting. Simplify, simplify, simplify.
"Once you decide on your occupation you must immerse yourself in your work. Never complain about your job. You must dedicate your life to mastering your skill. That’s the secret of success.” --Jiro Ono.
Why the Mariners Should Read 'The Grand Salami'
The view from Lookout Landing this afternoon.
Went to the M's game this afternoon not expecting much and it looked like I was going to get it. I'd barely settled in when Felix Hernandez, the King, with his sparse court wearing yellow in left field, threw the first pitch ... and Oakland A's centerfielder Billy Burns deposited into the stands. One pitch, 1-0, A's.
It might not have happened if Felix, or someone with the M's, read The Grand Salami, the alternative fan magazine. In the “snappy comments” section for the A's lineup in the August issue, it has this to say about Billy Burns:
M's pitchers would be wise to be careful throwing a first-pitch strike to Burns, who hit .475 and slugged .763 in the first half when putting the first pitch in play.
The next batter, Mark Canha, sent one to the warning track on an 0-2 pitch, and you had to wonder if something was wrong with Felix. Before the All-Star break, his ERA was 2.84. Since? 6.26. Did he injure himself? Is he tipping pitches? Both? I got ready for the worst.
It didn't come. Felix didn't give up another hit until Billy Butler (damned Billys) singled to lead off the 5th. Felix wound up going 8 innings, and gave up 2 runs on 3 hits. Meanwhile, the M's scored 4 runs in the bottom of the 1st and the A's never got close. We would've scored more but our backup catcher, Jesus Sucre, who recently attained half-Mendoza (hitting over. 100), kept coming up with runners in scoring position. Results:
- 1st inning: bases loaded, 1 out: popped to third.
- 3rd inning: first and second, 1 out: grounded into a double play to end inning.
- 5th inning: bases loaded, 2 out: grounded out to pitcher to end inning.
- 7th inning: first and third, 1 out: grounded out to shortstop—but a run scored!
Nine runners stranded in one game, and he never got the ball out of the infield. Poor bastard. Now he's down below .100 again. Heady times while it lasted.
Still, the M's won 8-2 on a warm, sunny afternoon in late August. Not many of those left.
Iwakuma's No-No in SoDo
Missed it by that much!
In April 1993 I went to two of the three games in a series the M's played against the Boston Red Sox at the Kingdome; the third game was Chris Bosio's no-hitter. It was the second no-hitter in Mariners history after Randy Johnson's in 1990.
Last night, my friend Vinny and I went to Safeco Field for the second of a three-game series against the Baltimore Orioles. It was a nice night at the park and the M's won in 10, although Vinny and I left after 9. But from that moment to today, the Orioles never managed another hit. Last night, Fernando Rodney shut them down in the 10th, 1, 2, 3, and this afternoon Hisashi Iwakuma pitched a no-hitter, the fifth no-hitter in Mariners history. Interestingly, the last three American League no-nos were all pitched by Mariners at Safeco Field: the combined one in June 2012, Felix's perfecto in August 2012, and now Kuma.
One day, I wouldn't mind being at one of these, but for now I'm just happy.
Now if we could just get some hitting.
Two Getaway Games, 20 Years Apart
Twenty years ago on July 18th I went to an afternoon getaway game against the Detroit Tigers at the Kingdome in Seattle. It was the Mariners “Refuse to Lose” season, but of course we didn’t know that yet. Griffey, Jr. was out with his infamous wrist injury, and the team was playing .500 ball, but we still had so much promise and personality: Edgar, Jay, Tino, Randy. We had Joey Cora and Dan Wilson. Our bench guys were good: Rich Amaral, Alex Diaz, Doug Strange. We still remember their names.
In that game, the Tigers went up 5-1 in the top of the 4th, but the M’s answered with 5 in the bottom of the 4th. No big blow: single, single, single, double, popout, single, groundout, double. Tino added a 3-run homer in the 6th but the main guy I remember is Jeff Nelson. He relieved Tim Belcher in the 6th with the M’s up by only a run, and over the next three innings he faced 10 guys. He walked one, got two groundouts, and struck out seven. Seven. I was behind homeplate and could see the ball darting and dancing every which way. It was overpowering. It was magical.
Today, July 8, I went to an afternoon getaway game against the Tigers at Safeco Field and ... it was a little less magical. It was outdoors. But something about a weekday afternoon game under the sun feels a little lazy to me. Maybe I’m projecting.
The Tigers scored first in the second. With two strikes, J.D. Martinez singled. With two strikes, Nick Castellanos singled. Then a one-strike double by Jefry Marte—his first Major League hit in only his second Major League at-bat. Then a two-strike double by Iglesias. It was a theme. Every time the Tigers went two strikes on M’s pitcher J.A. Happ, I imagined them touching fingertips like Mr. Burns. Excellent.
The M’s did manage a comeback. A run here, a run there, then a two-run homer by Dustin Ackley—a no-doubt, line shot into the right field bleachers. But otherwise we couldn’t capitalize. In the 4th, we got Brad Miller on second with one out and couldn’t bring him in. In the 5th, we got Nelson Cruz on second with out one and couldn’t bring him in. In the 6th, Miller was on third with one out. Bupkis. In the 7th, Cruz, second, nada. Chris Taylor, pinch-running for Cruz in the 9th, got to that very well-worn second base with two outs and stood there as Mark Trumbo struck out swinging and the M's lost 5-4. “Today’s attendance...”
The two games are a study in contrasts. In the ’95 game, eight of our nine starters were hitting over .260, six had OBPs north of .330, while three were slugging over .500—with one (Edgar) slugging over .600. And all this without the superstar, Junior, in the lineup.
Today? Only one starter was hitting above .260 (Cruz, at .300), only two had OBPs over .330 (Cruz and Seth Smith), and only one was slugging over .500 (yes, Cruz). Our starting first baseman was hitting below .200 (although he had a good day: 3-5) while our starting catcher, Jesus Sucre, was hitting below .100. To be precise, he was hitting .040. That's right. He was 1 for 25 going into the game, and damn if he nearly got a hit his first time up, but the scorer went against him. E-3. I was bummed. In a way that was the big excitement of the game for me. I should've shaken a fist at the official scorer.
The real excitement of the game belonged to the Tigers. Marte, their replacement first baseman for injured Miguel Cabrera, not only doubled but homered in his first Major League start. Imagine rooting for a team like that. With possibilities.
Maybe I'm projecting.