"We will come out of this," Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu said of his team's 2-6 start. The time is now.
The park was buzzing before the game. A sellout crowd at Safeco Field was willing to forget about the Mariners’ poor start and forgive them their lack of offense.
Death Cab for Cutie warmed up the audience with a couple of baseball songs. Randy Johnson lit a fire, throwing a ceremonial strike to his former catcher Dan Wilson.
Edgar Martinez, Jay Buhner and Ken Griffey Jr. joined them for an on-the-mound reunion, reminding us of how good it once was here and offering hope that it can be that good again.
And then the game began. And the Mariners’ bats remained silent. And a hush fell over Safeco that was as profound as sorrow.
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They’re eight games into the season and the Mariners have scored a mere 21 runs. They have only 55 hits and have struck only three home runs.
They haven’t scored a run in their past 13 innings.
Like a basketball team that doesn’t move the ball, the Mariners’ offense is stagnant. Nothing is happening.
The club is hitting .212. Its on-base percentage is a tepid .287. They have won two of their first eight.
With all of this logical angst about starter Cliff Lee’s strained abdominal muscle and worry about when he will begin the year, it seems as if the Mariners really need another Lee, like Derrek, or Carlos, even more than Cliff.
The players at the top of the order, Ichiro and Chone Figgins, are hitting .250 and .207. Three of the nine starters in Monday’s 4-0 loss to Oakland are hitting below .200.
Milton Bradley, the big stick the M’s desperately need in the middle of the order, has one hit this season. Eight games into the year, it’s time for him to announce his presence.
This is a lineup that is a couple of bats short of a load; a lineup that, in the best of times, is going to rely on timely hitting and smart baserunning.
It’s a team built for small ball, but as it is put together now, there is nobody besides the emerging Franklin Gutierrez who should scare opposing pitchers.
“A lot of guys on this club right now are trying to do it all,” manager Don Wakamatsu said.
So when the Mariners face a soft-tossing right-hander like Oakland’s Justin Duchscherer, instead of following the game plan and taking his pitches to the opposite field, every Mariner is trying to win the game with one swing.
Against Oakland, the Mariners put only two runners into scoring position. The final eight M’s were retired in order.
“You look out there during the course of that ballgame,” Wakamatsu said, “and you see a lot of guys with their heads down a little bit, something we’re going to talk about (Tuesday). Something we’re going to attack and continue to work and continue to be positive.”
This isn’t as bad as it looks. Their respective histories say that Ichiro, Figgins and Bradley will hit. They will get on base. They will get the game moving.
As former Mariners manager Mike Hargrove used to say, “You have to trust the backs of their baseball cards.”
This isn’t as bad as it looks, but it isn’t good. The lack of power in this lineup is alarming. And that lack of power can pressure players into trying to be something they’re not.
Twice, Griffey had chances to light a spark Monday.
He struck out with Gutierrez on third and the M’s down 1-0 in the fourth. And he was robbed by second baseman Adam Rosales, who turned a 4-6 force play after Jose Lopez led off the seventh with a single.
The Mariners can’t win this season if Griffey hits .214 as he did last season. Nostalgia won’t win pennants.
“These guys care,” Wakamatsu said. “It’s not just a matter of going out there and winging it. These guys care a lot about it, and what you see a lot of times is guys taking it upon themselves. You see a bunch of individuals and not relying on one another.”
When they are playing well, as they did for long stretches last season, the Mariners can be as fun to watch as a fastbreaking NBA team.
They run the bases. They hit-and-run. They make plays in the field. They play the game the right way. And they win close games.
But on opening day at Safeco, with 45,876 forgiving fans waiting for something to happen, the Mariners played a joyless nine innings. Nothing happened.
The M’s dampened the fire their honored alumni Johnson, Wilson, Martinez and Buhner lit.
“We will come out of this,” Wakamatsu promised.
The time is now.
Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or email@example.com