Monday, April 11, 2011
Well, opening night at Safeco Field was fun for a while.
And then the game started.
Leave it to the Mariners to turn their own party into a wake. On a night deemed magnificent before the first pitch, the home team was handed a celebratory atmosphere, and like a relay runner with bad hands, it dropped that baton at the worst possible time.
Before a sellout crowd of 45,727, the Mariners looked terrible in a 12-3 loss to Cleveland. They might not play this bad for the rest of the season. At most, they should only have a handful of games in this pathetic genre throughout the year. But they had to save their worst for first, and for those who watched this team Friday night looking for a reason to get excited about a rebuilding ballclub, they'll probably banish the Mariners from their minds until, oh, 2013 or so.
Starting pitcher Jason Vargas and reliever Tom Wilhelmsen combined to allow 10 runs in the top of the fourth inning alone, and by the time that disaster ended, thousands of fans rushed out of the stadium as if being forced to evacuate. Three-and-a-half innings into a new season at a wonderful ballpark, and the joy was gone.
Even worse, that painful scene was merely the tip of a broken bat kind of day. It was weird day -- inspiring yet infuriating -- that began with a Jack Wilson controversy and ended with a Wilson mea culpa.
Everything was spectacular -- except for the baseball part. Except for the most important part.
Once again, the Mariners proved that, for all their good intentions and marketing genius, they can't avoid humiliating themselves until their on-field product becomes significantly better. And after showing signs of life with two season-opening victories, this team has fallen back into a stupor reminiscent of 2010.
The Mariners (2-5) have lost five straight games. They still can't hit, and their struggles at the plate are already affecting the confidence of certain players. You should worry the most about third baseman Chone Figgins, who is 3 of 30 (.100 batting average) and off to an even worse start than last season. The offense's problems aren't limited to Figgy, however. The Mariners have scored just 13 runs in this five-game losing streak, and two of those came in the ninth inning Friday night after the Mariners had fallen behind 12-1.
Beyond Figgins, Jack Cust isn't hitting, Brendan Ryan isn't hitting, and the center-field platoon of Ryan Langerhans and Michael Saunders isn't hitting while Franklin Gutierrez is on the disabled list. Even players who've had steady starts at the plate aren't excelling enough to carry an offense.
Meanwhile, the one Mariner who has hit the ball the best so far this season, Wilson, is on the bench presently. A natural shortstop still learning to play second base, Wilson committed two errors in an inning during Wednesday's loss to Texas and removed himself from the game. Mariners manager Eric Wedge and bench coach Robby Thompson tried to convince him to stay in the game. Wilson refused.
After Wedge tried cover for his player Wednesday by saying he removed Wilson because he was "hazy," the manager admitted the truth before Friday's game.
"It's unspeakable to me," Wedge said of Wilson's refusal to return to that game.
For what it's worth, Wilson admitted his actions were "a huge mistake" after the Mariners' loss Friday night. He was professional and accountable. But the damage has been done, and he'll have to earn Wedge's confidence anew.
Will this ultimately turn into a seminal moment in which the fiery Wedge proved he's the boss? We'll see. The Mariners seem too fragile to handle anything at this moment, including tough love.
The good news is that only a week has passed in the 2011 season, and things can change quickly.
The bad news is that only a week has passed in the 2011 season, and the Mariners already seem to be managing a crisis.
Oh well. At least they nailed the Dave Niehaus tribute.
No franchise honors its heroes with as much care and heartfelt appreciation as the Mariners do. The celebration of Niehaus was so good that the son of the deceased legendary broadcaster, Andy, said during the fifth inning, "I'm staring at a 12-0 game, and it doesn't matter. You can never doubt the heart and dedication of the Mariners organization."
I won't dispute that. This franchise cares. And it's full of good people. But, man, it stinks at baseball.
"Every team is going to have them," Langerhans said of performances like this. "You don't want to harp on it so that it lingers. You have to turn the page. But you don't want to act like it never happened and not learn from it. That's not the team we want to be."
Hope not. The team we saw Friday night could bore a librarian.
We could be dramatic and say the Mariners failed to honor Niehaus' memory with good baseball. But much of Niehaus' legend came from his special gift for making awful Mariners performances sound so entertaining.
Wonder how he would've discussed this unspeakable night.
Posted by . at 9:26 PM