The Seattle Mariners are playing so poorly in every phase of the game that it could even capture the attention of the easily distracted national political natterers. Prior to the M's 8-2 loss to the Yankees on Sunday, May 4, Tim Russert, during his Meet the Press interview with Barack Obama, seemed on the verge of demanding to know whether blame for the lousy Aprils the candidate and the baseball team had could be placed on Obama's former minister.
It would be as valid an explanation as any where the inexplicable M's are concerned. Here was once a club actually picked by certain preseason Cassandras to triumph in the American League West this year. Yet, as the broken ballclub headed back for a seven-game home stand (starting Monday, May 5, against Texas), the record was 13-19 after five straight losses. These weren't noble defeats, either. The M's opened the New York series by committing four early-inning errors, sullying a shiny mound appearance by apparent savior pitcher Erik Bedard and losing 5-1. The next day, they did the Yankees one better, the 6-1 loss causing the manager to lock team personnel in his own little Gitmo for a temper-tirade less suited to skipper John McLaren than maybe his Arizona neighbor, John McCain.
The tongue torture certainly worked – for one inning. The next afternoon, Adrian Beltre-d one over the left-field fence to give the M's a 2-0 lead in the first. Those were the visitors' last two runs of the road trip. The Yankees batted around in the third, sending the tally to an insurmountable 6-2 and tacking on two more later. During a 45-hour stretch, then, New York outscored the M's 17-4.
But it gets worse. The Seattle club sent to the mound its three best starters but left Tall Town with nothing to show for it, except the very real prospect of a long slog through September and another vicarious appreciation of the post-season: the "plasma playoffs," as Mariner partisans have come to know the spectacle since 2002.
McLaren and general manager Bill Bavasi have made it clear that they're willing to try anything, maybe even consorting with Satan (or why else were they overheard muttering "damn Yankees"?), in order to turn it around after perhaps the most frustrating of the team's 32 early springs. One isn't quite sure whether, for Bavasi, "anything" extends to, uh, replacing his McManager. Even before May Day, though, management had sent packing the hapless Brad Wilkerson, preferring Wladimir Balentien and Jeff Clement, who seemed to have outgrown Triple-A competition in Tacoma. Both newbies had promising starts before slipping to the level of other unproductive position players: Jose Vidro, Kenjo Johjima and always - always - Richie Sexson.
"We can't hit for them," a literal-minded McLaren was quoted telling reporters after the Saturday loss. (Though it's worth noting that the field boss hit a healthy .270 one season, albeit in the minors, so who knows?) After Sunday, the only solace Mad Mac could find was that the road-weary (6-12) M's were headed back for some "home cookin'." On the other hand, the club is just 7-7 at home. Moreover, the incoming Rangers have been streaking, leaving Seattle in the division cellar. Worse still, unlike candidate Obama, who could cite a narcissistic minister and an issue-ignorant press corps for his recent problems, the woeful M's only have themselves to blame.