PHILADELPHIA — Maybe it’s the easygoing personality where he never seems to be in a hurry about anything. It could be the mischievous grin/smile that leaves his face only once in a while and never for extended periods of time. Perhaps it’s the swagger of knowing what he’s accomplished in the game.
Whatever the reason, there is a calm that surrounds Robinson Cano. It’s as if he emits a relaxing vibe that can be felt by anyone around him.
It’s not just something for the down times in the clubhouse pregame. It’s not just for light moments in the dugout. It’s constant. It’s there in the field, on defense or in the batter’s box. The moment never feels too big for him.
And that’s important to the Mariners.
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For the first time since the early 2000s, the organization finds itself in a postseason race, playing meaningful, important games in August and hopefully September. Expectations have been raised. Mistakes are magnified. And results — individual and team — have increased meaning.
It’s a new and different pressure they’re experiencing — or not.
Cano shrugs off the mention of “pressure,” saying he just has to be “himself.”
To be Cano means smiling, laughing and playing as if it’s the first week of the season while hitting .329 with 11 homers, 69 runs batted in and an .865 OPS. It’s carefree joy mixed with self-confidence.
“I was always this way,” he said. “This is how I am.”
His manager doesn’t mind.
“He goes about his business every day, and he has fun doing it,” Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon said.
Even when the games mean so much more, Cano won’t change.
“You have to play relaxed,” he said. “It’s like if you make an error, you should want the ball hit right to you again. You don’t want it in your mind that you don’t.”
Perhaps it’s easy for Cano to be so relaxed because he has been in the situation for almost every season of his big-league career with the Yankees. Under the New York spotlight with the expectations of World Series or failure, he never changed his approach. He embraced it, making sure to enjoy it.
“I love those big situations,” he said. “That’s what I like. That’s when the games really matter and when it’s really fun.”
But does it make a difference to his teammates? Does his relaxed confidence help a slew of players who have never been in this situation before?
“I never thought about it, but I hope it does,” Cano said. “That’s how I’ve always played the game. And you should play the game like that. You shouldn’t put extra pressure on yourself. You should play relaxed because it’s still a game.”
The players are feeding off it.
“It definitely helps to have a guy like that as opposed to a guy who’s maybe the exact opposite, an uptight and tense guy,” Ackley said. “That doesn’t help.”
McClendon wouldn’t get too philosophical on the concept. He’s talked often that Cano’s presence has been a calming, professional influence from the moment he first put on a Mariners uniform. If rookie starting shortstop Chris Taylor, who has all of 22 games of MLB experience, can look to his left and see Cano, who has so much expected of him, playing relaxed and free, then he should too.
“Well, it’s gotta be a positive influence,” McClendon said. “You don’t want to look at the guy next to you and see that he’s nervous. That’s not going to help.”
The concept of Cano being nervous about anything is unlikely. There is nothing about baseball that seems to make him nervous. Players respect that.
“It’s just the kind of player he is,” said Dustin Ackley as he watched Cano interact with teammates in the clubhouse. “He’s like Felix (Hernandez). He’s always having fun no matter what. I feel like all the superstars are like that. They have that same personality. Miguel Cabrera and Adrian Beltre play like that. They enjoy the game.”
Cano can provide it in a variety of ways. It might be a joke or comment to loosen up the dugout. It could be calling timeout and offering a few words of reassurance to a struggling pitcher. It’s not a big show.
“There are guys you can see it,” he said of mounting pressure. “You can tell right away. I haven’t seen it much here. But I will say something if I need to.”
It’s the consistency of his calm that helps most.
“Even though these games are intense, he reminds us to be the same people we’ve been from April till now,” Ackley said. “When you start putting that kind of pressure on yourself or worrying that we’re so close, I think that bad things can start to happen. But if you treat it like any other day or any other game, that’s key. He’s been through it. So he knows not to change or to do anything different. I think it rubs off on everyone else. Even if we are down or we had a rough stretch, to be the same guy day in and day out is huge.”
Ryan Divish: 206-464-2373 or firstname.lastname@example.org