Mariners needed Husky pitcher

The fifth of June was a giveaway night intended to pad the Seattle Mariners' crowd count. The gewgaw to be “won” by the first 20,000 fans was (quoting from the team’s official Web site) a “Mariners Collectible Train Night Safeco Field 10th Anniversary Car,” a description longer than the promotional item itself.

Of somewhat greater importance than the toy giveaway was the fact that the M’s gave away the game, a 10-inning loss to the Minnesota Twins. A ball that Wladimir Balantien should have caught with two outs in the top of the 10th instead became a run-scoring error. The light-hitting M’s couldn’t score in their half of the inning, and the game ended 2-1, Twinkies.

There were plenty of “would’ves” and “should’ves” associated with the game that Seattle easily could have won for Felix Hernandez, who had a stellar mound outing, giving up just a run while fanning seven in as many innings. The M’s could have won, that is, were it not for collecting just four hits, none of them courtesy of Ichiro Suzuki, who made his team’s first and last outs during an 0-5 night that ended his 27-game hitting streak.

Maybe they could have won, had some of their pre-game guests been available to play. Gathered near the mound were the key personnel of the national championship University of Washington softball team. All-world Husky player Danielle Lawrie tossed the ceremonial first pitch to wild applause from fans. What the Mariners really could have used was a timely swinging bunt or line-drive single from Lawrie or a teammate.

Yet, the M’s awoke on June 6 to find themselves far from hopeless in the American League West Division. At 26-29, the M’s were just 6 ½ games back of pace-setting Texas, with the better part of four months left to catch up.

If it were to happen, Seattle’s offense would have to get consistent 10-hit nights out of sleepy batters and take advantage of critical run-producing situations. Fans no doubt have been tempted to let their eyes stray to the box scores of the Triple A M’s farm team in Tacoma, where the Rainiers have been fielding teams with seven or eight guys hitting .300 or better. Several of them have Major League experience and might even be counted on to catch balls that elude Balentien and others. Certainly, left-fielder Michael Saunders (.336), for example, could be expected to hit better than Balentien (.235), Ronny Cedeno (.155) and others, including Mike Sweeney, whose solo dinger in the second was the M’s only run and who, nonetheless, is hitting just .231 as a platoon player.

In any case, fans no doubt would appreciate subsequent giveaway nights a lot more if they had any expectation that the games themselves wouldn’t also be palmed off in the process.

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