BY Art Thiel 07:05PM 05/16/2018

Thiel: Mariners go from appealing to appalling

Russian hackers watching the Mariners on Facebook saw something they didn’t understand: Giving the foe six outs in the ninth. Seattle fans didn’t get it either.

In his first MLB appearance of the season, Christian Bergman held Texas scoreless over seven innings. / Alan Chitlik, Sportspress Northwest, 2017 file

For Russian hackers streaming the Safeco Field game Wednesday on their favorite U.S. propaganda tool, Facebook, the Mariners countered with some clever disinformation. In the ninth inning, trailing 1-0, Seattle gave the Texas Rangers six outs instead of the standard three. As a cyber-strategy, it was brilliant — the Russians who thought they knew American baseball were totally discombobulated.

As a baseball strategy, however, it was the worst idea since Roseanne Barr’s 1990 attempt at singing the national anthem.

Choose your priority and make your value judgments.

The scoreboard was immutable, however: Rangers 5, Mariners 1, with four unearned runs in the ninth.

“Tough game today,” manager Scott Servais said. “There probably weren’t going to be a lot of runs scored, given where we were as a club physically, then a couple of mental letdowns in the ninth.

“We’re playing good baseball. We just let the ninth inning get away.”

Given the circumstances, the one-inning collapse was not a shock. The Mariners’ past several days have been disruptive, to say the least. The day game followed a night game that had 17 runs (Seattle had nine) and 11 innings, and it was also the third game in three days in three cities. Bad Midwest weather forced the Mariners into a doubleheader Saturday and into a 3 a.m. arrival in Seattle Tuesday.

Then there was the stunning loss Tuesday of team leader 2B Robinson Cano to an 80-game suspension for violating MLB’s PED policy. Publicly supportive of Cano, players, coaches and front office have to be more mad than sad over Cano’s foolishness that cut hard into the Mariners’ thin margins for making the postseason for the first time in 17 years.

No one can say precisely whether physical fatigue and/or emotional despair were primarily responsible for four misplays in the ninth. Unless, of course, one used common sense.

Cue up the Benny Hill theme:

With two outs and two on, 1B Ryon Healy dropped a grounder that should have made for the final out, loading the bases. Relief pitcher Marc Rzepczynski struck out Ronald Guzman swinging, but C David Freitas, expecting a fastball and getting a slider, whiffed on the catch. The passed ball rolled 30 feet, scoring a run.

Then Freitas foolishly threw to first when he had no chance to get Guzman, which provided enough time for a second run to score on the passed ball. Reliever Dan Altavilla came on to walk his first two batters, forcing in a run. Shin-Soo Choo sent a soft chopper to 2B Andrew Romine, who inexplicably lofted an underhand toss to first that arrived too late, scoring the fourth run.

Boos well-deserveed washed over the Mariners from the remainder of the crowd of 20,629, which served to sour a day that looked to have a potentially stirring outcome thanks to a preposterous pitching duel.

Before the game, the Mariners called up from AAA Tacoma Christian Bergman, 30, for a spot start, his first of the MLB season. Unaccountably, he was brilliant — seven shutout innings, allowing two singles, no walks and adding five strikeouts.

“Awesome,” Servais said. “Better than anyone could have expected.”

The same could be said for his unorthodox Rangers counterpart. A week shy of his 45th birthday, Bartolo Colon was even better — a scoreless 7.2 innings with four hits and no walks. Besides command of both sides of the plate and a devastating sinker, he even stopped a comebacker with his considerable abdomen, in time to throw out the runner.

“The art,” Servais said, “of pitching.”

Not to mention the art of entertainment. The Safeco crowd gave him a warm hand when he exited in the eighth.

The manager also pointed out that the hitters with the most experience against Colon, Cano and DH Nelson Cruz, didn’t play. Cruz’s right foot was struck directly by a pitch Saturday night. Although no bones were broken, he’s likely to miss a few more games.

The upshot was a missed opportunity of the kind the Mariners can ill-afford. The game was the first of 18 in a row in which they face no teams (as of Wednesday) with a winning record (Texas, Detroit, Oakland, Minnesota). Not until June 5 does Seattle face a contender (Houston).

Cano’s absence from the lineup is not impossible to overcome. But it would take something similar to what happened in 1995 when Ken Griffey Jr. missed about 80 games after breaking a bone his right hand slamming into the Kingdome’s outfield wall.

When Griffey went out in May, the Mariners were 14-12. When he returned Aug. 15, they were 51-50, thanks to journeyman help from guys such as Rich Amaral and Alex Diaz. Then the Mariners went on a run for the ages that pushed them into the playoffs.

The teams and times are different, so the parallels are inexact, especially regarding the ability of Cano to recover form at 35.

But if there’s any slack in an MLB schedule, the Mariners are upon it. A six-out ninth inning, however, is good only in cyber warfare.





  • jafabian

    I hoped in the offseason the M’s would look at bringing in Colon. Did not surprise that they didn’t but I believe this team could learn from what Chuck Knox did in ‘83 when he brought in Reggie McKenzie, Charle Young, Cullen Bryant, Harold Jackson and Blair Bush to the Seahawks: playoff tested players from winning programs willing to teach younger players what it takes to get to the next level. There’s a few but not enough, especially among the pitching staff. Occasionally I see them have that swagger, that air about them of a team confident in themselves in what they can do then I see them lay a goose egg. They’re not quite ready at this time to take the baton from the 1995 team, but it’s early.

    • art thiel

      Colon is a one-off, unlikely to be an influence any more than Fernando Rodney.

      Swagger is nice. Talent is better.

  • Alan Harrison

    I like the Sondheim quote from “Comedy Tonight,” although I’m guessing it was less intentional and more from the subconscious. As for the content, I am soooooooo tired of hearing about 1995, not because I don’t celebrate our victories, but because it’s just another reminder that this club has not been relevant in decades – perhaps, save for a few tiny moments, in its entire existence. This year might be done for – after all, while there are players to be had right now (Adam Jones?), this club has nothing left to trade away (at least, nothing that anyone would want). “Old situations/New complications/Nothing portentous or polite/Tragedy tomorrow/Comedy tonight”

    • art thiel

      I think I was channeling Zero Mostel.

      Regarding 95, I get the fatigue factor, but what would you mhave me do — erase all references, like the Soviets did in old photos of former government leaders who are out of favor?

    • art thiel

      I think I was channeling Zero Mostel.

      Regarding 95, I get the fatigue factor, but what would you mhave me do — erase all references, like the Soviets did in old photos of former government leaders who are out of favor?

  • Effzee

    I’d be in favor of giving DiPoto and Servais both 50 year extensions. They seem to know what a real baseball player is, and what it means to play baseball to win. Servais does guess wrong in pitching moves a bit too often for my taste, but I think he is by far and away the best manager we have had since Lou. I just don’t think it can get any better for a franchise like this one. Who knows if we will ever get to the WS, but these guys bring competence and hope, which are things we need to hold on to. Baseball is actually kind of fun to follow (for the first time since the trade deadline of 2001) and I am grateful to them for this.

    • art thiel

      A voice of reason amid the grumbling.

      The franchise is caught in a bad space: Too many overpaid contracts for vets, and too few remaining prospects after trades brought little in return.

  • woofer

    The six-out ninth inning presents a great opportunity not to be missed. Strike while the iron is hot. Now that the Cubs and Astros both have met with World Series success and assumed the status of annual contenders, a yawning vacancy has opened up for the claim to be America’s most enduringly hapless and chronically inept major league baseball club. The Mariners’ only serious competitors would probably be the Brewers and the Expo/Nationals franchise. And the Brewers’ claim not only can be easily dismissed but turned to our advantage: their ineptitude is the direct consequence of inheriting pure Seattle Pilots DNA, indisputable proof of the vigor of the lineage.

    The Nationals’ claim admittedly presents more of a challenge. The combined Washington and Montreal history matches and arguably exceeds Seattle’s in futility — no World Series appearances over a longer total period of time. Plus, the Nationals’ predecessor, the Senators, was no slouch either: last World Series appearance in 1933, last and only World Series win in 1924. Add to that some fairly recent and notable playoff chokes for the Nationals. Stiff competition, no doubt about it.

    Still, the six-out ninth inning coming on the heels of the lame Cano drug bust at least gives one a flicker of hope that the locals may have what it takes to prevail. Our guys have a lot of weapons. If necessary, maybe bring back Howard Lincoln and Bobby Ayala. Mario Mendoza? Bavasi? Whatever it takes. Nothing less than a city’s sports reputation is at stake.

    • art thiel

      The Sens/Nats own the futility crown.

      As I write this, the M’s are 27-19. Hate to see your fine comments spoiled.

      • woofer

        Agree that the M’s are currently playing gutsy, exciting ball. But when you are talking about a reputation of this magnitude, you have to contemplate the big picture. Red Sox, Yankees and Astros are the best teams in the league. Sox and Yanks are in the same division, so one of them gets a wild card, leaving the M’s and Angels fighting for the final playoff spot. Let’s see how all this looks in September.

  • Husky73

    I remain the 2018 Mariner Optimist, even with the Cano debacle. Servais is a good manager. Paxton is now the ace, and Felix is the #5 starter (sweating profusely and looking haggard in the dugout in the third inning). Diaz can be shaky, but also electric. Their starting nine scores runs, but strikes out far too much (Zunino!). But, they generally field capably and run the bases much better than last year. Gordon gives them speed and energy elements they did not have. I’m sticking with them. PS: For fifty years, I did not hear “miles per hour” mentioned in the broadcast. Now, it is mentioned by Mike Blowers 35 times a game. PS: I wonder if the M’s have thought about bringing Rich Walz back?

    • art thiel

      They like Blowers, and information. But you may be sensitive to TMI.

      At 27-19, they look good in the soft part of the schedule,. Is the rotation going to survive into September? It may depend on Wade LeBlanc.

      • Husky73

        Not inferring Walz to replace Blowers. I like Mike too….except for that mph thing.