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    Mariners: Not so far out of it

    Sure, the team has been disappointing. But they have been close, and they play in a division where nobody is that far out of last place.

    So much has been made about how disappointing the Seattle Mariners have been so far this year that it seems only fair to note what really separates the team from penitence and the pennant race:

    It's 10 runs in 46 games.

    If the M's had scored two more runs during any five of their 11 one-run losses this season, they'd be 23-23, two and a half games back of Texas in the American League West division. It's the simple difference between being 6-11 instead of 11-6 in one-run games.

    Now, perhaps, after enjoying the advantages of scoring late in a pair of home games against Detroit, the 18-28 Mariners can go on the road for three in Los Angeles starting Friday (May 28) knowing that late-inning rallies are possible, if improbable given the "offense" Seattle manager Don Wakamatsu pencils in.

    How improbable? Within 21 hours Tuesday and Wednesday, the M's not only triumphed twice but beat the Tigers despite Seattle's (by far) best hitter going 0-9. To have imagined that the M's could win one game let alone the brief series without Ichiro Suzuki on base was to believe Popeye could prevail without spinach.

    M's team officials say the recent wins are all about "bunching" runs. "Pairing" would be more accurate. About the only bunching fans have observed this season happened May 21, when the club put up banana-like clusters of seven and five in individual innings of a 15-8 win against San Diego. One can't help but think how good it would've been to beat the Padres just 9-8 and use the other six tallies to buy back three of those two-run losses.

    The M's are still proceeding with a team batting average in the .237 region, not much better than what was discussed here recently. Certain answers about offense are starting to emerge. Field boss Wakamatsu conceded this week that there's been internal chat about bouncing unproductive second-baseman Chone Figgins (.194) down from the second to the ninth spot in the line-up.

    Meanwhile, it's encouraging that Josh Wilson, who drove in the winning runs during Wednesday's matinee, is hitting better and fielding just as well as injured, erstwhile starter Jack Wilson. Using Mike Sweeney at first base has become a shrewd way of sliding his bat into the line-up. The career .298 hitter was 2-for-4 with another home-run Wednesday and is batting .309.

    Unfortunately, the difference between 18-28 and 23-23 at this point of the season seems far greater than five games either way. Yet, the campaign isn't necessarily lost at this point, because the best thing the M's have going for them is that Texas, Oakland, and L.A. aren't exactly the Twins, Rays, and Yankees. But for a run or two here and there, each of Seattle's divisional competitors themselves just as easily could be 18-28 and in last place.

    Since 1994 Senior Lecturer Mike Henderson, a veteran writer and editor for The Times, Post-Intelligencer, (Everett) Herald, Seattle Weekly and Crosscut, has been a member of the faculty of the University of Washington Department of Communication. He considers himself to be the only journalist ever to interview actor Gene Hackman inside San Quentin prison while wearing a pair of Hackman's pants. He can be reached at mikh48@hotmail.com.

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