BY John Hickey 01:52PM 04/13/2011

Olivo shows the edge of Mariner toughness

Catcher kept tying run from scoring on a remarkable play

Catcher Miguel Olivo got some MVP votes from Seattle teammates after taking a stand at the plate Tuesday. / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

It’s hard for a baseball enthusiast not to love box scores. They break a game down into its separate components the way football and basketball stats never can.

Given a good look at a box score, it’s a Rosetta Stone for what happened. Work at it, and you can decipher a game played last week or last century.

There are exceptions, however, and the box from Tuesday night’s Seattle-Toronto game was one of them.

Seattle catcher Miguel Olivo went 0-for-4, struck out twice and, while trying to deliver a sacrifice fly, instead hit into a right fielder-to-catcher double play. He tried to throw out Corey Patterson of the Blue Jays on a steal attempt, and instead threw the ball away, allowing the tying run to get to third base.

Yet Wednesday morning Mariner pitching coach Carl Willis and backup catcher Chris Gimenez both went on record as saying Olivo was the MVP of the 3-2 win.

That may be a bit of s stretch given the strong pitching of Michael Pineda and the two-run homer hit by Ryan Langerhans that made the whole thing possible, but they do have a point.

Olivo made a major statement on behalf of all the Mariners just moments after his throwing error. The Blue Jays already had rallied from a 3-0 deficit to close the game to within a run and had Patterson, one of their fastest runners, at third base with one out.

Jose Bautista, he of the 50-homer club last year, took a huge swing at a pitch from Seattle reliever Chris Ray and didn’t hit the ball like he wanted. Even so, his foul popup down the first base line was going to be a tough catch for the first baseman, Justin Smoak. Ichiro Suzuki, playing right field, and second baseman Jack Wilson, both had good views, but neither had a play. Smoak caught the ball on the run over his shoulder, stopped to plant, then threw a one-hop strike to the plate.

Olivo caught the ball and put the tag on Patterson. It was the last chance the Blue Jays had, and Patterson was out – so much so that he didn’t even bother to slide. He backed off in the last couple of strides to avoid what would have been a nasty collision.

Simply put, the Blue Jays backed down.

“That was the greatest play I ever saw,’’ Gimenez said without a trace of self consciousness. “It could have been (Baltimore Ravens’ 12-time Pro Bowl linebacker) Ray Lewis and he wasn’t going to score.

“Miggy really dug in there. He wasn’t going to let that runner score, no matter what. I was proud of him. That’s my guy.’’

The Mariners have gone a long time without much of a tough-guy image. But it’s something that manager Eric Wedge, who has a bust of John Wayne in his office, wants to cultivate. And Wedge, himself a former catcher, is taken by Olivo’s play in ways he can barely articulate.

Asked if he appreciated what Olivo did, Wedge said “appreciate is an understatement.’’

“You’ve got to be in it to win it,’’ Wedge said. “Miggy’s tough on top of tough.’’

The Mariners need some toughness, truth be told, and have for a while.

Patterson’s slowing in his last two strides to avoid a full-scale collision with Olivo is a suggestion they are getting there.

On top of that, Olivo wasn’t the only one to open eyes on that play. One of the reasons that third base coach Brian Butterfield sent the fleet Patterson on the play was his believe that Smoak didn’t have the right stuff to make that kind of play, catching the ball over-the-shoulder, coming to a quick halt, then stopping, planting and getting off a strike toward the plate.

“Smoak just went up several levels (defensively) with me,’’ Butterfield said. “I felt it would take him a few steps to slow down, and I still feel it was the right play at that point in the game. He just made a great play.’’

The Mariners may be 4-7 coming into Wednesday’s series finale against Toronto, but they are getting the kind of respect they never got last year.

That’s a good first step.

Twitter: @JHickey3


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