By Shannon Drayer
I am not sure what to call this weekend for the Mariners. It is not exactly an aberration as the team is 8-5 against the Athletics this year, having won three series and tied one.
A tease might be a better way to describe it, but after seeing glimpses of hope earlier in the season dashed by problems with the back end of the rotation, bullpen implosions, Felix and Iwakuma forgetting their Superman capes on occasion and the offense in general, two wins is not enough to qualify as a tease.
Fairy tale comes to mind when I look at what Raul Ibanez is doing at age 41, but even that is not accurate. After a somewhat typical slow start he has been fairly consistent with the fireworks, and with the work that he puts in and the physical shape he is in maybe this shouldn't be a surprise. The guy knows how to mash and is showing no signs of slowing down despite being forced into a near everyday role in the field.
The joy of victory and agony of defeat came to mind while watching Kendrys Morales round third and head for the open arms and gentle pats by teammates mindful of what transpired the last time he hit a walk-off home run. Three years and two surgeries later he still must ice his ankle and lower leg – which were nearly destroyed in the home-plate celebration in Anaheim – after every game. Lesson learned.
"No jumping," was the only comment in English Morales made in the clubhouse after Sunday's 6-3 win.
What we saw this weekend maybe could best be described as two good games. Two good games in the face of continued challenges for this team.
The bullpen is still a huge question mark. Eric Wedge's options are limited on a good day with Tom Wilhelmsen down and – aside from Oliver Perez – the other relievers still showing various levels of inconsistency. On Sunday, Wedge was working with a pen that had two arms down and one he wanted to stay away from. Facing a lineup like Oakland's that can go left/right at just about every position, the matchups late did not bode well for the Mariners, but they got through it.
Danny Farquhar may have been left in for one hitter too many but Perez was able to hold things down until Mike Zunino could scamper to first on a wild pitch, Michael Saunders could put his hitting woes aside enough not to get swing-happy in a big situation and advance him to third on a 3-2 hit-and-run. That set the stage for Morales – who was under strict orders from Wedge to not even think about swinging a bat before the sixth inning as he wanted him to rest – to put one good swing on a ball and send it over the fence for the win.
The bench was short once more just a day after getting Franklin Gutierrez back. Wedge would have to pick his spot carefully to use Morales as Gutierrez came out of the game with hamstring tightness that apparently 60 days on the disabled list was not enough to cure. By all appearances we are back to day-to-day with Gutierrez, a situation Wedge was hoping to avoid.
Jason Bay was forced back into action two days before they ideally wanted him to return. Some wondered why Wedge waited until Brendan Ryan's spot came up in the order to use Morales. The answer was simple: with Ibanez in at DH and Gutierrez out, there were no more options in the outfield.
Despite the short bench and bullpen and having the back end of the rotation start two of the three games against the A's, the Mariners came away with the series win. A much needed series win after what happened in Anaheim. A step in the right direction? I don't know. We need to see more and there are obvious challenges, but from what we saw in Anaheim this would appear to be at the very least a step away from the cliff.
News and notes
• Ibanez is putting up historical power numbers for his age group as Gary Hill documented in a post Monday morning. That post shows the incredible company he is in right now, not even halfway through the season. How about his own company? Well, a quick look at his career numbers shows he has already hit more home runs this year than he did in his first five years combined with the Mariners.
• More Ibanez: His eight home runs in June are tied for most in the American League with Chris Davis, Adam Dunn and Evan Longoria.
• Rainiers watch: Brad Miller homered Sunday, his fifth since joining the Rainiers. He currently is riding a 19-game hitting streak and batting .348 with an OPS of .987 over 23 games. A rather Seagerish Tacoma line there.
• Several players and coaches will take part in the 28th annual Cystic Fibrosis Mariners Care Golf Tournament at TPC Snoqualmie Ridge on the off day Monday. To date the tournament has raised nearly $5 million to help find a cure for cystic fibrosis.