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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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August 20, 2008 8:45 AM

How winning teams do it

Posted by Geoff Baker

No, I'm not going to get into a whole dissection of Felix Hernandez's bad night. Been a while since he got shelled like that. It happens. Pitchers have bad games. In fact, he hasn't given up two home runs, gone only five innings and given up five runs or more all at the same time in a game all season. Last time he went at least five innings and failed to get a strikeout in any game? It's never happened. That was a first. The only other time he's failed to log a strikeout in a start came in April of last season when he was sidelined by an elbow injury in the first inning against the Twins.

Anyhow, if not for Hernandez buckling down, which he did in that fourth inning, he probably would have allowed six runs over just 3-plus innings. So, it could have been worse. These White Sox have made good pitchers look bad all season, so don't sweat it. It's one game.

On to today's topic. We've spilled a lot of words this season over the M's clubhouse culture and the things they don't seem to do right. Bill Bavasi got the ball rolling back in May, and the subject keeps coming up. I know many of you have followed the happenings with the Tampa Bay Rays, specifically the travails of young phenom B.J. Upton, a good player with some bad habits. These habits include loafing it on the basepaths. He's already been benched twice in the past few weeks for not running hard down to first base.

After the first benching, some of you compared his situation to how the Mariners might have handled a similar event with one of their young players. You were surprised that a team in first place might take such action for a first time offense. But, as many of you noted, good teams do tend to try to snuff out these little brush fires with quick, decisive action, rather than letting them grow into something more serious.

It's August. Players do tend to loaf all across the game.

Anyhow, Upton was at it again a couple of nights ago, this time getting thrown out at second after cruising in to the bag on what should have been a double. He apologized for his actions when speaking to reporters on Tuesday. And this time, he wasn't benched. No, what interested me was how manager Joe Maddon decided to deal with Upton this time. Here's the account from the Associated Press version of the story:

Maddon, however, did not take him out of the game Monday night. Instead, he left it to veterans such as Cliff Floyd and Carlos Pena to take up the issue with Upton.

Floyd vowed, "He's going to get it right, trust me."

And that, folks, short and sweet, is what good clubhouses do. Some of you might not like the methods, which can include throwing folks up against walls if talking does not drive the message home. But the message will eventually be driven home, one way or the other. I have no idea how Floyd planned to make his point. I mean, he seems supremely confident that Upton will listen to him. Must be an engaging fellow. I don't know, Floyd has always seemed a nice enough guy, so perhaps he merely plans to talk to Upton over some coffee. But at 6-foot-4, 230 pounds, he can probably be pretty persuassive with somebody who tries to blow him off. Pena is 6-foot-2, 215 pounds. Upton is 6-foot-3, 185 pounds. It helps that both Floyd and Pena are sporting on-base-plus-slugging percentages above .800. Talking is always easier when you can do it on the field as well as off. But, sometimes you make do with what you have.

The New York Times version of the story says:

Maddon did call upon ''the other 24 people'' in the Rays' clubhouse to handle Upton, who is as popular among teammates as he is now frustrating.

So, let the debating begin about what the Rays should do next.

"It's the way it should be,'' Maddon said (of clubhouse enforcement). "And it's how these things should be handled. I really want to move beyond all this. The focus needs to be on how well we are playing and the accomplishments of these guys in (Monday's) game.''

There's more.

Floyd was very hurt by the event and told reporters he would "put his butt on the line" to fix the situation.

By the way, Floyd is talking to reporters, referring directly to Upton and saying he plans to take action, before actually speaking to the player. Just thought I'd point that out. In fact, this whole thing, I'd say, has been handled rather publicly by Maddon, Floyd and the Rays. Not really being kept "in-house". Or is it? What constitutes in-house? Maybe that's something else to talk about today.

Anyhow, I'm pretty sure Upton won't be goofing off on the bases again anytime soon. Peer pressure can be a wonderful thing. As can be staring down the wrong end of a 6-foot-3, 230-pounder's cocked fist as the wall presses against the back of your neck.

Sigh.

As for the Mariners? Heck, Hernandez could have thrown nine innings of one-run ball and still lost this game. So much for Seattle's 15 hits on Monday being a sign of something to come. The Apocalypse, maybe? For me, seeing Jarrod Washburn get out-slugged the night before was more disappointing because his team had at least done a few of the things necessary to win.

But when you don't score runs, nor help out on defense, a pitcher will usually wind up losing the game. Hernandez wasn't helped all that much by Wladimir Balentien's defense on that A.J. Pierzynski double in the third inning. But he's used to that, I'm sure. The Mariners defenders have made a lot of starting pitchers work harder than they had to this month. I think I heard somewhere that they aren't happy.

Oh well, so Hernandez couldn't "stop" this onslaught. What a road trip. It concludes today with knuckleballer R.A. Dickey on the mound. That sounds like a recipe for disaster, the way these White Sox have scorched any balls up in the zone. We'll see. Happy Dickey Day?


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