BY Art Thiel 10:51PM 04/08/2011

M’s good at celebrating, bad at baseball

12-3 embarrassment, complete with controversy, was a soul-crusher

Dave Niehaus' wife, Marilyn, readies to throw out the first pitch Friday night at Safeco Field. / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

For an outfit that lost 101 games twice in the last three seasons, the Mariners have a knack for celebration.

Imagine if they win something.

Tricked out with new stadium features and shiny trophies, weighed down with the loss of a dear friend, Safeco Field Friday night was awash in clearing skies and sentiments heartfelt and joyous.

Then the game started.

They lost to the Cleveland Indians, 12-3. The evening hit its emotional peak when Niehaus’s widow, Marilyn, unwittingly out-threw the Mariners’ staff with the ceremonial first pitch.

Dave Niehaus was missed, but he, and the 45,727 in attendance, certainly didn’t miss anything they hadn’t seen from the Mariners in recent years.

Although Niehaus might have enjoyed the strawberry crepes. They go well with white shoes.

The latest culinary addition is part of The ’Pen, a re-made part of the center field concourse that figures to be popular. The best part of the crepes stand was that fans appeared intimidated by the unfamiliar ballpark food, so there were no lines.

Then again, for a $6.50 item that included no meat or beer, fear may have been a secondary reason.

White shoes, a favored footwear of Niehaus, were worn by many fans in the sellout crowd as a way to salute the central figure of the franchise’s existence, who died in November.

A splendid fashion accessory, a gold championship ring, was not available to Niehaus, or anyone else in Seattle baseball. Nothing Friday night on the field indicated that fashion change was imminent.

Independent of the well-done opening festivities, the Mariners did something new pre-game – Opening Night player/manager/general manager controversy.

About the time a ceremony outside the stadium re-named a portion of First Avenue South to Dave Niehaus Way, new manager Eric Wedge was holding forth inside the dugout with reporters about his disdain for an action by second baseman Jack Wilson.

Part of Friday's celebration was the renaming of part of 1st Ave. S. Dave Niehaus Way. / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

“It’s unspeakable to me,” a tight-lipped Wedge offered to surprised reporters, who were lolling in the platitudes of home-opener rhetoric until Wedge woke them with his bomblet.

Wilson Wednesday made errors on back-to-back plays, allowing two unearned runs, in a loss to Texas. After the game, Wedge explained Wilson’s sudden departure from the lineup as “being a little hazy.”

But Wilson contradicted his manager in the clubhouse, saying he voluntarily took himself from the lineup because of his poor play. That had the effect of making a fibber out of Wedge, who acknowledged Friday that he had been covering for his player’s behavior.

So Wilson was replaced in the starting lineup Friday by Adam Kennedy, apparently for an undetermined time. Before the game, Wilson, who in spring training had been switched to second base for the first time in his Major League career, acknowledged he pulled himself from the lineup because he was hurting the team at second.

That might be considered a noble gesture except for the fact that he made the manager look bad and left the roster a man short for no discernible physical reason.

Meanwhile, general manager Jack Zduriencik knew nothing of Wedge’s utterances until he stopped by the dugout rail for a friendly chat with Sportspress Northwest’s John Hickey and me.

When asked about the “unspeakable” remark, Zduriencik froze. Searching for an answer for at least 10 seconds, he finally deferred, saying he hadn’t talked to Wilson. The point, of course, was not whether he talked with Wilson, but that Wedge called out a player in public – and on Opening Night, hosing considerably the the tra-la, tra-la factor.

Given Wedge’s seven-year history as manager in Cleveland, that can’t have been a surprise. Cleveland reporters in town who covered him say Wedge’s public criticisms of players were almost always calculated for impact.

If true this time, it suggests that his criticism of Wilson was a team-wide message that former manager Don Wakamatsu’s Yoda act was long gone, and Wedge someday may say that he is Luke’s father.

Which is fine, but baseball general managers during home openers are rarely fond of unpleasant surprises, apart from 12-3 losses.

After more reporters pestered him, Zduriencik checked with PR director Tim Hevly to confirm Wedge’s remarks, then returned to say he backed the manager. Then he spoke quietly to Wedge on the infield grass near the batting cage. Careful nods were exchanged, and the team went on to play the worst opener in its history.

In the tortured saga of Mariners managers, a vote of confidence in the home opener was believed to be a franchise first.

Understand, this all happened BEFORE the 12-3 defeat.

Whew.

If Friday night were a two-act play, the first act was splendid, and the second act cleared the theater before intermission.

For a lot of sorry seasons, Niehaus helped carry the enterprise. The fervent, desperate plea from fans is that the franchise stops asking him to continue.


YourThoughts

  • Lucky Infidel

    I do not mean to sound gauche, but somehow it truly is fitting that the Mariners lose 12-3 on a night highlighting Niehaus’s tenure with the Mariners. And Trophies? For what, pray tell? Oh, Wedge is just going to love the culture that is the Mariners. I give him until mid-June to pop a vein. Really. And I am sorry, but Wilson feeling comfortable pulling himself out of a game because of concern for his and others’ tender feelings is so Seattle. Can you imagine what the response to something like that would be in Boston?

  • Former M’s Fan

    Here we go again…Worst run franchise in the sport are already up to their usual tricks…

  • Dick Curtis

    Art Thiel…your take on last night’s opening game…Priceless! Always have and always will love your stuff…

  • Michael Hasslinger

    Z would be getting killed in the NY/Boston press. Seattle. Very nice people. I resemble that remark. Sad.

  • Sam Kelly

    This is going to be a very long Summer….

  • Me

    So, I guess Wilson’s bat won’t be needed then. He was great in spring training, and has been good for a hit or two most games since opening day.

    I think Wilson was too hard on himself. As long as he does not make it a habit. He’s no Milton Bradley. He needs more time to adjust to 2nd base.

    He should not have made Wedge look bad, I agree. It’s not the end of the world. Give him a break, this time.