May 16, 1995 in Sports

M’S Fans Have Endured Worse Than No Lefties

Art Thiel Seattle Post-Intelligencer
 

Since Sunday was merely the Seattle Mariners’ seventh home game since July 22, perhaps more casual fans would like to be caught up on the happenings with their gritty little blue club.

White Sox 10, Mariners 2.

Any further questions?

OK, that isn’t altogether fair. The season hasn’t been exactly the same old, same old.

The Mariners are 9-7, a record of breathtaking majesty in the diminutive A.L. West, where one-eyed men are kings. They have held first place for 15 days, are fifth in A.L. attendance and ninth in baseball overall, have had no one injured by flying stadium parts and haven’t threatened to move the franchise in more than a week.

It’s just that the quality of Sunday’s momentumkilling flameout brought out some tears of yesteryear in the tiny knot of longsuffering Mariners fans.

Mariners tradition is to have a game every once in a while that magnifies a shortcoming in the fashion of an automobile rear-view warning - objects in mirror are closer than they appear. The object, as always with the Mariners, is franchise hopelessness. Sunday’s shortcoming rekindled the kind of stomach free fall that happens when a truck grille fills the mirror.

Manager Lou Piniella used in a row all four of his left-handed relief pitchers. So uniformly bad was this quartet that he announced after the game he was abandoning nearly the lot of them and bringing up a 22-year-old kid from the low minors.

Rafael Carmona, Carmona Rafael, Marinara Carbona. Something like that. Piniella could have been reading the menu from his favorite pasta house and no one among the baseball scribes could have called him on it.

Fortunately, the kid is right-handed, which presumably makes him immune to the plague afflicting the current relief staff. Well, ex-current.

Cuts had to come anyway, because major-league rules in this stub of a season allowed teams to carry 28 players, three more than usual, until Monday. But even if cuts weren’t mandatory, Piniella still might have gone through the staff with a wheat thresher.

To give an idea, 37-year-old retread Lee Guetterman was the, ahem, ace of the group. He entered Sunday with a 4.91 earned-run average, followed by Ron Villone (7.20), Kevin King (10.80) and John Cummings (11.25).

Early in the season, inflated ERAs are not unusual because a bad inning or two skews the numbers. But after Sunday, three of the lefties saw their ERAs head skyward again. The fourth, Villone, saw his drop slightly, even though he walked three of the five batters he faced, including one on four pitches with the bases loaded.

Piniella responded by expanding the shuttle to the minors from a minivan to a bus to accommodate the demotions of youngsters Cummings, Villone and King.

Guetterman, said by some to be mature enough to have known Cy Young personally, is the lone lefthanded bullpen survivor, presumably on the theory that cunning can sometimes cover for lack of ability.

“We’ll pick a spot to get a lefthanded hitter out and use him there,” Piniella said, “and we’ll go with right-handers the rest of the way.”

He said it in a way that lacked a certain surety; the way that Piniella and all his Mariners predecessors have always talked. But if one takes his current vexation in the context of his predecessors, this failure to have left-handed help in the bullpen does not stack up mightily against the multiple talent crises in Mariners history.

The Mariners are solid among the eight position players and have two proven starting pitchers and an adequate right-handed bullpen. As always, it is an incomplete team, but less incomplete than usual. And in a major-league season that, by the rhythms of the sport, should now just be completing spring training, the Mariners appear to be less wobbly than many, if not most.

They are fragile, lacking the depth to survive more than one missing cog. So are many teams, given the financial cutbacks made to stop the self-inflicted wounds of the strike.

Gruesome as Sunday was, Piniella rarely again will bunch his four worst pitchers together. It was almost like colonial New England, where the guilty were publicly paraded before being slammed into the stocks.

Another way to look at it is that spring training is over, and the Mariners are two games above .500.

No bullpen lefty? Mariner fans, having viewed more emaciated carcasses, will deal with it.


Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email