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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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April 24, 2008 11:42 PM

M's lose a gut-wrencher

Posted by Geoff Baker

safe0424 036.jpg

I see some of you are already calling it a season, so I'll keep this brief. Yes, the offense did go AWOL in this 8-7 loss to the Baltimore Orioles. You can't score four runs in the third inning to take a 5-0 lead, then allow yourself to be outhit 12-5 through 6 1/2 innings. You've got to step on the other team's neck and crunch when you've got a foot on them. That's what winning teams do. This team isn't doing that yet. Didn't do it in the last two games against Baltimore. As a result, the M's have their first series loss at home.

Sorry, I'm not going to eat crow on the Erik Bedard trade on April 24 with the Mariners three games behind the AL West leaders. Yes, Adam Jones had a big night. His second one this year. Going into the at-bat, the Baltimore types who cover the O's felt it was a good decision to leave Mark Lowe out there to face Jones because the latter had been swinging too anxiously the first few weeks and seemed vulnerable for a strikeout.

Lowe made Jones look overmatched the first two pitches. But he couldn't finish him off. As I said, it was a good at-bat for Jones. No one says he is not going to be a good player. As of this morning, his .632 OPS wasn't going to make any hypothetical, marked difference on this team. Sure, you can argue that we can't tell how he'd have done playing here in Seattle up until now. But then, if you want to use that logic, you also can't say that he'd be demonstrably better than anyone else Seattle has offensively in his first full year. So far, in the only at-bats we've seen, he hasn't been. If you want to argue the merits of a.632 OPS versus a .546 OPS, I really can't help you. It's one more double and one home run spread over 22 games.

Yes, George Sherrill is pitching very well. The Erik Bedard trade did not look good on the M's tonight. But again, it's still only April 24. This team has cast its lot with improved pitching and we have to see how that pans out over the long haul. Those who aren't patient enough to wait around, you can always wait for college football to start, or go watch the hockey playoffs (big win by the Habs tonight). The rest of you, catch your breath, put the burning pitchforks down and try to pace yourselves.


"I'm not putting this on anybody but us,'' Mariners manager John McLaren said, when asked about the calls by plate umpire Casey Moser in that seventh inning, leading to his ejection.

"When you've got a 5-0 lead, you've got to slam the door and get it done,'' he said. "We just didn't do that.''

No they didn't. Doesn't matter if it was Sherrill closing the ninth, or someone else. When a team hands the closer a lead in the ninth, he usually finishes off the game. Yes, Sherrill is a fantastic reliever. One of the better ones in baseball. The Orioles were not going to hand the Mariners their best starting pitcher for nothing in return.

Some of you quickly forget how, even with Sherrill and J.J. Putz in this bullpen last year, the M's were an 88-win team that finished second. Many of you felt it was only a 79-win team that had fluked off the 88 victories. So, how did you expect to build on that while keeping everyone together? Waiting for the answers. I know, I know, while Adam Jones was hitting 40 homers and Jeff Clement was becoming an all-star and Wladimir Balentien as well.

And then, when No. 2 starter Jarrod Washburn or Miguel Batista got knocked from a game early -- or some Jeff Weaver type got rocked -- and Wlad, Clement and Jones had to hit their way out of a 6-2 deficit three nights out of every five, what then? What would be the plan?

This team had a plan going into the season. It built a very good pitching staff. The guy who is supposed to be the best part of that pitching staff has been hurt. Until we see what he's about, over a prolonged period, we can't make a definitive call about how the long-term is going to go.

This team has offensive woes it must figure out. This is still an ongoing trial period where players are getting a shot to prove themselves. It's not July 15. It's April 24. Jose Vidro drilled a ground ruled double tonight, good for two-runs just like the Jones double. Does this mean you now want to keep Vidro around all year as DH? Is anyone going to "eat crow'' over anything said about Vidro so far? Of course not. Let's not be ridiculous.

But yeah, this loss hurts. The A's are in town and the M's trail them by three games. Winning this series has become imperative for Seattle. Don't trust me on how bad this loss was. Hear it from Ichiro.

"Disappointing is not the word,'' he said. "Painful is the word.''

I know some of you are pained and disappointed tonight. You should be. This was not a performance to be proud of by the home side. But it's still just one game for a team now 11-12. I know this sounds like a broken record, but it's still too early to demand wholesale changes and firings. Way too early. When will it not be? Depends on the team and how the starting staff and bullpen kicks it into gear after a couple of weeks throwing together as a full unit. Could take time. Not sure some of you are up to it, but too bad. This is not a game for the faint-hearted who duck and cover at every sign of trouble. It's a long season. From what I've seen, this team has the pitching talent to make noise in the AL. It has to get the bats figured out and once it does -- supplying even average offense -- the wins should pile up for this club.

I do believe that or I would not be trying to tell you this. When I see trouble signs, like Bedard going out for the season, oir the club refusing to make changes by late-May while carrying a bunch of .600 OPS hitters, then I'll let you know as well.

The O's may well win the Bedard deal. But we're nowhere close to knowing that. Let's see how this season plays out first.

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