Pandemonium In The Streets: The Mariners Hit .500

The last time the Mariners were .500, they were 2-2 and in the early stages of a 7-game losing streak.  After a promising start in Oakland, we were annihilated by Texas and Cleveland; it was 2010 all over again.  Discounting the waterfall of unearned runs via Oakland, our offense was as bad as it’s ever been, and our starting pitching wasn’t anywhere near what it is now.  Things were bleak.

We would eventually bottom out to 7-games under .500 for a while, and it was just a matter of time before talk of 100 losses and yet another regime change.  Then:  a spark!  A 5-game winning streak.  That got us to within two games of .500 and put us right back in the thick of the AL West race.  People might not have quite believed in these Mariners just yet, but we definitely perked our ears up, like a dog watching his master going into the kitchen.

That eventually led us back to a 6-game losing streak thanks to a bullpen implosion; but unlike the early-season struggles, we couldn’t quite write this team off.  It’s one thing to have a bad offense compounded by uneven starting pitching; it’s another to do just enough to win some games, only to have the rug pulled out from under us in the later innings.

Sure enough, what has immediately followed is truly remarkable, especially taking our early-April start into consideration.  The Mariners have won 9 of their last 11 games, with all three elements – starters, bullpen, and hitting – picking up their efforts.  With that 5-1 road trip, and last night’s come-from-behind victory over the Yankees, the Mariners are FINALLY back to .500, out of last place in the division, and indeed only .5 games out of first (tied with Texas in the loss column).

How in bloody hell did we do it?

This series with the Yankees seems like a pivotal stretch.  It might not be enough to prove us contenders, but if we figure out a way to win at least 2 of 3, it could very well prove whether or not we’re able to hang around.  Hanging around, in all honesty, is all we can really hope for at this point.

When it’s put that way – if this is indeed a pivotal series – then yesterday’s game was the most important of the bunch.

We had Pineda going, and for the rest of this season he’s going to be our Wildcard.  With him and Felix going back-t0-back, it’s Pineda’s starts that will ultimately determine how far we’re going to go.  Or, at least, how long we’re going to stay within a stone’s throw of Texas.

In true Wildcard fashion, Pineda didn’t have his best stuff going last night.  He appeared to struggle with his slider, and overall with his command of the strike zone (5 walks to only 5 strikeouts in 5 innings, giving up 3 runs).  Fortunately, the rest of the team was able to pick him up, and in exciting fashion no less!

Franklin Gutierrez:  I can’t say enough what his return means to this team.  Obviously, in our lineup, he’s a massive upgrade over Michael Saunders (who doesn’t look like he’ll ever become the Major League hitter we always hoped he’d be).  And in the field, for as good as Saunders has been, Guti just takes it to another level.  It seems like every play he makes is a minor miracle; no one else on this team could have made that catch to rob Nick Swisher of a home run last night.  And he made it with relative ease!  He’s hands down the best centerfielder we’ve had roaming the grass in Safeco.  As such, he’s a calming influence for the rest of the team.  He takes pressure off of Ichiro and “Left Fielder”; he gives confidence to pitchers that long fly balls will be run down with regularity; and his defense is a boon to the entire offense, knowing that runs will be saved whenever he’s out there.

It’s no surprise that we’re undefeated in the games he’s started this season.

Still, we were down 3-0 going into the bottom of the 5th.  It looked like A.J. Burnett was going to cruise through seven shutout innings until we figured out a way to put two runs back on the board.  Brendan Ryan started things off with a single, then Ichiro poked a double down the left field line to put runners in scoring position.  Two groundouts later and we were right back in the ballgame.

This was one of the craziest games I’ve ever seen from an offensive standpoint.  We scored 4 runs, but we were 0 for 8 with runners in scoring position.  The RISP issue has been a serious weak point for this team all year, so the 0 for 8 doesn’t surprise me.  It’s how we managed to push the runners home that was so odd.

The Yankees didn’t have any fielding errors.  No stolen bases contributed to our rallies.  We didn’t score on any wild pitches, or indeed any sacrifice flies!  ALL of our runs came on ground ball outs in the infield!

The 6th inning started off much like the 5th:  our first two batters got hits.  Then, somehow, Peguero walked to load the bases.  From there, it was two more consecutive infield outs to finish the job.  “Playing the right way,” and “making the right kinds of outs” – these cliched phrases baseball people talk about ad nauseum – were precisely the reasons we scored those runs and eventually won that ballgame.  Insanity!  Insanity because:  the Mariners, for the last good long while, have been LOUSY about “playing the right way” and “making the right kinds of outs”!  They NEVER get the guy from third home with less than two outs.  EVER!

I’m afraid to say this, but the M’s probably used up a month’s worth of “the right kinds of outs” in this lone ballgame.  It’s a good thing we won, then.

In closing, the bullpen continued their en fuego status.  David Pauley went two innings of two-hit ball to lower his ERA under 1.00.  What kind of parallel universe are we living in???  Jamey Wright got his 10th Hold and lowered his ERA to 1.57 – seriously!  And Brandon League has gotten his mojo back with his 13th save.

For as satisfying a win as that was, it had to be doubly frustrating for the Yankees.  So, good!  There’s nothing quite like beating up on the Yanks.  My hatred may have waned in the last decade – what with all the ball-sucking the Mariners have been doing – but my hatred for the Yankees will never fully die.

We needed that one yesterday.  To get us all the way back to .500, and to get us that much closer to a series win.  Now, we have Felix going tonight.  I won’t start gloating now, because our offense could very well go back into hiding tonight, leaving us all sick to our stomachs.  But, we have a very good chance to take care of business here.  Felix, in the past, has made the Yankees his bitch, and there’s no reason to think that won’t continue – if indeed Felix has turned the corner and is ready to step his game up for the rest of the season.

This is the game we have to win.  Tonight.  Because Sabathia goes tomorrow, and that one has Loss written all over it.

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