Geoff Baker covers the Mariners for The Seattle Times. He provides daily coverage of the team throughout spring training, and during the season.
August 1, 2007 11:33 PM
Posted by Geoff Baker
The game of the year for the Mariners was a thriller to the end, with Yuniesky Betancourt coming through in the 12th inning with a single through the left side off Justin Speier to give Seattle the 8-7 win in a three-hour, 51 minute marathon. After the game, the Mariners announced that Class AAA uber-prospect Adam Jones will be up with the team by Friday and that Jason Ellison is the odd man out.
It was an emotional win for all involved. Hear what Betancourt thought about it.
McLaren would not talk any more about the Jones call-up or what his role with the team would be. This is a very delicate situation inside the clubhouse right now. There are a number of veterans who feel the team is winning when it has to win and has been doing it as a unit all year.
But the winds of change came today when Richie Sexson was banished to the bench in-place of Ben Broussard against righty Jered Weaver. Sexson was booed again by the fans when he kept striking out or grounding out in his three at-bats after entering as a pinch-hitter. To answer the question of whether Ellison should have been used in his place -- no. The team had obviously given up on Ellison as an offensive performer well before tonight, which is why he is now leaving the team.
Sexson is still a part of the team and the M's are hoping, praying his bat will find some life. I'd still take my shot with Sexson over Ellison each and every time. The big question now is who Jones will replace in the lineup and how often. I predict he'll be eased in against the Red Sox. Remember, this is a delicate situation in the clubhouse. No one wants to see Raul Ibanez benched. Not after he came through with two hits and two runs scored in his first two at-bats tonight.
Tired of players spouting the party line, as so many of them did after the Mariners stood still at the trade deadline? Well, here's a non party-line quote from Jose Guillen, who pulled me aside tonight and told me he's absolutely "pissed off'' about the Jones promotion.
"I just hope they understand this is not Triple-A,'' he told me, in a conversation you can hear on this audio file. "This is the big leagues.''
"I guess they have something to do but this is a totally different league,'' he continued. "I understand he's a good prospect and if they think that he's ready, then hey we'll see.
"He's going to have to come here and prove that to us. Because this team has been good with what we have and I don't think that's what we need...he's a No. 1 prospect and he's going to be here sooner or later somehow, some way, but I just completely don't understand that move right there.
I don't know what they're trying to do. I hope they don't do something stupid to mess with the lineup that we have. Because I believe we have a pretty good one.''
Wow. That's some strong stuff. Anyway, nice to hear what folks really think about things. After the Mariners won, J.J. Putz kept the honesty trend going when he told me this game really was bigger than just another August meeting between two teams.
"A win's a win,'' he said. "And I think this one's bigger than a lot of the other ones.''
Why is that, J.J.?
"Being five back is a lot worse than being three back,'' he said. "I know there are two months left to play, and five games as opposed to three games may not seem like a lot, but it is.''
Indeed it is. The M's just saved themselves a mighty big headache by hanging on to win this game and staying within three of the Angels. True, they are only a half-game out in the wild-card race. But do you really want to put your chances into that thing with the Yankees now charging full-on and the Indians or Tigers still in front of you? Better to keep that as a second option. Hey, if the M's win the wild-card I'll be thrilled to cover a playoff team. But let's just say I'll like their chances better if they shoot for the AL West crown for now.
Hear Putz's take on it.
Putz went on to say a lot of other stuff to me and the other reporters. He went to great lengths to compliment his team's younger relievers, who did bend quite a bit but -- you have to admit -- never broke. My highlight of the night was seeing Sean Green battle out of that 10th inning jam with runners at the corners and only one out. The pitch of the night may have been where he got Orlando Cabrera to pop out to the catcher. How big was that? Are you kidding me? Then, he gets Vladimir Guerrero to bounce out to second, with a superb play turned in by second baseman Jose Lopez.
Those were some big at-bats for Green to get through as he gains experience. Brandon Morrow came on in the 11th and again walked the first batter he faced. You just can't do that, especially with two runners already on. That loaded the bases with one out, but Morrow then showed me something by striking out pinch hitter Nathan Haynes (though he rarely picks up a bat any more) and then, much more impressively, retiring Reggie Willits in an epic confrontation. With the count full, Willits fouled off a number of good pitches, but Morrow never gave in. He got a huge ground out to second after that and kept his team going.
Putz made sure to throw these guys their due, especially after a week in which the merits of their late-inning abilities were thrown into question as the team pursued other options via trade. If anything, the experience gained in some very high leverage situations tonight will serve this bullpen well going forward.
Felix Hernandez said he was a little sore in the ribs after his frightening collision with Ben Broussard but otherwise OK. A big game for Hernandez tonight. Eight strong innings in his team's biggest game of the year. A huge step forward for him.
To "Bill'' in the previous thread, I appreciate your enthusiasm and passion for the game. But this isn't the Bellevue Little League being played out here. This is the major leagues and I know of very few managers who would have put the tying run on base with two outs in the ninth when they have arguably the game's top closer on the mound. Just for kicks, I asked McLaren about it afterwards and he said more or less the same thing. First base wasn't open. Putz is the game's best closer. No way you walk Matthews. As I wrote before, the absolute worst that can happen is a tie game if you ptch to Matthews in that situation. If you walk him, the worst that can happen is you fall behind and lose the game.
No, Maicer Izturis is not a huge home run threat, though he did go deep just the other night. And the guy who homered off Putz in Texas last week wasn't exactly Barry Bonds either. Why risk putting yourself behind when you don't have to?
Hear McLaren's explanation right here.
As for the suicide squeeze, McLaren did note Lopez's poor numbers against Scot Shields when asking him to bunt. Lopez couldn't get his bat on the ball (probably why he has such lousy numbers against Shields in the first place, but I digress) but McLaren afterwards said he'd do it all over again.
"I'm a gambler'' he said. "I'm telling you all, you're going to see that again.''
And I will tell you all the same thing. You don't have to like what I write about the M's all the time. But it's not going to change. I am going to say things you don't want me to say about the team you love. Some of the time, it won't even be the right thing. But most of the time, it will be. Or, at least in my mind it will be. I didn't agree with Jose Guillen's view on Adam Jones. I think it's an obvious move that had to be made. But I can understand his viewpoint and I'm presenting it to you here for your analysis and thought.
And for a reality check. Baseball is a game played by human beings and this move will not be a slam-dunk smooth transition. There are politics in every aspect of life and there have been some at-play here, obviously.
Why did it take so long to make this obvious move? Here's my educated guess. A new manager comes in and has to gain trust inside that clubhouse before he starts shuffling players in and out of the lineup. It's now been exactly a month since McLaren took over. He's had the time to gain some managerial experience, interract with the players and show them what he's about. Also give them time to prove themselves. Richie Sexson has yet to do that all month and he did not play tonight. May be in a platoon the rest of the year. Who knows?
Ibanez is starting to come around, but has taken a long time doing it. Too long? We'll see. But he stands to lose some at-bats in coming weeks. Bottom line is, McLaren gave them time and this is what they gave him. Now, the move has been made. Had Mike Hargrove still been the manager, I think Jones would have been here weeks ago. I'm sure the delay was less about the trade deadline and more about the political rammifications for McLaren in his own clubhouse. No one said this job was easy.
Am I going to always defend McLaren's moves? No way. But I'm not going to scream for his head every time a strategy backfires. You can't do that. Plenty of you were applauding his successful squeeze play as an interim manager earlier this year. You don't jump ship the first time it backfires. Sorry.
Anyway, the team won tonight. Get some rest. It could be a thrilling ride for quite a bit longer now that the M's showed they have what it takes to win a very big game. Won it the hard way, but as Putz would say "A win's a win.''
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