BY Art Thiel 11:19PM 08/12/2015

Thiel: Mariners could have let Kuma get away

McClendon, smiling, said he would have “been gone with” Iwakuma had his No. 2 starter been traded. Somehow, the Mariners did right by doing nothing, and prospered on one glorious day.

The smile said it all. / Alan Chitlik, Sportspress Northwest

Baseball fans know that many things must go right to create a no-hitter in MLB — pitching, hitting, fielding, luck. But in Seattle, there’s an additional obstacle: The front office’s inadvertent yet relentless attempt to thwart progress.

Which is why I asked Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon what he said around the July 31 trade deadline that may have helped keep Hisashi Iwakuma in a Mariners uniform for the majestic moment Wednesday when he delivered the fifth no-hitter in club history.

McClendon is almost always politically correct, saying little that would convey dismay with his bosses. But the Safeco Field afternoon was so joyous that he couldn’t help himself.

“I don’t really talk about what the general manager and I talk about as far as trades or who’s gonna stay or who’s gonna go,” he said. “That’s just something that you don’t talk about publicly.”

He paused, then smiled, in way that is best described as impish, except no one would say that about guy who makes sharks turn around.

“I can tell you this,” he said. “I would have been gone with (Iwakuma). How’s that?”

Bravo, Lloyd.

Whether he actually threw himself over Iwakuma’s body likely will never be known publicly. But from what I know of McClendon, the idea of finishing out the last two months of the season with a rotation nearly as crippled as the bullpen was repugnant.

It’s one thing to give up your most reliable reliever, Mark Lowe, because there’s a decent chance to backfill from trades or the farm. But patching the hole left by a No. 2 starter? No way. As it is now, McClendon is forced to stretch out a reliever, Vidal Nuno, for the traded No. 5 starter J.A. Happ.

The Mariners could not replace Iwakuma from available resources. McClendon would have been right to walk out the door with the same fury that escorted his predecessor, Eric Wedge, who left scorch marks all over GM Jack Zduriencik, then-president Chuck Armstrong and CEO Howard Lincoln for their stewardship of the franchise.

But Iwakuma, despite his pending free agency at 34, was kept. And lo and behold, the Mariners have won eight of the past 12.

“If you look at this club since the All-Star break, we’re playing real good baseball,” McClendon said. “Probably should have won three out of four in Minnesota. Took the series in Colorado and we won our last three series in a row. So we’re starting to pick it up. This type of game only helps.”

In fact, the Mariners are 13-13 since the break, which contradicts McClendon’s claim of “real good.” But he was giddy, so some slack is cut. And they won another series against a good team.

I’m not suggesting a playoff run is underway. But I will suggest that while management may have thrown in the towel with the trade deadline moves, McClendon and his players have not.

I’d like to immerse readers in a detailed account of the drama, because a no-hit bid is like nothing else in a single game in sports. The tension draws out slowly, nine men against one, each out knocking down a bit of improbability and drawing viewers to the edge of their seats and screens.

In my case, its magnetism drew me across Lake Washington. Since it’s training camp for the Seahawks, which as we know is more important than water and air, I was in Renton writing about TE Luke Willson when word went around than Iwakuma was clean through six.

I hesitated; nah, he’ll tire out. The ragamuffin pen will be invited to play, and the Orioles will have an eight-run ninth. Back to Seahawks.

Then he was through the seventh. Seahawks writer Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times looked over at me. Well? His arched eyebrows said.

Gah. Gotta go. In the sportswriting dodge, this is unicorn stuff.

I grabbed my laptop, whooshed out the door and experienced a minor miracle of my own: I-405 and I-90 had no delays. A two-headed unicorn. On the radio, Rick Rizzs was so excited I could hear his tail banging against the pressbox wall.

Then the shocker: As I was approaching the Safeco garage with the bottom of the ninth about to begin, about a dozen, maybe 20 fans were hustling out of the stadium and crossing Edgar Martinez Way.

What?! How could they? These must be the bobblehead-hoarders and frat-boy drunks who slobber on women that give Mariners fandom its bad rep. Unfortunately, I left my vat of boiling oil home Wednesday or justice would have been served.

I parked in time to hear Rizzs joyously call the third out. The cacophony rolled out of the stadium as I began walking against a joyous tide. I missed the game, but was good with it. In the interview room post-game, they brought in C Jesus Sucre, McClendon and Iwakuma. The smiles looked so wonderfully out of place on men easily misidentified this summer as basset hounds.

“To be honest, when he first hit that ball,” Iwakuma said via translator of the final out, “I thought that ball was going to drop for a base hit. I was like, ‘Uh oh.’

“Right when I saw (CF Austin Jackson) showed his glove up in the air, I was like, ‘Yes!’ ”

Overcoming injury, layoff, ugly outcomes, grand disappointment and the franchise’s historic instinct for self-destruction, Iwakuma delivered a yes to a beleaguered fan base.

Better than Seahawks training camp, better than their history. Best game I’ve never seen.


  • Sonics79

    Allow me to repeat my comment on Rudman’s piece, domo arigato, Kuma-sama.

    • art thiel

      Please do. Thanks.

  • jafabian

    I was very uncertain at the suggestion to trade Kuma at the trade deadline. he’s a rare pitcher who has the control of a Jamie Moyer and the fastball of Mark Langston. (Few if any can match Randy’s fastball) I thought due to his injury history there’d be no way the M’s would get fair value for him and today illustrated that. When he’s on, and that’s more often than not, he’s a Cy Young candidate. His splitter and curveball can be nasty at times. Glad that he’s still here and hope his stay is a long one.

    • Kirkland

      More than a few national baseball writers thought Iwakuma would’ve been a solid rental for a playoff contender, and I wouldn’t have blamed the M’s if they traded him for prospects. But after today, I ain’t complainin’.

      As for the early exiters, I can only hope it was for extenuating circumstances. Wanting to beat traffic is no excuse for walking out on history.

      • jafabian

        I know! They see all those zeroes on the board and leave anyways? That’s crazy. M’s have had some awesome pitching the past few seasons. Two no-hitters, a perfecto. Not many teams can make that claim.

        • art thiel

          A few peaks, more valleys.

      • art thiel

        I almost wish I’d stopped to interview them. But I’d probably learn something about American intelligence I don’t want to know.

        • Bayview Herb

          Or lack thereof.

    • art thiel

      I get both sides of the trade debate, but unless the farm system is brimming with rotation candidates, giving up on a veteran No. 2 pitcher is high risk, even at 34. As it is now, they can’t replace Happ, the No. 5.

      • Rj Smith

        JA Happless was awful with his 4 inning, 90 pitch, 3 run, bullpen murdering starts. He has performed that act in Pittsburgh now & good riddance. So how is he difficult to replace? Stretching out Nuno has been better than Happless, at least he has a built-in reason for not lasting 5 innings.

        • art thiel

          But imagine if Nuno stayed in the job he was hired for. Guaipe is the best reliever in the system, and he’s mediocre. The Mariners can’t afford to trade away Happ or Iwakuma because there’s little behind them.

          • Rj Smith

            So what’s your take on what the M’s should do with the precious Princess Felix this offseason?

  • dingle

    I’m just disappointed I didn’t know this was going on until it was over. I would have tuned into MLB gameday audio. Dangit.

    And Art, while I’ve enjoyed quite a few of your turns of phrase, the images of a two-headed unicorn and Rick Rizzs as Golden Lab might be two of my all-time favorites.

    • eddaqezes

      work at home $509.96./day




    • art thiel

      Such an astute reader, dingle. Thanks.

  • Lodowick

    Great essay, Art. Regarding favorite Art Thiel lines, this one’s near the top….

    “each out knocking down a bit of improbability”

    Glad Kuma got it. What a smile, eh? Unfortunately, I was pulled away from the game at the top of the ninth for a contract meeting and didn’t see Seager’s catch or the conclusion. There may be an issue resigning him if he finishes strong and gets his ERA below 3.50. A number of clubs will be interested despite the recent record of injury.

    • art thiel

      I wonder whether Kuma might be among those whose comfort in Seattle outweighs the highest market offer. It’s hard to know him since he won’t answer in English.

      MLB has no salary cap, and the Mariners are making large profit, so money shouldn’t be an issue, only the mileage on a 35-year-old arm that was worked hard in his youth in Japan.

  • Effzee

    Lloyd saying he would have been gone with him indicates that trading him was an idea that JZ had. I guess its nice that the GM listened to the coach on the field for once.

    • dingle

      More likely, Z wasn’t getting as much for Iwakuma as he (or his bosses) wanted, and so no trade happened.

      Z listens to his bosses and, I’m guessing, the voices in his head.

      • art thiel

        He needed a high return to justify the deal, and no GM wants to get out-smarted by JZ.

        • just passing thru

          still waiting on that event…

    • art thiel

      I’m sure there’s more to the story, and everyone’s version will change to suit their CYA angle after the no-no.

  • guybert

    Art, you’re a great writer. Thanks for sharing this.

    • art thiel

      Thanks, guy. No-hitters are always great stories.

  • Bayview Herb

    This is my third non-no. I saw two in Dodger Stadium years ago. One was pitched by Koufax, the other by Bo Belinski of the Angels, who played two years in Chavez Ravine while erecting their own stadium in Anaheim. Belinski started dating starlets and was never heard from again. Koufax went on to pitch 3 more no-no’s.

    I watched the whole game yesterday, but until the announcers broke the jinx rule and blatantly named it, I didn’t realize it. Until the end of the 6th inning, I think everyone figured the same as Thiel. The bull pen will blow it. Then the pitch count got high. No way was McLendon going to take Kuma out unless he fell completely apart, which he didn’t. He just dug in and gutted out the last inning. I certainly hope the team is able o sign him for at least 3 more years with enough income for him and his family to have a wonderful retirement.

    • art thiel

      Herb, you don’t believe in jinxes do you? Vin Scully calls the no-hitter as soon as it’s relevant.

      • Bayview Herb

        Well, as old as I am it is possible that this is an old custom that is not relevant any more. As to Vin Scully, I haven’t had the pleasure of hearing that smooth talking guy since about 1973. Incidentally, I saw where it was 800 to 1 odds that a fan would not ever attend a game in which a no-no was pitched. I don’t know what the odds were for two, which I was present for. Bo Belinski Angels during the two years the Angels shared Dodger Stadium and one of the four that Koufax pitched. I beat the odds on Koufax, since I attended almost all of the home games that he pitched. Back then, a Loge (2nd level) box seat cost $4.50, but then Koufax and Drysdale were only making $50,000 each back then.

  • Trygvesture

    Nice peice, Art. It’s so difficult to call bull-headed incompetence by any other name that doesn’t tear the intent and focus away from rest of the story, but you sorted through the universe of words and nailed it:

    “The front office’s inadvertent yet relentless attempt to thwart progress.”

    It was a joyful piece. Thanks.

    • art thiel

      Thanks. It’s important to appreciate a rose atop the slag heap.