Soccer has become the predominant pro-sports draw in the region this spring, with the Seattle Sounders FC franchise luring nearly 5,000 more fans per event to the sports district than the neighboring Seattle Mariners are drawing. Yet, the M’s, even given the down economy, are holding their own at the ticket office, averaging 25,534 through 20 home dates. This compares with 25,829 last year.
The M’s would seem to have one distinct advantage over their spring-sport siblings: paying customers never have to be concerned about games ending in ties. Win or, more likely, lose, Seattle baseball fans never need worry about going home contemplating the futility of a knotted score.
As for soccer, the Sounders are 4-2-3 (wins-losses-ties) going into a Saturday match in Colorado. It could be much worse. The Los Angeles major-league soccer franchise is 1-1-7, leaving one to wonder what would happen if, during some future year, every regular-season M.L.S. contest ended in a tie. Playoff possibilities would seem to be infinite.
The Mariners obviously can’t match the Sounders for inconclusive finishes. But the baseball club seems to be emulating soccer as far as one-run margins go. Through their first 41 games the M’s either won (10 times) or lost (8) by a single run. The most recent soccer-like outcome occurred Wednesday (May 20), when the M’s put up a single tally in the first inning and the game ended 1-0. The latter score is instructive in that scribes have joked (and only barely exaggerated) for many years about how soccer is the easiest sport to cover because, even before the match, you know the final score: 1-0.
The M’s propensity for close games is interesting as a means of analyzing how much progress (or lack thereof) the club may have made since the disaster season just past. During the 2008 campaign Seattle, after 41 games, had experienced just nine one-run outcomes, losing eight of them.
A case could be made that the M’s would be much more competitive approaching the end of May had they not squandered so many opportunities to score. But timely hitting has eluded them, and not just during one-run games. Fans have been repeatedly frustrated when the club’s alleged heavy hitters have come to the plate in no-out or one-out situations and either failed to drive in runners in scoring position or hit into double plays.
Manager Don Wakamatsu has seemed married most of the season to the notion that certain unproductive players suddenly will snap out of batting slumps and start to look like their old selves. The skipper belatedly moved thin-hitting Adrian Beltre from the clean-up spot, where the third-baseman had embarrassed everybody in the ballpark for most of the season. The problem was that Wak moved Beltre the wrong way: to the two hole instead of sixth or seventh (or ninth) in the order. Beltre’s response to the experiment: zero for four, punctuated by his patented lunges for bad pitches.
Beltre, it has been observed here, is a gifted athlete but the M’s brain trust must be beginning to wonder if he’ll ever be an offensive force again. Defense has been his specialty most of his career. Maybe the logical play, then, would be to arrange to trade him across the street to the soccer franchise, where he’d finally be in an atmosphere where scoring is secondary to keeping the other team from doing the same — and where fans seem happy to spend hours watching contests that end 1-1.
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