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Geoff Baker covers the Mariners for The Seattle Times. He provides daily coverage of the team throughout spring training, and during the season.

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March 31, 2008 9:16 PM

M's take opener

Posted by Geoff Baker

opening 025.jpg

It took a while, but the bats finally came through for the Mariners -- the first-place Mariners, as the Angels lost to the Twins -- in a 5-2 win over the Texas Rangers in front of a sellout crowd of 46,334 at Safeco Field. Seattle trailed 1-0 heading into the bottom of the sixth, but scored a pair of unearned runs off Kevin Millwood that frame and then piled on three more off Kazuo Fukumori in the seventh. The photo above shows Yuniesky Betancourt crossing the plate after a two-run double by Jose Lopez capped off the seventh-inning rally.

Erik Bedard wasn't very forthcoming with his post-game interview answers. I let Jerry Brewer tackle Bedard for his column and focused more on the guys who played a direct role in the victory.

But Bedard was right up there with some of the things that stick in my head from this game. Yes, Bedard threw a whole lot of pitches, but managed to avoid the big damage on the scoreboard. That fifth inning, when Texas had a runner on second with only one out, proved huge as Bedard notched consecutive groundouts to keep it a one-run game.

I talked to Kenji Johjima about it afterwards and he praised Bedard for not giving in and abandoning his game plan when plate umpire Jim Joyce refused to give him the inside corner on his fastball.

"I think he had a few pitches inside that were fastballs where he should have had strikes called," Johjima said through an interpreter. "But he kept pitching inside and not going more towards the plate. So, that's how (mentally) strong I think he is. He's a very stubborn guy.''

Some fine pitching by Sean Green after that carried the M's to five more outs. Green wound up credited with the victory. Eric O'Flaherty also got the key out needed in the seventh when Josh Hamilton popped out foul with a runner on.

Offensively, Lopez delivered the back-breaking double and also completed the hitting part of that hit-and-run with Ichiro in the sixth to get Seattle's two-run rally started. Lopez did not look great defensively today, but he came through with the bat. I liked the seven walks taken by Seattle hitters as well, two by Johjima, on a cold day when hits were tough to come by early.

J.J. Putz pitched a scoreless ninth, allowing only a two-out single by Michael Young, for the save.

Raul Ibanez admitted there was a sense of urgency in the sixth when he came up with two on, none out and his team down 1-0. The M's had already squandered a chance in the second inning against Kevin Millwood.

β€œAt that point, when you're first and second with nobody out, there's definitely a sense of urgency in a game like that when the guy you're facing is pitching the way he was,'' Ibanez said.

Hear what Ibanez said right here in this audio clip.

Ichiro shared Ibanez's sentiments about the sixth inning being critical. He was standing on second and scored the tying run on Ibanez's single. The M's went on to a two-run inning, knocking Millwood from the game after six.

"That was probably the most crucial point in the game," Ichiro told me through an interpreter. "If Millwood had gotten through that inning without allowing any runs, it's possible he would have been able to complete the entire game. So, for us to get runs in that situation was highly crucial.’’

Crucial indeed. The M's get the win. It wasn't the best played game. There was only one extra-base hit in the cold weather. But Seattle came away 1-0 and in first place, as I mentioned. Do that 161 more times, or even 94 more times, and this will be one heck of a season. But the M's got the opener out of the way.

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Posted by Zorro

7:04 PM, Mar 31, 2008

Nice game. I agree that Bedard threw way too many pitches, but he was consistently around the zone. He just didn't seem to be getting any calls.

Posted by PJ

7:17 PM, Mar 31, 2008

Bedard got no calls! If not for the ump's inconsistent zone, he probably would of had another 3 k's.... At times he looked like he could do whatever he wanted. I can see King Felix and Bedard, if both stay healthy, carrying this team all summer long.

Posted by oregongal

7:18 PM, Mar 31, 2008

Missed most of the game (since the first three innings took so long), but if that's Bedard on a bad day, I am a big Bedard believer (BBB).

Walks? By Seattle? By Kenji??? I hope it's not just the snow that inspired them.

Got the first win in. Nice job, guys.

Posted by vkut79

7:23 PM, Mar 31, 2008

Smallest strike zone I've seen, that I remember. Even FSN's tracker was calling some of those balls strikes, and that never happens. This also explains why the Mariners got six walks - it works both ways. Bedard pitched just fine, he did not struggle or anything. He overcame the strike zone problem if anything.

Posted by NB

7:25 PM, Mar 31, 2008

Yeah in the cold, with a horrible strike zone and no command of his curve Bedard only gave up one run and got a ton of groundballs. That's a pretty good worst case scenario. Hooray first place!! Boo Vidro!!! Hooray O'Flaherty!!!

Posted by Chris from Bothell

7:26 PM, Mar 31, 2008

Here's something I haven't said in a while - nice running game today. And good job by several of them keeping their heads together even when it looked kind of sloppy to start with; the walks are a very, very good sign.

Onward to Felix Day.

Posted by BandwagonJumper

7:29 PM, Mar 31, 2008

question since I was listening on the radio and didn't see any pictures, the first base ump was Jeff Nelson. Is he the former Mariner/Yankee pitcher?

Nice to get the first win out of the way and to beat a division rival, now lets get than next win to take the series.

Posted by Bedard Backer

7:55 PM, Mar 31, 2008

I don't think the guy in his 50's umpiring 1st was Jeff Nelson, but if want to see Jeff Nelson calling a game he does local high school basketball game. (at least he did when I was in high school nearly 10 years ago. WOW!)

Posted by Mr. X

8:09 PM, Mar 31, 2008

How about that all-important corner outfield defense? Raul Ibanez with one put-out and one total chance. Ditto for babyfat Wilkerson. That's two chances out of 182 total pitches. Oh, whatever are we going to do with such slugs on the corners?

Welcome to Seattle, Erik Bedard.

Posted by CrypticSailor

8:10 PM, Mar 31, 2008

What team is this? the SEATTLE Mariners had 7 count em 7 walks!

Posted by joe

8:14 PM, Mar 31, 2008

What was Jose Lopez doing trying to steal 3B? Especially with a lefthanded batter up. Since we won the game it was kinda funny. I wonder if that Lopez' decision, or did the call come from the dugout?
.
Good win though, so happy Baseball is back, on the fine Spring day.
.
Good to see Niehaus throw out the 1st pitch, he is starting to resemble a Gnome. I love Niehaus though.
.
Good thing Johnny Mac has 3 pinch runners on his bench ;)

Posted by M's Fan in CO Exile

8:17 PM, Mar 31, 2008

My observations:

-it's nice to have a pitcher who, when not entirely sharp, doesn't give up a handful of runs when in trouble. That will feel nice this year.

-the bullpen looked good. It's good to remind ourselves that it's still a strength, even if it will have its ups and downs this year.

- Vidro apparently didn't read your memo about grounding into fewer DP's, Geoff. On a serious note, am I just imagining some weight gain for Jose from last year?

-Jose's bat looked pretty good, if only for today.

-I love Adrian Beltre.

Posted by M's Fan in CO Exile

8:24 PM, Mar 31, 2008

Jose Lopez's bat looked good, that is.

Posted by skinnyfelix

8:48 PM, Mar 31, 2008

Felix's line tommorw:
7 IP, 4 Hits, 6 K, 3 BB, 2 ER
M's win 7-4 and Sexon hits a bomb

Posted by all4ms

8:53 PM, Mar 31, 2008

Great start to the season!! Kenji walking twice in a game must be some kind of new record. I'm happy to see the patience displayed today, against a guy with pretty good command of his stuff (Millwood). Hope this goes on throughout the season.

Bedard did a good job dispite struggling with his command. Plus, he had a horrible strike zone to work with, and his defense wasn't exactly helping him. It's great that he only gave up 1 run under these circumstances. That's what aces do, they keep the game close even if they're not at their best. Bravo, Erik. Welcome to Seattle!!

Lopez looked good at the plate. Beltre is a stud, as always. Love the guy.

Go Ms!!

Posted by Kara M

9:29 PM, Mar 31, 2008

Mr. X,

Do you think that the coaches are interfering with Jose Lopez's development by giving him the wrong signals on the base paths and teaching him inferior defense techniques?

Kara M.

Posted by Donovan

9:29 PM, Mar 31, 2008

Was sitting about 20 feet below Geoff's feet and about 50 feet to his right tonight. Bedard looked like he was still finding his form, and from where I sat, he was definitely getting squeezed, but two things really impressed me:

1) He never got emotional, stomped his feet, threw the resin bag, or otherwise lost his cool. He was painfully deliberate trying to find his groove at times, but he never looked rattled or nervous. That says something about his character, given the pressure he's under as the controversial ace and keystone of this team.

2) He never gave in to the hitters or the strike zone and started grooving pitches. The well struck balls in the first (and the HR was a missile) looked to be mistakes. In later innings, even when he had guys on base, he didn't stop painting the corners. I remember an interview with Greg Maddox years ago when he said he'd rather scatter 6 walks than 6 doubles. EB definitely wasn't going to offer many hittable pitches, even though he wasn't getting many calls. That's confidence.

While hardly a dominating performance, I was pretty impressed.with the way Bedard dealt with adversity. I think that's a lot more revealing of his ace potential on March 31st than the command he had of his pitches today. His pitches should round into form, but maturity and poise are not easy to acquire during the season. And Geoff was right, there wasn't anything wrong with the break on his curve today. He also did a nice job changing speeds.

The patience of the M's hitters was also a sharp contrast to last year. I don't think Ichiro even swung at a first pitch. There was no question that both teams were working the tight strike zone. Richie had a walk and should have had a second. Kenji had two BBs! Of all the things that our hitters could have been improved from last year without using banned substances, patience at the plate was at the top of my list.

All in all, it was a very satisfying opening day. The starter bent but didn't break. The bullpen was sharp, and the M's got enough offense to win. I'll take that.
If you weren't there, it was freaking cold, especially after the 4th inning. It wasn't just snowing in the 6th, it was pelting down. You could barely make out the outline of the Columbia Tower looking north over the LF bleachers. I'm not a big fan of the roof, but I was grateful for it today. The beerman in our section was harking "Hot beer! Get your hot beer!"

Posted by mickey

9:35 PM, Mar 31, 2008

What a great opening day win. Great day, great season to be a Mariner fan. Just looked at some of the geek Mariner hater web sites. Just can't understand why they can't even take joy for even a few minutes in a single win. All the talk is negative, everyone but them is an idiot. They even let one of the bozos on the radio. Can't believe these folks attract any attention, well I guess they really don't except other geeks that hate the Mariners.

Posted by scottM

9:38 PM, Mar 31, 2008

"I talked to Kenji Johjima about it afterwards and he praised Bedard for not giving in and abandoning his game plan when plate umpire Jim Joyce refused to give him the inside corner on his fastball."

I was sitting up high in section 329 right behind homeplate. The ump was not only NOT giving Bedard the inside of the plate, but Millwood was getting strikes called in the exact same location. Under the circumstances of being squeezed and a couple of weak defensive plays behind him that prolonged two of his innings, I thought Bedard looked strong. Mostly, thank the crappy ump for the high, early pitch count.

I was also surprised in the seventh when the M's had runners at second and third up by one, and McLaren let Jose Lopez bat. I thought the situation was tailor made for Morse to pinch hit. Fortunately a wild pitch brought in run #3, and then Lopez delivered two more RBI's with a sharp hit down the third base line. Alls well that ends well, and I hope this helps Lopez's confidence.

Great opener!

Posted by Donovan

9:40 PM, Mar 31, 2008

One other thing, I had a perfect view down the trajectory of Ichiro's grounder in the 6th that was ruled an error off Young's glove. That ball was smoked, and it was corkscrewing the whole way. That was definitely a ML error. I was surprised the home scorer didn't rule it a hit.

Posted by Stevo in Mill City, OR

10:11 PM, Mar 31, 2008

Great Opening Day! A little slow, a little sloppy and a little cold, but wonderful nonetheless! I agree with everyone's comments on Bedard. Forget the five innings, high pitch count and not having the sharp command. I was watching the game on TV here in Oregon and his breaking ball was SHARP with a late break, just like we've heard about. He didn't throw those in Spring Training and the few he did throw wouldn't have had the same bite in AZ as Geoff has said. I would like to see a few more starts from him until I get too excited about him, but he appears to be legit. Jim Joyce was horrible. Bedard was definitely squeezed, but I agree with Donovan, he kept his composure and didn't give in. I would say 10% or less of pitchers in the majors today even have the ability to hit spots like that and even less stick with the plan when they are not getting called. Could you imagine the launching pad Safeco would have been like today with HoRam and/or Weaver out on the hill today with that strike zone and their mediocre and sloppy stuff? I also LOVE the feeling of knowing we had a guy like Bedard today and tomorrow - oh, it's time for Felix to pitch tomorrow! Nice! Last year it would have been....Felix is used up (maybe even with a sub-par performance) and now we have Washburn, HoRam and Weaver. Oh man. This is what the Angels must have felt like last year.


On that subject, I hope everything works out okay for Kelvim. I was stunned to learn that one, he could be out for the season, or even worse, for his career with the election of the shoulder surgery. Do you have more on that Geoff? As an acquaintance of his Geoff, this must really bother you. It's really too bad.


I was flipping over to the Angel game during M's commercial breaks today and it was weird seeing Jered Weaver as the #1 starter and seeing H. Kendrick and Izturus as the middle infielders. Besides the pitching holes, not having a kick starter and an emotional Cabrera is going to have a negative impact too I think.


Great day today and thanks Geoff for all the continued insights, sights and sounds. Wonderful job! One last thought/question: JJ struck out tattoed left (Hamilton) with an 83mph splitter to end the game. His splitter usually registers at 87-88, but he was having a hard time disposing of this very talented player to end the game. He had thrown him a few of his heaters and traditional splitters and couldn't get him out. Was that last pitch a splitter with a little something taken off, or was that a change-up? Did he throw that last year? I don't remember it? Can you find out? I also love seeing Mel Stottlemeyer (sp) in the dugout. Thanks

Posted by drlo

11:05 PM, Mar 31, 2008

Others have commented already, but can' resist. Bedard's performance today was incredible under the circumstances. One game doesn't make a season, but Bedard has demonstrated his ability to not give in and do this for more than two years. We haven't had a starting pitcher who could suck it up like that since Randy Johnson.

Posted by oregongal

11:12 PM, Mar 31, 2008

Stevo, do you ever get to Volcanoes games? I used to go to the Salem Class A team games in the 1980's, but moved before the I-5 park open. It looks great.

Posted by Zach C

11:18 PM, Mar 31, 2008

If that was a sloppy Bedard, as you guys are hinting, I cant wait to see him sharp...

and somone said didn't have good control of his curve- it looked as nasty as ever so I dont know what ur talkin about, the location was fine and you cant expect it to be that much better

this looks to be the beginning of a very good season

Posted by PRchef

11:19 PM, Mar 31, 2008

Donovan

Nice post on the game. I like the observations on Bedard. Can't beat having an off day end up the way it did for him.

I am going to the game tomorrow to see Felix. Hopefully he will start solid and set the tone early. I hear it is going to be freezing but should be worth it.

Posted by Stevo in Mill City, OR

12:50 AM, Apr 01, 2008

Oregongal,

I live forty minutes from Volcanoes Stadium and we make sure to go and see at least a few games a year. They've done a wonderful job with the stadium and franchise. It really is a hit in Salem-Keizer. I believe the Volcanoes have won three or four NWL Championships since they arrived back in the mid 90's. Lincecum only had one start for them on his quick journey through the minors. Freddy Garcia also had a rehab start for Everett at Volcanoes Stadium several years back. Sometimes I wonder why the Giants don't do better with all the success some of their minor league affiliates have. They should have a younger team at the big league level. They might do better. Joe Nathan was also a Volcano. And remember, the Volcanoes moved to Salem-Keizer from Bellingham - that's right - the M's.

I don't know much about the previous minor league days in Salem as I wasn't around, but I've heard some stories. I know Piazza played for the old Salem Dodgers for example. I actually grew up in West Seattle and went to many, many Mariner games growing up until I came down here to Oregon for college at Western Baptist, now Corban College in Salem back in 1989. I've been down in this area ever since. We still make the trip a few times a summer to my parents' house so our family (wife and three boys) can go see a few M's games. What part of Oregon do you live?

Zach C, I don't know if you were referring to me or not regarding Bedard not having control of his curveball. I never said he didn't have control of it. It wasn't bad, but I believe he has the ability to be more precise with it on most nights. He was throwing it well though. It was sharp with late break, which is excellent.

Posted by Aaron

2:47 AM, Apr 01, 2008

Bedard is the real deal! Total pro...

Posted by ricofoy

5:23 AM, Apr 01, 2008

The "tight-lipped one". Not a bad moniker. If you crossed Sexson's frame with Bedard's personality you'd get Dave Kingman. I kid. Bedard isn't nearly the ass Kingman was, he's just "tight-lipped".
Speaking of Sexson, isn't it time he changed his name to Dick? Now batting..Big Dick Sexson! Much more intimidating than Richie, don't you think? Besides, it will make the seque into his next career as porn star that much easier.
And McClaren, playing small ball and being a gambler is all well and good but don't be stupid about it. Having Lopez trying to steal 3rd is stupid..no other way to put it.
But a great start to the season and Felix is going to pitch a gem tonight to keep the momentum going.

Posted by edward

7:03 AM, Apr 01, 2008

fyi...anyone been following this ncaa style tourney for worst offseason moves? the silva deal made the final four. pretty sobering.

http://mlbfleecefactor.com/2008/04/01/the-2008-final-four-of-offseason-fleeces/

Posted by scottM

7:11 AM, Apr 01, 2008

Jerry Brewer on Bedard: "He likes attention about as much as he likes tight strike zones"

The Rangers' relievers looked "sloppy" last night. Bedard just looked squeezed. (And never uncomposed). And remember how much run support he got through his five innings and 106 pitches.

A good outing and good start. And now for Felix!

Posted by BandwagonJumper

7:30 AM, Apr 01, 2008

Do you think Felix watched Bedard's preformance on how to go about your business even when things don't go your way? I hope he did.

Posted by Bill

7:34 AM, Apr 01, 2008

You've got to be able to win the ugly games, and the M's did that. It was good to see them take advantage of mistakes. Kudos for the walks, and Bedard really battled and stuck to the game plan. Some of those curveballs were nasty!

Posted by AKMarinersFan

8:33 AM, Apr 01, 2008

Sexson and Vidro were great!

Posted by scrapiron

10:15 AM, Apr 01, 2008

The Mariners lose this game last year. McLaren preached patience at the plate and with a small strike zone the Mariners draw 7 walks. This doesn't happen last year.

Mac puts the game in motion and with Lopez as a #2 hitter he makes contact and even beats out the hit. Hargrove would have had Vidro there and would be thrown out. Meanwhile Vidro grounds into his first double play of the year to prove why his lack of footspeed should keep him out of the #2 spot permanently.

So kudos for McLaren for preaching a gameplan, and kudos to the players for executing. Let's keep it up!

Posted by M's Watcher

12:53 PM, Apr 01, 2008

Down 1-0, when Sexson walked, and Beltre singled, we had runners on first and second with no outs and our new RF up. I was thinking, "Can he bunt?" No, but he can K. Another K and a popup, and we had nothing to show for it. It was good that we rallied later, or we would have been looking back at this earlier squandered opportunity.

Posted by Firechief902

1:42 PM, Apr 01, 2008

if anyone ever wondered why Jim Joyce isnt a crew chief after 19 years as a big league, all one had to do was watch last nights game. an inconsistent hot head

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