The Seattle Mariners would leave town from the latest home stand 5-1 after the Thursday (June 25) 9-3 trouncing of the San Diego Padres secure in the knowledge that they wouldn'êt lose 10 times during the upcoming road trip. That'ês because the next three series, with the Dodgers, Yankees, and Red Sox, would only total nine scheduled games.
Despite the home-stand triumph, some in the press box prior to the Thursday matinee were saying the M'ês might call it a success if they came home July 6 3-6 from the trip; others said 1-8 might be a little optimistic. The reason: The Dodgers, Yankees, and Red Sox, as June 25 dawned, were a combined 130-84. After the San Diego tiff, the M'ês were 37-35, and not a particularly healthy 37-35. Speed guys Endy Chavez and Yuniesky Betancourt had been lost during the recent home trip, Chavez with a season-ending knee injury. Adrian Beltre is hitting his best in memory, but he has a shoulder problem that might keep most of us home from work.
But the surprisingly resilient M'ês have a few other advantages that freak mishaps such as the Chavez accident and normal physical wear and tear never seem to affect. Their best player, for example, perhaps their best ever, is having one of his stellar seasons. This was exemplified Thursday for the 29th American League career occasion, when Ichiro Suzuki led off a game with a home run, an almost arch-less shot over the right-field wall. Three hits later it was 4-0 Seattle. The game seemed basically over before many of the fans had made it to seats at Safeco Filed after negotiating the obstacle course that the Sodo-Pioneer Square area has been this year.
The M'ês, in addition to pitching that has been the envy of several teams, also have had an intangible advantage absent during their recent, dubious campaigns. Clubhouse cohesion has been evident, the epoxy applied by a pair of easy-going but competitive veterans obviously beyond their best playing years. Ken Griffey Jr. has been inordinately jocular but the King of Comedy seems to be Mike Sweeney. Many know that Sweeney is one of the most vocally religious guys in sports. He also can be, if God'ês Man at Safeco would pardon the expression, funny as hell. Such was the case in the M'ês locker room prior to Thursday'ês game. Ichiro had just pulled off a shirt to reveal what must be the world'ês only torso with zero body fat. Sweeney, observing this, said to the assembled: 'êSkinny guy here, he can'êt hit.'ê
The gag, if it needs explaining, is that Ich started the day leading both leagues in batting average and hits. His second at-bat, after fading seemingly endless pitches into the left-side seats, featured the right-fielder slicing one over third base for a double. Yes, he then left early to attempt stealing third, getting run down in a hot-box. Call it an 'êaggressive-baseball out,'ê permissible given that his club was up by four with none out. Ichiro singled his next time up, finishing the day four for five and raising his batting average to a Ty Cobb-like .369.
But more help is needed and it may be on the way. Catcher Kenji Johjima was scheduled to join the big club after a Tacoma stint testing the flexibility of a mended toe, broken in late May. Joh'ês offensive contributions have been missed, with substitute M'ês catchers mostly having been hitless. The other marquee name invariably seen on injury reports: Erik Bedard. The would-be franchise-saving lefty was eligible to come off the disabled list June 23 after resting with shoulder inflammation. Whether he comes back as an effective starter or a lesser entity will be watched with interest not just in Seattle.
Teams preening for the post-season are said to be eyeing Bedard as a possible pick-up as a temp-job property for the late-summer run-up. Then again, maybe Seattle management would decide to keep a healthy Bedard for a possible M'ês playoff run. It could happen, assuming the pessimists are wrong about the perilous bi-coastal road trip.