Playoff-like atmosphere, maybe, but not playoff-like play

The Seattle Mariners enter a crucial three-game series against the Los Angeles Angels after a mediocre road trip and signs that it's all Ichiro.
The Seattle Mariners enter a crucial three-game series against the Los Angeles Angels after a mediocre road trip and signs that it's all Ichiro.

As the Seattle Mariners settle in Aug. 27 for three at home versus the division-leading Los Angeles Angels, imagine the unthinkable: the M's without Ichiro Suzuki. Actually, don't imagine. We saw what it looks like Saturday, Aug. 25, when the M's fielded an Ich-less team, losing 5-3 at Texas for various reasons, not the least of them seemingly the absence of the only indispensable component of what could be a playoff club. Field boss John McLaren gave No. 51 a rare night off. That's fine. Everybody deserves a breather once in a while. Richie Sexson often takes them even when he's in the game. By the top of the eighth, you might say M's fans were Jonesing for Ichiro. The all-star's place in the lineup had been claimed by minor-league call-up Adam Jones, who would go hitless in four at bats, two of them strikeouts. Jones' offensive "effort" would still leave the presumed Mariner Hall of Famer of the Future at .214, tenuously ahead of Sexson (.212) in the race to avoid low batting average for the season. But Jones was batting in front of Seattle's recently torrid assortment of journeymen: Jose Vidro, Jose Guillen, and Raul Ibanez. What if Ichiro had played? The answer became apparent a few pitches into the Sunday game that again ended with Texas winning 5-3. Suzuki-san led off with yet another infield hit. But the sluggers coming up behind him failed to get Ichiro across the plate. The team languished the rest of the way, framing something of a rally in the ninth when Sexson actually hit and scored. But Yuniesky Betancourt chased bad pitches and K'ed to end the game. It was an ending as abrupt and unsatisfying as Saturday's, when Adrian Beltre had given away the lead with a pair of improbable throwing errors before grounding into a game-ending double play. The loss left the M's 4-3 for the frolic through the temperate confines of Minnesota's bubble dome and the hellish punishment of outdoor Arlington, Texas, in August. Even M's pitcher Felix Hernandez, hailing from the not-exactly-arctic environs of Venezuela, seemed to concur that the noted real-estate speculator Gen. Sheridan may have been correct about Texas versus hell. Prize righty Hernandez estimated that he squeezed three pounds of sweat out of his tee shirt after beating the Rangers Thursday, Aug. 23. Seattle won't be playing Texas during any mathematically feasible postseason scenario. The hell of it is that every contending American League team right now has pitching that could neutralize threats that might be posed by any Mariner except Ichiro, who obviously can't win games on his own. If the M's were to finish as the wild-card team (they're up two games on the Yankees as of Aug. 26) and meet Boston, Red Sox managers no doubt would welcome the chance to send out their league-leading throwers. If Seattle somehow catches and passes the Angels - that could happen by Wednesday afternoon, Aug. 29, since the M's are just two games behind L.A. - a date with, say, Cleveland could pose a similar challenge. Only eight of 15 American League teams have been eliminated from the playoffs. With 34 games left, the M's face a considerable challenge, if only from a schedule that allows them just four home shots at certifiable losers: Sept. 13-16 against Tampa Bay. They've also got seven against the Angels, five with Cleveland, a trio in New York against the Yankees, and six with Oakland. Despite the inevitable predictions of a "playoff-like atmosphere" at Safeco Field this week, the postseason remains something less than a certainty for the Mariners, who have just two days off during the stretch scheduled to end Sept. 30 at home against sudden nemesis Texas. One imagines Ichiro won't be getting days off until the M's play for the final time this year. It could be in late October. It also could be in late September.


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