Dare to dream: The Mariners appear to be building something real, a team that will compete, a team that should be a winner.
Michael Morse dreams aloud about the Mariners. You can smirk and roll your eyes, but may we caution two things:
1. Morse, the new/old Mariners slugger, is a man now with an apt “Beast” nickname. 2. He already has five home runs, which makes him the Most Credible Mariner not named Felix Hernandez.
So Morse should get to share his dreams. And you should listen intently. It’s one of those giggly April visions.
“I think it’s a new page for the Mariners,” Morse said while sitting in the dugout 3 ½ hours before Monday night’s home opener at Safeco Field. “Going forward, we have a great team, a team they’ve been putting together for several years. We’re going to go out and start putting a finished product out there.”
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He’s a convincing Beast, especially when you look at those biceps.
“The stage is set,” Morse declared. “So the rest is up to us.”
OK, let’s be clear: It’s not a championship stage. It’s probably not even a contending stage. But the Mariners can come out in public now and offer a product that should win more than it loses. It is a product that looks good in the present while maintaining its hope for the future. And it is a product that will enjoy the heck out of playing the Houston Astros 19 times this season.
With the lowly Astros playing their doormat role to perfection, the Mariners threw a season-opening party before 42,589 guests, and it didn’t end in frustration for a change. The baseball team’s in-game performance rivaled the pregame festivities in a 3-0 victory Monday night.
The Mariners are almost worthy of being shown on their fancy new, gigantic high-definition video screen. I say almost because that thing is so stunning. But even if the Mariners didn’t have this fancy, new toy, they would be more entertaining to watch.
Monday provided a good first glimpse of a baseball team that should gradually improve over these 162 games. The Mariners returned home from a season-opening trip with a 3-4 record and a mixed bag of positive results but close losses, of improved power but an inconsistent lineup, of impressive top-of-the-rotation pitching but sketchy rest-of-the-rotation starters.
They were about what you expected them to be this early in a long season, but on this homestand, they would be well-served to show more of their virtue, for the sake of an uplifting first impression.
This was a solid start at home. Morse actually went a game without a homer, but new designated hitter Kendrys Morales, the other big bat the Mariners acquired in an offseason trade, carried the offense, along with leadoff hitter Michael Saunders. Saunders was 2 for 4 and scored two runs, both driven in by Morales, who was 2 for 3 with a walk.
It wasn’t a night for offensive fireworks, just good, fundamental baseball. Entering the game, the buzz was about the fences being moved in at Safeco Field, but the reconfigured ballpark didn’t play much different than usual, at least on this one night. So the Mariners won in a familiar way, with starter Joe Saunders pitching 6-1/3 scoreless innings and with Franklin Gutierrez and Brendan Ryan supporting him with their usual defensive wizardry.
On offense, the Mariners did just enough against Houston starter Philip Humber. Last April, Humber came to Safeco Field with the Chicago White Sox and threw a perfect game. This time, he had to settle for allowing three earned runs on five hits in six innings. The Mariners lineup isn’t Murderer’s Row, but at least it isn’t Humber’s Glory anymore.
“We’re going to give you a good ballgame,” Morse said of these Mariners.
When asked about the changes to Safeco Field, Mariners manager Eric Wedge instead focused on his team.
“I think the changes you’re going to see in our club this year are with the players themselves,” he said.
Dramatic change? Not yet.
Encouraging change? For sure.
The Mariners have something to build up on, something that is real, to borrow Wedge’s favorite word. They aren’t without their weaknesses and question marks. They’re guaranteed to frustrate you on occasion. But this should be a winning baseball team.
The stage is set. And for the rest, we’ll have to trust this developing team.
These Mariners are already more trustworthy than some of their recent squads.
Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or email@example.com. On Twitter @JerryBrewer.