BY Art Thiel 06:19PM 07/03/2011

Thiel: After ump-fail, Mariners have rookie-prevail

Rookie Blake Beavan made the Mariners feel better Sunday after a ghastly 1-0 loss Saturday wasted a great game from pitcher Doug Fister.

Doug Fister - Seattle Mariners - 2010 - 2

Doug Fister is one of the game's best pitchers -- and most unrewarded. / Ben Van Houten, Mariners

A virtue of baseball is that indignity can be followed quickly by inspiration.

Eighteen hours after perhaps their freakiest loss of the season, the Mariners recovered Sunday via splendor from a rookie starting pitcher, Blake Beavan.

The only difficult part of the 3-1 win over the San Diego Padres was the fans’ collective sore neck from the whipsaw.

“Everyone’s dream is to make it in the bigs,” Beavan, a 6-foot-7, 240-pound, 22-year-old Texan, said after giving up one run and three hits in seven innings. “It was awesome.”

The stellar start — Beavan made the emergency drive from Tacoma for injured Erik Bedard — was salve for some indignities preceding it, chiefly the absence of reward for achievement.

By a new rule designed to protect the arms of starting pitchers, Felix Hernandez will be ineligible to pitch in the All-Star Game Tuesday, July 12, because he is scheduled to start the Sunday prior to the break.

No word yet whether his TV-commercial avatar, Larry Bernandez, will be named his replacement.

Also on the All-Star front, Ichiro, for the first time in his 10-year MLB career, was not elected to play. Not that he deserved it, given his worst seasonal start, but his absence is for Seattle fans a void that amplifies the decline in the franchise’s 37-year-old centerpiece.

Didn’t aging All-Stars used to get honored occasionally on body of work, like older actors? Hey, it’s only a fake game, not public office.

The biggest slap, however, was losing to the Padres 1-0 Saturday partly because of an umpiring error so goofy that Mariners manager Eric Wedge felt compelled to hold an unusual team meeting Sunday morning before the game to take responsibility for it.

“If I ask (players) to be accountable, I sure has hell have to be accountable to them,” he said.

Except his part in it was error by omission, not commission.

The gesture by Wedge was the honorable thing to do. But first, he and everyone in umpiring gear and Mariners gear, as well as some civilians in charge of tracking the game, should have made a more directed apology – to Doug Fister, who pitched a brilliant nine innings only to lose in part because the game’s only run scored due to a three-ball walk.

More than two-headed calves and five-legged dogs, three-ball walks are a rarity, mostly because MLB rules do not permit them. But this little freak escaped the gene pool and, gremlin-like, made everyone look a little foolish.

“Do we feel bad? Absolutely,” said Tom Hallion, the umpiring crew chief, to a pool reporter after the game Saturday. “We count the pitches, and it was just one of those things that gets away with you, with the scoreboard having the 3-2 count up there and then nothing being said by anybody. He thought he had the wrong count.”

“He” was umpire Phil Cuzzi, who was behind the plate and the principal miscreant, although he chose the aggravating baseball custom of letting the crew chief speak for him.

Replays showed that an at-bat in the fifth inning by Padres center fielder Cameron Maybin contained only two balls in the first six pitches. But because the scoreboard erroneously showed 3-2, Maybin took a free pass on ball three. No one said anything.

According to a Mariners employee, there was a stir among those recording the game’s video, but not among anyone in uniform. Any complaint would have to register with the umpire before the next pitch. Fister, a quick worker, delivered to the next batter in less than 20 seconds, ending the chance for correction.

A few moments later, Maybin scored the contest’s only run.

In the history of baseball injustice, single-game, that was a top-10 nominee.

Yes, Wedge and his staff probably should have caught the miscount – “we definitely have become too reliant on the scoreboard,” he said, in partial self-defense – but the matter was compounded post-game when Hallion claimed Cuzzi used a manual hand-clicker to track the pitch count, when TV replays showed he did not.

Feeble as was the umpires’ deed and defensiveness, the Mariners’ support of Fister’s pitching was equally feeble.

“To win the game,” Wedge said dryly, “we have to score a run.”

Fister has the worst run support (2.19 per game) of any MLB pitcher, which explains how he can have a 3-9 record with a 3.02 ERA.

The umpiring and the offense combined to create a new promotion – “Turn Back the Game Night.”

But in less than 24 hours, the Mariners piled up three runs, won a game, a series (2-1), finished interleague play 9-9 and found promise in another 2011 rookie.

Beavan, one of four players acquired from Texas last year in the trade for Cliff Lee and Mark Lowe, is the third pitcher in club history (Matt Young, 1983, Mark Langston, 1984) to go at least seven innings and win in his debut.

These Mariners heal quickly.

The weekend underscored a hoary baseball bromide: A single game means little — unless the playoffs are missed by one game.

That’s when it will be remembered why July 2 was circled in umpire-black.


  • Michael Kaiser

    “. . . franchise’s 37-year-old centerpiece.”
    What a damming indictment. 

  • Michael Kaiser

    “. . . franchise’s 37-year-old centerpiece.”
    What a damming indictment. 

  • Anonymous

    That was a half-hearted apology from Wedge. How could nobody on the coaching staff, no player, not even the pitcher charting the game, not caught that?

    Sure, the umpires blew it. But that’s embarrassing for Wedge, too.

  • bigyaz

    That was a half-hearted apology from Wedge. How could nobody on the coaching staff, no player, not even the pitcher charting the game, not caught that?

    Sure, the umpires blew it. But that’s embarrassing for Wedge, too.