BY Art Thiel 06:51PM 04/22/2012

Thiel: Mariners try to rebound, get swept

A 3-6 homestand, including little bounceback after the perfect game Saturday, has left the Mariners floundering as they go on the road against tough opponents.

Hitting .190, Brendan Ryan is pressing as hard as anyone. / Drew Sellers, Sportspress Northwest

Rare as was the perfect game by the White Sox’s Philip Humber Saturday, something unusual followed it Sunday at Safeco Field — an important game in April.

The game wasn’t significant for the standings, or the national baseball scene.

It was vital for the 25 guys in the Mariners clubhouse, and frankly for the welfare of the franchise. Humiliation from the perfect game was so disheartening for a fragile team of youngsters and relative strangers, manager Eric Wedge pre-game felt compelled to address the awkwardness at length for reporters in his office.

“The only thing I can think about is what we can take from it,” he said. “I know that (the 17-game) losing streak we had last year is going to be part of our DNA. And now, for all the doubting Thomases in the world, this is their greatest day.

“So for me, this has to be my strongest day. It doesn’t change my thought process on what I know we’re going to do.”

Wedge’s strongest day, and his thought processes, were good enough Sunday to give the Mariners a lead — for two innings. The fourth and fifth were the only innings in which the Mariners led — for the three-game series against the White Sox.

Lost ‘em all — 7-4 Sunday, 4-0 Saturday, 7-3 Friday. The DNA to which Wedge referred was visible to the 19,975 in attendance, none of whom needed electron microscopes. Instead of a double helix, it’s shaped like an L.

The 2012 team has squandered some early optimism, built in part on the empty calories of wins over the Oakland A’s, and is starting to starve for momentum and enthusiasm, much the way it has been for the past decade.

“We need something,” said shortstop Brendan Ryan, who said he was awake until 2 a.m. Sunday replaying his final at-bat Saturday against Humber. “You don’t want to bury yourself. It’s easy to say that it’s the third week, but it feels like three years.”

After a 3-6 homestand preceding a trip against three teams with winning records, the Mariners, 7-10 and losers of five of their last six, are down to grasping for old bromides about it being a good time be together on the road.

They were desperate Sunday to get out from the ditch where Humber, a pitcher of surpassing ordinariness, planted them Saturday. For four innings, it looked good –  seven hits marbled with a couple of bad Chicago throws and a mediocre day from White Sox starting pitcher John Danks made for a 4-2 lead after four innings.

“I liked the way they came out,” Wedge said.  “For a young team to have such a tough day (Saturday), they came out and competed. That’s what you’re looking for.”

Then they crashed –  one single over the final five innings. As was the case against Humber, hitters began pressing. One of them was Ichiro, who already had two hits. With a runner on second and two outs in the sixth, Ichiro swung at the first pitch, hitting a pop foul easily caught along the third base line.

Wedge mentioned no names, but his reference was clear.

“I don’t mind being aggressive on the first pitch, but I want you to turn something around,” he said. “I don’t want you to push the ball the other way or foul out. If you’re going to be aggressive early, it better be your ball in your zone, and get the barrel on it.

“We’ve got to be more disciplined, better prepared.”

In more direct words, swing like a No. 3 hitter to drive in a run, not like a leadoff hitter trying to get on base.

The game’s outcome was hardly the fault of Ichiro, who made a brilliant, one-hop throw to home to cut down Kosuke Fukudome in the fourth inning for the third out. He also has the team’s highest batting average among regulars at .275.

But he’s no different that the kids in the lineup who are unable to string together quality at-bats. Nobody is hot, or even warm. This is part of what happens when nearly all the payroll goes to a handful of declining veterans and the rest to youngsters not quite ready. There are no prime-timers to carry the day.

When the offense quieted down against three Chicago relievers, Mariners starter Kevin Millwood surrendered a two-run triple in the sixth inning to Alex Rios for a 5-4 lead that was insurmountable.

Much as the perfecto was splendid for Humber and embarrassing for the Mariners, it was, as always, a one-off statistical fluke that has little long-term meaning.

More disturbing were the three losses that preceded it: The 9-8 loss to Cleveland Tuesday that included blowing an 8-1 lead; the 2-1 loss Thursday that included squandering one of the best pitching performances of Felix Hernandez’s career, and the 7-3 loss Friday to the White Sox that featured the implosion of young starting pitcher Hector Noesi.

Besides the offense — 13th in the AL entering the game — the Nos. 4 and 5 starters are now question marks, and the bullpen has had a series of misfires. It’s early, but as Ryan pointed out, it’s not too early to get buried.

The consequences of the Mariners’ DNA is visible in more than the standings.

Even though attendance is on a par with the first nine games a year ago — worst in Safeco history — the canary in the 2012 mine was Friday, when an Ichiro bobblehead promotion, normally a big night, drew 19,947. They had 20,000 to give away.

The 53 unclaimed trinkets provide a number more compelling than any sabermetric, because it measures apathy, the toughest opponent any sports franchise can have. Even free junk isn’t working.

The sell grew harder through the weekend.


YourThoughts

  • Trygvesture

    Yup. Disenfranchising the franchise fans– they are absolutely a challenge to Pittsburgh in that regard.

  • Trygvesture

    Yup. Disenfranchising the franchise fans– they are absolutely a challenge to Pittsburgh in that regard.

  • Jamo57

    I was going to make a humorous post by pointing out the Ms could help relieve port traffic by not importing so many bobbleheads, but after reading your column a more somber picture crossed my mind.
     
    That being who is the grizzled veteran with the post season cred who can call a players only, closed door meeting to help right the good ship Marniner and lay down the law?   Chone Figgins?   Miguel Olivo?  Ichiro and his translator? 
     
    I’m not sure a pitcher can do it.    Larry Bernandez?
     
    A bunch of Boy Scouts lost in the woods without a compas.

    • Trygvesture

      Absolutely right– razor sharp insight on staffing decisions. Is this a concept that should be unknown to the GM/Field Manager/ President, Ball-girl or  little leaguers there for base-path night?  The need for that grizzled veteran guy?  ”Oops– forgot to get five guys to pitch” or, “Shouldn’t we have brought in somebody who hits left handed” or ” How many balls does it take to get to walk to first base? 3?” or ” Why did Griffey quit? Was he old?”
      It’s really sad. Today Wedgie was seemingly surprised at the performance of these guys: how is that possible? The got no numbers and they got no grit and they got no been-there-when-it-matters and the got no major league capability– not yet. Of course they are terrible now. 
      Sheeesh.

  • Jamo57

    I was going to make a humorous post by pointing out the Ms could help relieve port traffic by not importing so many bobbleheads, but after reading your column a more somber picture crossed my mind.
     
    That being who is the grizzled veteran with the post season cred who can call a players only, closed door meeting to help right the good ship Marniner and lay down the law?   Chone Figgins?   Miguel Olivo?  Brendan Ryan? Ichiro and his translator? 
     
    I’m not sure a pitcher can do it.    Larry Bernandez?
     
    A bunch of Boy Scouts lost in the woods without a compas.

    • Trygvesture

      Absolutely right– razor sharp insight on staffing decisions. Is this a concept that should be unknown to the GM/Field Manager/ President, Ball-girl or  little leaguers there for base-path night?  The need for that grizzled veteran guy?  ”Oops– forgot to get five guys to pitch” or, “Shouldn’t we have brought in somebody who hits left handed” or ” How many balls does it take to get to walk to first base? 3?” or ” Why did Griffey quit? Was he old?”
      It’s really sad. Today Wedgie was seemingly surprised at the performance of these guys: how is that possible? The got no numbers and they got no grit and they got no been-there-when-it-matters and the got no major league capability– not yet. Of course they are terrible now. 
      Sheeesh.

  • jafabian

    Philip Humber will be the new Len Barker.  An average pitching career but had one shining moment.  If there’s any team you’re going to pitch pefection against, it’s the 2012 Mariners.  It wouldn’t surprise me if the team has a no-hitter thrown against them later this year.  They need to play with some fire. They could use a veteran who can keep things loose but also won’t hesitate to make players accountable.  I thought they had that with Junior but his own teammates went behind his back and told on him for dozing off in the clubhouse during a game.  (Never mind the fact that a lot of veterns occasionally do that.  Norm Charlton was legendary for it) It’s a long season.  IIRC, the players involved are still on the team.  But that’s the mindset for the club.  Do they play to win?

    The experiment that is Chone Figgins at leadoff is failing.  And I think part of Ryan’s problem is that he’s so low in the batting order.  I imagine that the M’s are hoping Figgins will at least bat .275 so they can trade him.  Maybe package League with him in return for good hitter.  At some point the M’s are going to have to consider cuttting their losses with Figgins and return Ichiro to leadoff.  Maybe have Ryan behind him and consider putting Ackley in the three hole and Carp at #4 since Smoak isn’t really protecting the 3 spot like a #4 should.  But then again, I’m not sure Ryan deserves a promotion to #2 the way he’s hitting.  No one on the team does really.

    I get why Jack Z. is building with youth.  They’re hungry and want to be in the majors.  Most veteran hitters balk at playing at Safeco Field and pitchers see how Felix Hernandez can pitch a gem and still lose.  Young players aren’t as jaded about playing for the Mariners as a veteran player would be.  But that youth has caught up with the club.

  • jafabian

    Philip Humber will be the new Len Barker.  An average pitching career but had one shining moment.  If there’s any team you’re going to pitch pefection against, it’s the 2012 Mariners.  It wouldn’t surprise me if the team has a no-hitter thrown against them later this year.  They need to play with some fire. They could use a veteran who can keep things loose but also won’t hesitate to make players accountable.  I thought they had that with Junior but his own teammates went behind his back and told on him for dozing off in the clubhouse during a game.  (Never mind the fact that a lot of veterns occasionally do that.  Norm Charlton was legendary for it) It’s a long season.  IIRC, the players involved are still on the team.  But that’s the mindset for the club.  Do they play to win?

    The experiment that is Chone Figgins at leadoff is failing.  And I think part of Ryan’s problem is that he’s so low in the batting order.  I imagine that the M’s are hoping Figgins will at least bat .275 so they can trade him.  Maybe package League with him in return for good hitter.  At some point the M’s are going to have to consider cuttting their losses with Figgins and return Ichiro to leadoff.  Maybe have Ryan behind him and consider putting Ackley in the three hole and Carp at #4 since Smoak isn’t really protecting the 3 spot like a #4 should.  But then again, I’m not sure Ryan deserves a promotion to #2 the way he’s hitting.  No one on the team does really.

    I get why Jack Z. is building with youth.  They’re hungry and want to be in the majors.  Most veteran hitters balk at playing at Safeco Field and pitchers see how Felix Hernandez can pitch a gem and still lose.  Young players aren’t as jaded about playing for the Mariners as a veteran player would be.  But that youth has caught up with the club.

  • Grover

    Friday night was funny — less than 20,000 on Ichiro Bobblehead night.

    But, Sunday was also bad.  Perfect weather. And another giveaway game — it was “Little League Day”, and the M’s gave away free backpacks to every kid 14 and younger.  And, again, they drew less than 20,000.

    Compare this weekend to last year’s first weekend with bobblehead Friday and Little League weekend games.  Last year that happened also vs the White Sox, but it was the first weekend in May.  However, the weather this past weekend was far better than that first weekend in May last year (last year it rained during the Friday and Saturday games, and the temperature at the end of both games was in the 40′s).  So, here are the attendance figures from that weekend series last year:

    Friday Ichiro Bobblehead night 2011:  31,912 
    Saturday 2011:  26,288 
    Little League Sunday 2011:  26,074 
     
    Then from this season:

    Friday Ichiro Bobblehead night 2012:  19,947
    Saturday 2012:  22,472
    Little League Sunday 2012:  19,975

    So, for the comparable weekend in 2011, the M’s drew a total of about 22,000 fewer fans this year — or about 7,000 fewer per game this year, despite unusually great weather for April, and much better weather this year than last year for those games.

    What I can’t figure out is why is ANYONE paying to go to these M’s games?

  • Grover

    Friday night was funny — less than 20,000 on Ichiro Bobblehead night.

    But, Sunday was also bad.  Perfect weather. And another giveaway game — it was “Little League Day”, and the M’s gave away free backpacks to every kid 14 and younger.  And, again, they drew less than 20,000.

    Compare this weekend to last year’s first weekend with bobblehead Friday and Little League weekend games.  Last year that happened also vs the White Sox, but it was the first weekend in May.  However, the weather this past weekend was far better than that first weekend in May last year (last year it rained during the Friday and Saturday games, and the temperature at the end of both games was in the 40′s).  So, here are the attendance figures from that weekend series last year:

    Friday Ichiro Bobblehead night 2011:  31,912 
    Saturday 2011:  26,288 
    Little League Sunday 2011:  26,074 
     
    Then from this season:

    Friday Ichiro Bobblehead night 2012:  19,947
    Saturday 2012:  22,472
    Little League Sunday 2012:  19,975

    So, for the comparable weekend in 2011, the M’s drew a total of about 22,000 fewer fans this year — or about 7,000 fewer per game this year, despite unusually great weather for April, and much better weather this year than last year for those games.

    What I can’t figure out is why is ANYONE paying to go to these M’s games?