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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 29, 2008 9:50 PM

Mariners blow another in ninth

Posted by Geoff Baker

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Just a short programming note, my Talkin' Baseball segment on KJR AM 950's Mitch in the Morning show tomorrow will run an hour later -- at roughly 9:20 a.m. -- to accomodate some scheduling issues with the start of Seahawks camp. Should be lots to talk about.

The crowd at Rangers Ballpark erupts as a two-run double to right center by Ramon Vazquez off J.J. Putz ends the game. An 11-10 loss for the Mariners after they'd overcome deficits of 7-0 and 9-3 to take a one-run lead into the bottom of the ninth. By the way, it was a year ago -- on July 25 -- that Vazquez hit a homer off Putz to hand him his first blown save of the 2007 season. I'd say he's about done with the guy.

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Yes, that's Jarrod Washburn pinch-running at first base for Kenji Johjima in the top of the ninth inning after the latter was drilled on the left knee by a C.J. Wilson pitch. The Seattle bench is depleted, so Washburn was called on to run. For those asking, Jose Vidro has a bad neck, which is why he wasn't used tonight. No, Washburn did not enhance his trade value. He did score the inning's go-ahead run when Ramon Vazquez threw a ball away at first for a two-base error.

Asked to assess his baserunning, he quipped: "I thought pretty good. Freezed up on the ground ball to third and then showed my speed. Now the secret's out. They're going to want two prospects for me.''

Mariners manager Jim Riggleman also wasn't impressed with Washburn's running ability.

"He was at the wrong place,'' he said. "He was back at second base when the ball was thrown. Lucky the throw was so bad that it didn't matter.''

Washburn was so stunned to get the call that he had to race back to the clubhouse to put on his game jersey and spikes. He usually doesn't wear them on the bench between starts. He wound up forgetting his belt, so Riggleman pulled his off his waist and handed it to him.

The fact that Washburn was out there at all tells you what kind of game this was. A bizarre one on a night where pitching and defense took a back seat to everything else. Long balls, errors, blown plays, miscommunication. You name it.

One of the bigger gaffes was Yuniesky Betancourt failing to get a bunt down with one out in the ninth and Jamie Burke racing in from third. Burke was a dead duck when Betancourt missed the ball.

Putz even got away with trying to make a near-impossible out at third base on a bunt with two on and none out. Instead of throwing to first for the out, Putz tried to nab lead runner Marlon Byrd. The throw appeared to arrive late, as expected, since Byrd was only a few yards from the bag when the throw was made. Byrd is not very fast and he somehow, by the most microscopic of margins, was called out. Either that or the umpire blew the call. I'm still not sure. But Putz got away with one there (sorry Jack in the comments thread, 99 times out of 100 the runner beats that throw). It wound up not mattering moments later.

"It just seems like we've been involved in so many games like this that are decided in the ninth and 10th, 11th and 12th,'' Riggleman said. "There were an equal amount of things to be disappointed about and I'm disappointed in all of them.''


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July 29, 2008 7:16 PM

Mariners at Texas Rangers: 07/29 game thread

Posted by Geoff Baker

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Ichiro takes a lead off first base after needing just one pitch to hit a flare to left center for a single and the 3,000th hit of his professional career in both the major leagues and Japan. He got a nice round of applause from the crowd when the milestone was announced. Just had a chat with Nolan Ryan, moments after the hit. Yes, that guy. The new Rangers team president. He'd stopped by the press box for a glass of water, so I tapped him on the shoulder as he headed for the elevator.

I asked him the same question we've discussed all day. About the legitmacy of the 3,000 hits given that a huge chunk of them came in Japan. Ryan is a Hall of Famer. As you've seen, many of those players care about milestones and legitimacy of numbers.

"I think 3,000 hits is 3,000 hits,'' Ryan said. "It doesn't matter what league he did it in. For him to come out here and do what he did right away is a remarkable accomplishment. It's a tribute to him as a player that he's been able to do it for so long. When you get to the stage of 3,000 hits, that's an accomplishment and I don't care where he did it.''

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We've got a ballgame going here in the seventh, as Jose Lopez and Bryan LaHair just hit back-to-back solo homers off Jamey Wright to make it a 9-8 game, the M's still trailing. Seattle scored three in the sixth, aided by a wild-pitch and some sloppy fielding. Can they get Carlos Silva off the hook? We'll see. It's the first time this season the Mariners have hit back-to-back homers. Only took them 106 games. What a night.

Just got done talking to interim GM Lee Pelekoudas, who said he's involved in all kinds of discussions about a multitude of players. But he reiterated that he's not going to engage in salary dumps. He wants value in return for players. He mentioned, as we discussed on the blog yesterday, that in some cases, he can wait until after July 31 to make some deals.

Pelekoudas kept repeating that he will only make deals that will make the club better. I asked him at that point whether taking $10 million in salary off the books for next year would, in theory, make the club better by freeing uo funds to go after better players.

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July 29, 2008 4:27 PM

Ichiro watch is on

Posted by Geoff Baker

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So, we're about an hour away from game time and there's some genuine excitement in the air over Ichiro's next hit, No. 3000 of his professional career. A small group of fans here began chanting "One more hit! One more hit!'' as Ichiro came out for his pre-game stretching. There is a true sense that he has accomplished something, even though it will be controversial.

A spirited debate this morning on the comments thread, to be sure. Mike mentioned something not too long ago about what will happen if Ichiro reaches 3,000 hits in the majors, putting him past Pete Rose as the all-time hits leader. I was asked that very question in an interview by a Japanese media collegue just before coming up to read Mike's comment. It's a good question. My answer was that it would be controversial. Maybe not along the same lines as Hank Aaron passing Babe Ruth's all-time home runs record. That was a racially motivated controversy to be sure. And I'm positive there would be some backlash along those lines if anyone suggested -- as they no doubt would -- that Ichiro is the true all-time hits leader. But it would also be a genuine baseball debate, sort of like the one we had this morning.

Ricofoy made an excellent point about Tuffy Rhodes, who hit 415 home runs -- only 12 in the majors. Should he be in the 400-homer club? I mentioned this downstairs to some Japanese media colleagues and they burst out laughing. They agreed that it presented an interesting counterpoint. My argument would be that Ichiro was equally prolific in both leagues over a prolonged period, while Rhodes was not. But then again, if you're going to argue that all of Ichiro's hits count, then it shouldn't matter which league Rhodes hit his homers in, should it?

That's the kind of stuff that makes this game great. Just try to keep in mind, we are being watched around the world, especially now. There will be fans from all over the world tuning in to this blog tonight, particularly from Japan. Let's try to keep the racism to a minimum please. In fact, let's eliminate it. Most of the time, just ignoring some of the drivel that gets spewed on this site is enough. Most intelligent people will see a comment for what it is, shake their head and move on. But it puts me in a bind. If I address it, then I get accused of wasting energy pandering to idiots. If I ignore it, it makes it look like we accept those kinds of views on this site and get accused of supporting idiots. And we at the Times don't support them. More importantly, I don't. So, I'm addressing it. Either way, I have to waste energy on idiots.

So, try to remember. Those of you who post on here, you're blogosphere ambassadors of sorts to the world. This isn't some local baseball blog for the boys in Port Orchard (though they are certainly welcome here). We are read worldwide. We have a huge number of followers on a daily basis. I don't think most of you want people in other parts of the world to hate the U.S. Most of you are intelligent folks who mean no harm to anyone. Try to tone the racial and xenophobic comments down, please. Especially tonight.

By the way, here's a letter I received today from Thiago Oliveira, a daily reader of our blog who calls himself a "Mariners Fan from Brazil". Doesn't say how he got to support the M's, but he's a Brazillian born and raised. He lives in the city of Blumenau in the Santa Catarina province. He says he's "very angry" with the Mariners season, which I guess makes him like any other Seattle fan. I wasn't aware of baseball being an overly big sport in Brazil but he tells me there are lots of fans and people who play it there.

"Here in Brazil I watch the Baseball games at ESPN on Sunday,'' he writes. "In every transition (he means "broadcast" I think) the fans can write email, and there is a lot fans around the country.

"In my city I can't find anything from Seattle Mariners not a cap or a jersey.''

Hmm, we'll have to find him a jersey someplace. Down below is a picture of Thiago (far right back row) with "my friends from college. When we have a free time on Sunday. we watch a baseball game.''
Remember folks, the world is a big place. There's room in it for all of us fans of the game.

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July 29, 2008 10:17 AM

Ichiro's 3,000 worthy?

Posted by Geoff Baker

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All quiet on the Jarrod Washburn front. Like I said, what you've got here is an old-fashioned standoff, with neither the New York Yankees nor the Mariners budging from their positions. This writer in New York even used the same "game of chicken" comparison we talked about yesterday morning. He's right. This story describes the usual trade scenario we've mentioned, that it was going to be either Melky Cabrera or Brett Gardner going to Seattle along with Washburn and all his salary off to New York. Never both players for Washburn. That would have been a fleecing and the M's rarely end upon the plus side of one of those deals.

Anyhow, the M's just might have to be willing to hold on to Washburn. We've had plenty of debate about this before. Is he for real? Are patsy opponents and an improved defense making him look better than he is? More on that -- especially the defense -- later in this post.

But now, let's deal with the 20,000 pound elephant in the room.

At some point tonight, Ichiro will likely notch the 3,000th hit of his combined major league and Japanese League career. We've heard a lot of commentary about the vailidity of this milestone. I go back and forth on it, personally. In fact, I was willing to dismiss it outright until Jim Riggleman mentioned something yesterday that cannot be overlooked. The fact that Ichiro has compiled his major league hit total of 1,721 (he had 1,278 in Japan) faster than any other player in history.

In actuality, Ichiro is compiling his major league hit totals faster than he did in eight seasons of professional baseball in Japan. Perhaps the era of the three-run homer in MLB caused teams here to position themselves to defend against the big hit rather than the infield and slap singles that Ichiro tends to pile up? Who's to say he wouldn't have already been at 3,000 hits had he begun his career here?

Don't forget. He also played minor league baseball in Japan.

So, this isn't the same as saying that if you reward Ichiro, you have to take the Class AAA stats of all other players and count them as well. The Japanese pro ranks are superior to minor league American baseball. Some would call it a AAAA league.

But I'll throw this out there. Who's to say the hit totals of Amercian ballplayers weren't being inflated throughout the 1990s steroids era? Maybe it was actually tougher to get hits in Japan, playing in a league where rampant drug use wasn't nearly as prevalent -- or tolerated?

Baseball isn't the only sport where the caliber of "professional" leagues comes into play. Let's talk about local football legend Warren Moon. I actually watched him play live in the Canadian Football League a few times as a kid growing up cheering on my Montreal Alouettes against his Edmonton Eskimos. Many folks want to discount the passing yardage he compiled in Canada, as they do with Doug Flutie, when it comes to looking at career totals. They say the level of competition is not as serious in the CFL.

To that, I say, major pro ball is major pro ball. Moon spent six years getting knocked on his back by guys good enough to play in the NFL in many cases. In temperatures of 40-below when it came to playoff time. The difference between the CFL and NFL can often be boiled down to a few more talented guys at certain skill positions. They are different games. But they are played at full speed at the highest levels. Dexter Manley did not go up to the CFL and dominate. Neither did Mark Gastineau. They were done as players and exposed badly, even in the "inferior" CFL. Joe Theisman won a Super Bowl. But he failed to win his only Grey Cup (CFL title) game. Others, like Moon, Flutie, Jeff Garcia, or "Rocket" Ismail, do well in both leagues. Some don't.

When a team of National Hockey League stars went over to Europe to play club teams during the 1992 lockout, they often found themselves in over their head. When NBA stars played for the U.S. at the World Championships this decade, they were hammered by Argentina and Yugoslavia. A club team from Israel beat the Toronto Raptors in an exhibition game. Pro is pro. Once again, the difference between one league and the other can be marginal. Yes, the NHL is the best hockey league in the world, the NBA is the best basketball league and the NFL the best football league. And MLB is still the best place to play baseball. But by what margin is it the best?

I'd argue, not as much as you'd suspect. Many times, whether you play in one league or the other can come down to politics, height and weight. Is that the best measurement? Hey, if sheer size were all that mattered, a lot of those Ultimate Fighting matches would be over before the opening bell. But watch the fights themselves. The size of a guy's biceps is rarely what decides the outcome.

To that end, I think it's somewhat insulting to Ichiro to discount all of his Japanese hits out-of-hand as the product of playing in the equivalent of a AAA league.

Let's face it, at his age, he may never get to prove he could notch 3,000 hits in a major league uniform. The fact that I have to qualify that statement -- leaving open the possibility he still might do it -- shows you what kind of talent he is. Based on the evidence in front of me, I see no reason to believe he would not have done it. So, why not reward him for the next best thing?


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