You might miss all or part of them by dozing off, but games at Safeco Field just don't get precipitated out. That's why Seattle Mariners officials were on tsunami watch this past weekend when it occurred to them that it would require such a disaster (or a plague of Elliott Bay sand fleas) to keep the team from missing home games. At end-of-day Sunday, April 15, your 2007 M's had played just eight times. Five dates back East had been snowed or rained away so convincingly that Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe (after the rapture, can we have your Humvee, Jim?) is said to be planning to use the M's plight as the best proof yet that global warming is the biggest joke since his own 2002 re-election.
It wasn't an enviable way to break open a season. But team inactivity was to be assuaged somewhat when the M's awakened Monday to find themselves at 5-3 and alone atop the underachieving American League West. This is the latest they've led a season's campaign for several years. It happens because Seattle picked off two of three against Texas during the weekend, the crowd-pleaser coming Sunday when a series of infield bleep-ups by both clubs resulted in the M's winning 14-6.
Statisticians later would claim it was a mathematical impossibility because, as one mused: "How can you have 25 unearned runs when only 20 total runs are scored?" Marilyn vos Savant is said to be looking into it.
The Sunday win may have reassured many who are skeptical about the team's 2007 playoff chances that all is not necessarily lost for another season. Horacio Ramirez, the fourth starter, pitched credibly, echoing a decent Saturday performance by the highly suspect third starter, Miguel Batista. If the M's can scratch out another W Tuesday against Minnesota, it's thought to be a certainty that they'll bring their record to 7-3, because Felix Hernandex throws Wednesday. Make that "pitches." Few who saw the Hernandez one-hit performance against Boston his last time out would ever doubt that the kid is a seasoned pitcher, capable of mixing his offerings with the skill one associates with 35-year-old vets who routinely log 20 wins a year. That he mastered the Red Sox under the most competitive of conditions was a greater achievement than a lot of no-hitters many can recall.
Other good signs could be seen Sunday. This time of year, some of us invariably get up on both hind legs and proclaim with regret that Ichiro Suzuki probably will have to be sent down to Tacoma to get his stroke back. Then he starts a Mariners first inning with a home run, gets a second hit at the end of a 13-pitch at-bat, goes four for five, and raises his batting average a hundred points. Jose Vidro, still hitting just .212, nevertheless had a break-out game, with two home runs and a single. M's skipper Mike Hargrove said after the Sunday game that he hadn't had any compunctions about leaving the struggling designated "hitter" in the three hole. Still, "you walk a fine line between being patient and being foolish," he conceded, obviously relieved that one of the team's several Joses had done something offensively productive. (Right-fielder Jose Guillen is at .185; second-sack Jose Lopez, who came within inches of snaring an eighth-inning grounder and securing a no-hitter for Hernandez, is at .231.)
Does it all mean clear skies for the rain-ravaged Mariners? It depends not just on team personnel but on whether the rest of the meager division is as beat up as it seems. As is, the injured Angels, light-hitting A's, and inexplicable Rangers (their stats are better than their record) don't exactly pose the challenges seen in other divisions. An M's mark of 75-80 (with climate change, no team may ever be able to play the full 162-game slate again), might actually be good enough to get to the post-season this year.