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Zone 51: Mariners build momentum

The hometowners played their 51st game of the year, and with No. 51 leading the way, they actually performed like the general manager had envisioned.

Through 50 games, the 2010 Seattle Mariners seemed to play precisely the opposite of the way the front-office brain trust envisioned during the off-season. Such was our analysis Monday night (May 31) as we observed the distant dysfunction from cheap seats at the zenith of the stadium.

"You wouldn't want to look at any of this too closely," someone said as the M's were losing their third in a row.

Then came game 51. Perhaps it was some numerological tribute to the club's best player of the past decade. Ichiro, of course, wears that number on his jerseys. He was in typical midseason form Tuesday night, with three hits.

But this time he wasn't alone. Not only did the M's beat one of the elite teams in the American League. Their 7-1 win against Minnesota actually was a game played precisely as G.M. Jack Zduriencik and manager Don Wakamatsu imagined the '10 vintage might perform. To wit:

  • Every position player except nine-hole guy Michael Saunders contributed offensively.
  • Lead-off speedsters Ichiro and Chone Figgins actually hit in tandem twice.
  • Nominal power-hitter Jose Lopez had a line-drive home run.
  • Nary an error was committed.
  • A Mariners catcher had two hits.
  • Starting pitching got through seven innings giving up nothing but a harmless solo home-run to one of the most formidable offenses in baseball.
  • During the eighth and ninth reliable relief pitching dispatched the opponent without any drama.

Was this the Seattle Mariners or the '75 Reds?

Well, it's just one game. At the very least, though, a few roster changes are showing immediate signs of prompting improvement. One needn't look beyond the bullpen, now occupied by Sean White and Garrett Olson, promoted at long last from Tacoma. Olson and Shawn Kelley mowed down the minimum six batters the final two innings after Jason Vargas' exemplary start.

Catcher Eliezer Alfonzo, after just a pair of good games, hasn't quite eclipsed memories of Johnny Bench. But the 5-for-9 plate effort so far from the National League veteran is notable given M's managers who haven't seemed to believe catchers (or first basemen, third basemen, left-fielders, etc.) need to hit.

The M's come out today (June 2) still 11 games below .500 but only seven back in their division. They would seem to be proceeding with obvious momentum, given upcoming consecutive starts by Cliff Lee and Felix Hernandez.

More to the point: By week's end Seattle might actually be fielding a team with no player hitting below .200. Suddenly three-straight wins nearly seems to be the predictable way for the M's to launch the second 50-game span of the season.

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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