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Column: Mariners just one tiny 20-game win streak from contention
Riding the elevator to the Safeco Field press box on May 27, I suggested to a glum Seattle Mariners team official that it just might be the night when the struggling club started a 20-game winning streak. As Im known less for my prescience than my facetiousness, the official responded with something like: Yeah, right.
Yet, as the weekend series against Detroit dawned, the Ms who had been winless during an infamous late-May stretch of seven games were within 18 of fulfilling my prophecy, having twice beaten (albeit by just one run per game) the reigning World Series champion Boston Red Sox. If they could somehow steal three from the Tigers and another set from American League West Division pace-setter Los Angeles, the Ms might actually only be single digits out of first place.
Granted, it didnt sound like much when some recall that the 2001 club won more than the current vintage promises to win games. On the other hand, the 01 edition didnt make it to the World Series, so the franchise continues to eschew greatness in favor of gradations of mediocrity.
The pair of Ws against the Red Sox may have been less a matter of finesse than inevitability. Even a team destined to lose 100 games must at some point win two in a row. Some believed it had to do with benching Richie Sexson for 20 consecutive innings, though replacing a .200 hitter with a guy (Miguel Cairo) averaging .186 is kind of like subbing Larry for Moe.
Yet, if June could present a baseball boon instead of a swoon, the possibility exists that the Ms could get back to, if not pennant contention, at least respectability as mid-season roster changes approach. The club has no obvious trade bait (though this observer would take Ken Griffey Jr. straight up for Richie Sexson, and Id even toss in Willie Bloomquist to pinch-run in the unlikely event that Sexson ever got on base).
One plus during the Ms epic two-game winning streak: relief pitching. On Wednesday (May 28), Brandon Morrow, throwing 100 miles per hour, and J.J. Putz closed down the Red Sox after Erik Bedard worked seven scoreless innings. The Yuniesky Betancourt solo home run was the games only tally.
When youre starving, just about anything (well, except maybe garlic fries) seems palatable. In the same vein, a losing team will seize upon any kind of victory as cause for celebration. That is why it was a relief merely to see Ms players smiling some actually laughing in the aftermath of each win. Maybe they will find that winning is a good thing if only because of the mirth it engenders. In any event, as I write this, they are already one-tenth of the way toward fulfilling my prophecy.
Mike Henderson is a local sports columnist.