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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 28, 2008 9:54 PM

Johjima saves the day

Posted by Geoff Baker

ichiro0728 030.jpg

A shot above of Ichiro, driving in pinch-runner Willie Bloomquist (no, not Kenji Johjima as I'd originally written -- he's not that quick) from third with a sacrifice fly and a huge insurance run in the ninth. Seattle goes on to win 7-5 over the Texas Rangers. Ichiro had his shot at No. 3,000 in career hits (in the majors and Japan) but he'll have the rest of the year to get it. The sac fly, off onetime M's closer Eddie Guardado, mattered just as much.

Johjima had led the inning off with a single before Bloomquist came on and stole second, then was bunted over to third.

Rangers manager Ron Washington then had Guardado pitch to Ichiro rather than walk him with first base open to load the bases and set up the double play. Interesting call. Wonder if Washington is aware of the 3,000 hits thing. Not necessarily, though probably. Ichiro said that went he saw Guardado come in for a lefty-lefty matchup, he knew he wouldn't be walked on purpose.

But Johjima likely saved the game as much with his defense. Texas had runners at second and third with one out in the eighth when Johjima nabbed lead runner Ramon Vazquez at third with a pickoff throw. That was huge because Josh Hamilton was at the plate. Arthur Rhodes then struck Hamilton out on a nasty 2-2 breaking pitch to end the inning.

Adrian Beltre has an eye signal with Johjima to use that pickoff play when the runner leads too far off third. They don't practice it in-season, but did back in spring training. With the count 2-1, Beltre went for it.

"Arthur was in a tough spot,'' Beltre said, "and we needed to make a play like that to try to give him some relief so he could make a pitch after that.''

Johjima gets the final say on whether the play will take place. It's no sure thing.

"I've been through a lot of similar plays like that,'' Johjima said through an interpreter. "I've had times where I threw the ball very well, but it would hit the runner and I would give up the run. Sometimes, it would tie it. Sometimes we'd lose that ballgame. So, it's very risky.''

Indeed it was. It helped that Hamilton swung and missed on the pitch. That caused Vazquez to take an additional step or two towards the plate, hoping to score on a groundball. Johjima didn't hesitate.

"That's huge,'' Mariners manager Jim Riggleman said. "It takes a lot of guts on both Bellie and Johjima's parts. Because we've all seen those balls go flying in the outfield and it begins to look like a Little League game. But it's a play that we've talked about in the past. That play's there sometimes and it's up to Bellie and Johjima to make it work.''

And they did. It took some of the pressure off Rhodes, who'd kept all his pitches down and mostly in the dirt to the dangerous Hamilton prior to that. But with two out and a runner at second instead of third, Rhodes knew he could get slightly more aggressive. He hadn't been aware there was a pickoff play on but was pumped up once it happened. Instead of being overly cautious with first base open, he got nasty.

"After that play, I told myself 'I can get this guy out right here','' he said.

And he did. That 2-2 slider he threw started out in the center of the plate and dropped down and away to shoelace level. Hamilton made a half-hearted swing and had zero chance of contact. He was whupped. Doesn't happen often. Rhodes will be in hot demand on the trade market these next few days. Even hotter when footage of that pitch makes its way around baseball tonight.

So, does Johjima deserve credit tonight? Of course he does. Hey, look. You don't have to tell me about his shortcomings. I know some of you don't like him and are upset that I've given him some credit. Read the blog posts from earlier tonight. From all season. We've been there to note when he's messed up. To comment on his contract.

But when someone does something right, it's OK to point it out.


When Jarrod Washburn gets fantastic results for two months, you don't have to pretend it didn't happen. You don't have to argue that he's been awful, or completely flukey. It's not all a fluke. Maybe some of it is luck, sure. But of course, he does have some talent. It's why the M's gave him all that money. Some of that talent is now showing.

It doesn't negate all the bad that happened beforehand. If anything, the bad stuff is a reason the M's are trying to trade him. One of the reasons they don't see him as a future Cy Young award candidate. I don't think any of us do. But it's OK to acknowledge that even the players you don't like in general are doing OK from time to time. Just like it's OK to acknowledge that Jeff Clement has not looked good at the plate so far. It doesn't take away from his potential. Or the fact he might develop into something real good.

But this is a daily blog. A daily experience. There are going to be good days and bad days for all players. We'll debate those players and those days. But I don't know. As fans, why not be happy when one of your players comes through for you? Johjima making a good throw isn't going to change the team's mind about keeping him. Right now, the team is stuck with him. Who's going to take him? You might as well hope for him to do something right if you're an M's fan. What good does it do to wish him to fail each and every night?

He has his challenges, I know. We were writing about them last year, long before the contract extension. The issue of his not properly framing pitches and ticking off umpires. Even before his hitting went south, the issues were there, they've been noted. But when he was hitting, many of them were largely forgotten. That's neither here nor there. Tonight, he made the game's biggest play. It's biggest throw. He's in the blog's headline because of it. He saved the day.

I understand your frustration with this season. I see it out on the field every night. In the end, you don't need me to tell you who to root for. I know many of you are rooting for change. I can tell you, the individual plays you see here each night will do little to change the overall focus of this team's management towarss the changes it want to make. They are looking long-term. This season is done. Individual plays will do little to improve one's stock or standing on a team already out of it. But if the players do well once in a while, then if the team is looking to deal them, it becomes a little easier to move them. The daily plays can increase trade value even if only marginally.

Had Washburn failed these past two months, he'd be going nowhere. But he's succeeded. No, it's not all luck, sorry. Two months straight worth of luck? A complete turnaround from the beginning of the season? Even with the improved defense we've seen, that's a little far-fetched. I mean, the defense isn't that much better. It's improved, yes. But it's still below average. Hasn't knocked two runs off Carlos Silva's ERA. Or done wonders for Miguel Batista's either.

I don't know. I just find it intertesting to watch all the reactions any time a Mariners player surprises. Keeps things lively, I suppose.

So, Ichiro will likely get his 3,000th tomorrow night. Lots of debate about that I'm sure, and it's a valid one. But it's an accomplishment any way you look at it. I'm just not sure what scale we're supposed to measure it on. Sounds like a blog topic for tomorrow.

Here's Ichiro on getting that sacrifice fly in the ninth. He wasn't compeltely satisfied with the result because he'd been trying to get a hit.

"I wanted to go for a hit and I didn't get the hit,'' he said through an interpreter. "But at the same time, we were able to get the run in, so that makes me happy. I consider them to be two separate things.''

Have a good one.


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