A GRIP ON SPORTS
It's time for baseball's All-Star break. The traditional midpoint of the baseball season, though it comes well into the second half. However, it is a good time for reflection, if your team is still in the hunt for the postseason. That's not been the case around here for a few years. Read on.
• As a Mariners' follower, I can remember back to the days when a .500 season was the goal. You know, this past April. (Insert rim shot here.) No really, back before the days of Ken Griffey Jr., and Edgar and the Big Unit. Just ending one season at the break-even mark seemed to be the Holy Grail. Finally, in 1991, under the narcissistic Jim Lefebvre, the M's reached that goal. And it didn't take the third baseman blowing a ground ball foul to reach it. So the goals changed. Make the postseason. That was the be-all and end-all. And that goal was reached. The magical 1995 season changed everything in the Northwest. The way we looked at our major league team. The national opinion of the players. Heck, though it was a couple years down the line before Safeco was finished, where the team would play its games. And the goals changed as well. The M's had been to the American League Championship Series. Now all that was left was the World Series. Alas, even though they won a record-tying 116 games in 2001 and won more than 90 games four consecutive years, that goal was never reached. Sad really, but it was the pinnacle of baseball in these parts. Starting in 2004, baseball retreated like a Mt. Rainer glacier. Six years of more than 90 losses, two with more than 100. The goals changed again. The idea was just to be respectable once more. So here we are. It's 2014 and the M's are respectable again. But there is trepidation. Knowledge, born of experience, allows us – forces us – to see the flaws. Take this weekend as an example. Big crowds Friday and Saturday night watch Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma shut down the best team in baseball. The offense scrapes enough runs for two wins and a series victory. Then Sunday the offense sputters, wasting chances that might not hurt with a Felix or Iwakuma on the bump. But Chris Young isn't that type of pitcher. He'll limit damage, but he's not going to get through a game unscathed. The offense needs to do its part. It couldn't, even when handed chances. And so the series ends in an ignominious 4-1 defeat. Maybe quiet would have been a better adjective. Or typical. Fifty-one wins before the All-Star break is a good thing. But it's so obvious with one more strong bat that total might have been 52 or 53 or even 55. So what happens the rest of the way? The stats guys tell you the M's have won with smoke and mirrors, considering how above their head they've been hitting with runners in scoring position. I agree with them even without citing the numbers. They seem to be reverting as July wears on. But it doesn't bother me that much. If they don't make the playoffs, so be it. This team isn't built to win a World Series, but for the first time I really believe it may only be another outstanding starter and a productive right-handed bat away from being as much of a contender for the crown as anyone. That's progress. So is winning more games than it loses. And progress is enough right now, for me anyway.
• Gonzaga: Missed this the other day but thought it may still interest you. CBSSports looks at GU's backcourt depth.
• Golf: The Lilac Invitational came down to the 72nd hole yesterday, with Tony Robydek (pictured) pulling out a victory. Jim Meehan was out at the Fairways and has the story.
• Seahawks: It's about 12 days until camp begins so Bob Condotta decided to answer 12 key questions. First up is the punt returner one.
• Mariners: Sonny Gray (pictured) is one of those typical A's finds, a starting pitcher who comes up from the minors and immediately starts getting people out. And continues to. Until he signs with the Yankees as a free agent. He got the win for Oakland yesterday with 7 2/3 strong innings. ... Iwakuma will start Thursday's game back after the break, with Felix and Young following up in Anaheim. Roenis Elias will open the Mets series in Seattle and the fifth starter will be ... who knows? Lloyd McClendon wouldn't say. ... The Futures Game featured some young Mariners.
• Sounders: Two wins in one week over your main rival is a good thing for anyone. It was especially sweet for most of the 64,207 at CenturyLink Field last night as Seattle dominated Portland in the second half en route to a 2-0 victory. ... Clint Dempsey, back from the World Cup, scored the first goal at the end of a stretch of shot after shot by the Sounders. ... He and Obafemi Martins proved to be too much for a Timbers defense their coach thought showed how tired it was. ... The rowdy atmosphere for the game was appreciated by all the participants, even the ones who recently played in Brazil. ... Speaking of Brazil, Germany's Mario Goetze scored in what we like to call overtime to lift his country to a 1-0 victory and its fourth World Cup title.
• Monday morning. The work week begins. More than likely we won't be on this space tomorrow. We need to take a day as we begin a trip tomorrow. A long day is planned, much of it in airports. If we can get here, we will. If not, see you Wednesday. Until later ...