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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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July 3, 2008 11:13 PM

Better opposition tonight

Posted by Geoff Baker

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Look, I don't mean to negate everything the Mariners had accomplished the past two weeks under Jim Riggleman. But tonight's 8-4 loss to the Detroit Tigers showed us this team still has a long way to go. The Tigers, at 42-42 coming in, are the only .500 team the Mariners have laid eyes on since facing the Boston Red Sox a month ago. Even closer Todd Jones, pictured above, who gave up two runs in the ninth, wasn't going to blow the 8-2 lead he had going into the final inning. He's bad, but not that bad. Fernando Rodney came on to get the final out with the tying run on-deck. But still, this was a different night from the get-go.

In other words, Riggleman sure hasn't seen the likes of the Tigers. Not unless they were wearing the uniforms of the Padres, Blue Jays, Mets and Braves.

"That Detroit ballclub is just a very aggressive, good hitting club,'' Riggleman said afterwards. "That lineup there, you've pretty much got to be on top of your game to shut them down.''

A different team faced tonight. A winning one. From the AL. Not the best of teams -- at least not yet -- but one that is now winning more than it loses.

And the M's? Well, they looked like the M's.

Carlos Silva needed 100 pitches to survive five innings. The offense left seven runners on the first four innings when it was still a game -- five of those by Richie Sexson alone. Even when they did things right, like Raul Ibanez getting a double in the seventh, it gets undone by him slipping and falling when he had to retreat to second on a Jose Vidro lineout.

Silva did not come out to talk to reporters after the game. Few Mariners did. Jose Lopez was one of them.

Lopez had tried to throw Curtis Granderson out at home on a hard grounder. Against any other baserunner, he might have had a play. Not that baserunner. Instead of taking a sure out at first and being down 3-2 with two out and none on, Lopez's late throw kept a runner on with only one out. I'm not saying Carlos Silva would have done better than the three straight singles he yielded after that, but you never know. Silva did yield them, of course. Two more runs scored. It was a 5-2 game and pretty much over at that point.

Lopez was caught in a no-man's land positioning-wise. He wasn't in close enough to nab Granderson. Nor far back enough to automatically concede the run. Told me he was off-balance.

"Lopez made a heck of a play,'' Riggleman said, but then added that "if he had to do it over again, he would have conceded the run and just gone to first.''

Anyhow, this team was down 8-2 heading into the ninth. A lot of other stuff happened besides Lopez.

This bullpen has been very stingy of late. But the first batter it faced in the sixth connected for a home run off Mark Lowe. That was the first of young Michael Hollimon's career.

Yes, that kind of night for the M's.

Lowe was one of the players who did come out after the game. The entire bullpen showed its face. Arthur Rhodes and J.J. Putz make sure of that. Raul Ibanez was there, but the media is tired of forcing him to be team spokesman after every loss. R.A. Dickey, Jarrod Washburn. No, they didn't pitch tonight.

You get the picture. Same M's, a lot of the same problems. On and off the field. Team Pelekoudas plods along. he's yet to make a player move, Maybe he thought that 8-4 stretch was for real? I doubt it. Especially after tonight.

Maybe they'll win the next three and shut me up. This Tigers bullpen is bad enough toi give them a game. But for tonight, I didn't see anything from the M's to show me they're cured. You can't keep taking doses of the Braves, Mets, Padres and Blue Jays. Eventually, you have to face some halfway decent teams. And this one made the M's look bad. Plain and simple.

Oh yeah, Ichiro got his 1,700th hit. He had three singles in the game. He was out at his locker, too. As after every game. Hope you enjoyed the game tonight. Gotta run. Get to do this again first thing tomorrow.


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July 3, 2008 8:56 PM

Detroit Tigers at Mariners: 07/03 game thread

Posted by Geoff Baker

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8:56 p.m.: Add on another Detroit run as rookie Michael Holliman takes new pitcher Mark Lowe deep to right center on an 0-1 offering in the sixth to make it a 6-2 game. Holliman's first career homer. Been that kind of year in the Emerald City. A lot of firsts. Not too many of them good for the home nine.

Had a chance to go on the Detroit FSN pre-game show down on the field earlier this evening. Have done stuff like that a few times and let me tell you, the atmosphere down there is much different just before a game than when we usually go on during batting practice. Had my trusty camera with me and snapped some photos just before heading on with the host, who you'll see below (guy on left).

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Down below, a shot up at the press box from my position just next to the visitors' dugout.

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July 3, 2008 5:45 PM

Hernandez throws, Rowland-Smith blogs, Clement struggles

Posted by Geoff Baker

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A shot of Mariners manager Jim Riggleman, above, chatting with some players during mandatory pre-game fielding practice. That's one new addition to this M's team since it got beaten by the Detroit Tigers in a pair of series about six weeks ago. We'll see if the M's look a little better prepared this time. Some good news on Felix Hernandez today. He threw for 10 minutes on flat ground from a distance of 90 feet and felt good. There's a big chance he'll see a start before the all-star break.

"He didn't experience any problems so that's very encouraging,'' Riggleman said. "It makes us feel better about, well, any time he's eligible to come off the disabled list, he would be able to pitch right then.''

Before I go any further, Ryan Rowland-Smith has started blogging for a new site. Check it out right here. OK, back to the post...

Riggleman was asked about the struggles of catcher Jeff Clement, who is behind the plate again tonight. Clement is hitting just .179 with a .286 on-base percentage and a .310 slugging percentage over 84 at-bats with the M's this season. He's gone 7-for-36 (.194) since being recalled for his second go-around with the team.And he's struck out in 12 of those ABs, which is slightly better than in his first shot with the club, but not all that great.

"What you see happening there, that's what's happened,'' Riggleman said with a shrug. "We're just giving him every opportunity to get it going. It's tough. It seems lkike they're making great pitches on him. And it goes that way sometimes. Guys are getting their hits, but you step up there and you're the guy that he makes all his great pitches of the night on. And that seems to be happening to him. He's just really not getting that many pitches in the center of the plate that he can just jump on and get it going.

"If he does, you want to build on it but then they continue to make good pitches on him. He just hasn't gotten on track. But we know he's a good hitter. We know he's going to hit. But it's tough. It's tough for a guy coming up trying to establish himself in the big leagues.''

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July 3, 2008 11:12 AM

Losing a team

Posted by Geoff Baker

One of our regular readers, ScottM, wrote in to ask which was worse, the Sonics leaving Seattle, or my hometown Expos leaving Montreal after the 2004 season. I'd argue they are both the same. Neither city is going to suffer for it in the long-term. Both places, Montreal and Seattle, remain dynamic in their own right and a fine place for which to attract tourists. Cities that define themselves based on their sports franchises...well, let's face it. A lot of you wouldn't want to live there when the teams aren't playing. Hey, the visiting Detroit Tigers are part of a city that gets voted among the best sports towns in the U.S. every year. Want to splurge on a downtown condo right next to Comerica Park? You'll get it pretty cheap. Yeah, I thought so.

What will suffer, from my experience with Montreal, is the lack of a place for fans to put their passion for a sport. Unlike the Sonics situation, the Expos spent roughly eight years threatening to pull out of Montreal. When they finally did, relocating to Washington, the fans there had already been conditioned to expect it. The shock was lessened. What remained was a bit of an empty hole in the hearts of baseball fans. It's one thing to be a fan of a sport. Another to be a fan of a team. With a team, there is a target for the passion. And finding another team to cheer for just isn't the same. I know some people who tried to cheer for the Washington Nationals. Some who tried to find a reason to cheer against the Florida Marlins, whose owner, Jeffrey Loria, used to own the Expos and is seen as Public Enemy No. 1 in Montreal.

Some have even tried to cheer for the Blue Jays, Canada's only remaining team. But Montreal and Toronto hate each other in sports and most other things. In 1992 and 1993, Montreal ball fans cheered mostly for the Braves and Phillies to beat the Blue Jays in the World Series. So, that's a no-go.

The sad truth is, a generation of basketball fans who grew up watching and cheering for the Sonics will have no other team to cheer for as fervently. Older fans who grew up with other favorite squads could revert back to that. But for most, things won't be the same basketball-wise.

Still, there is an upside.

One thing I've noticed about the Montreal situation is that sports fans there have seemed to throw their surplus passion into the other sports in town. I don't think it's a coincidence that since 1996, when the Expos began seriously making noise about leaving the following year (which they did every year the remainder of their existence), world class tennis has thrived. Soccer is now a very popular professional sport there as well. Montreal also played host to the last Presidents Cup golf tournament. As far as city teams, the Canadiens are as popular as ever. The Alouettes of the CFL have grown from an afterthought in 1996 to one of that city's hottest pro sports tickets. Oh yeah, I forgot. Montreal is also a Grand Prix auto racing city. For world class sports, that one's hard to beat.

Yeah, it misses baseball. But life goes on. MLB baseball is one American-based sport in an increasingly global arena. So is the NBA. Basketball has been fighting popularity problems for years now. So, yes, Seattle sports fans will miss it. But they will find other things.

This isn't whistling in the dark. I sat in on the Brazil-Canada soccer match a month ago at Qwest Field. Sat behind the net in the stands. That was fun. The fans were educated about the sport. It was a new experience and -- frankly -- meant a heck of a lot more on the world stage than any NBA regular season game. Ask any folks who sat in a bar watching Spain play Germany for the European championship last weekend and see if they weren't having fun.

Sports change. Teams change. It's the nature of the beast. No passion is ever completely satisfied. That's why it's a passion. But Seattle fans feeling a hole in one area of their sports passion will always have new ones they can turn to. Or old friends, like the Seahawks and...sigh...yes, the Mariners. Both of those teams now have a responsibility, to the city and the fans who pay their freight, to step up their efforts just a little bit more in coming months.

There is a sports vacuum in this city. And it will need to be filled. Who is up to that challenge? We'll see.



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July 3, 2008 9:23 AM

Disappointment contest

Posted by Geoff Baker

So, the other day, I was reading one of those panel discussions from a national online sports site in which the panelists got to vote for their biggest surprises/disappointments of the baseball season so far. One of the biggest surprises for me was how many people chose the Mariners. Next on the list seemed to be the Detroit Tigers, who are in town tonight riding a 7-3 streak in their past 10 games. This will be the biggest test of the Jim Riggleman regime to-date. It's one thing to look good against the NL's dregs and the Toronto Blue Jays. But these are the same Tigers, remember, who are 5-1 versus Seattle this season. You've got four games against them here. Split the four and I'll start to be convinced the M's really have turned things around. Too late, but around.

Anyhow, which of these clubs has been the biggest disappointment?

Both mortgaged away some sizeable talent in the hopes of contending.

Seattle gave up Adam Jones and others for Erik Bedard. Detroit surrendered Andrew Miller and a bunch of others to the Marlins for Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis. The latter is back in the minors, while Cabrera -- expected to return tonight after being out two days with a sore hip flexor -- is muddling along with 11 home runs and an on-base-plus slugging percentage of .806. Not quite the 34 homers and .966 OPS he had last year. Cabrera's average career OPS -- even when dragged down by this year's numbers -- is .917.

In park factored OPS+, he'd averaged 150 or higher the past three seasons. It's now only 115. Yes, he's been a disappointment.

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