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M’s fall short again

SUNDAY, APRIL 22, 2007

ANAHEIM, Calif. – Keep on trying, and the Seattle Mariners just might get this “rope-a-dope” strategy to work.

Find someone to kick the extra point on that last-minute touchdown, and they could challenge for supremacy in the American League West. For now, the Mariners are merely creating jitters and save opportunities for opposing bullpens by sleepwalking through all but the final few innings.

Seattle once again bunched together some late runs – six of them this time – only to fail to climb out of a hole caused by seven innings of offensive futility. The eventual 7-6 loss to the Los Angeles Angels flattered a Mariners team that wasn’t very competitive until a third of the 43,752 fans had already left Angel Stadium to get a jump on Saturday night traffic.

“It would benefit us as a club to get it going early,” said Mariners left fielder Raul Ibanez, who went 1 for 5 and saw his team drop its fifth straight game. “But … late in the game, we’ve had a lot of fight in us. If we combine both halves of the game, then we’re going to be really tough.”

More like combining the bottom third with the top two-thirds.

This affair was 7-1 in the eighth when Seattle put up a five-spot, capped by Ben Broussard’s third career pinch-hit grand slam off Angels reliever Scot Shields.

But few aside from Broussard were celebrating once Angels closer Francisco Rodriguez struck out Ibanez to end a 1-2-3 ninth inning. The Mariners held a 20-minute, closed-door meeting after dropping to 5-8 and into a tie with Texas in the A.L. West basement. Afterwards, manager Mike Hargrove kept the door to his office shut for several more minutes before declining to talk to reporters.

Until Broussard hit the first pinch-hit slam in Seattle history, the game had been a tale of Mariners collapse on two fronts.

They could do little against Angels starter Bartolo Colon, pitching for the first time in eight months after suffering a torn rotator cuff. The strike-throwing Colon toyed with the free-swinging Mariners through seven innings, allowing only one run and throwing just 77 pitches.

“You’d like to work counts on him, but he’s throwing strike one just about every time,” Ibanez said. “It kind of puts you in a predicament where you’ve got to be ready to hit right away. He’s pumping a lot of fastballs and he’s got command of it, so you’ve got to swing the bat.”

On Seattle’s own pitching front, starter Horacio Ramirez had no command, walked six batters and yielded another home run by Vladimir Guerrero, this one a two-run jolt to left that put the Mariners behind from the first inning.

It’s a familiar script, one the Mariners saw played out most of the week.

They trailed 5-0 in the sixth inning to Minnesota on Wednesday before losing 5-4. It was a 6-2 game in the ninth against the Twins on Thursday before the Mariners absorbed a 6-5 defeat. They were down 8-0 in the eighth against the Angels on Friday in what became an 8-4 loss, and they trailed 7-0 by the seventh inning of this one.

“We’re just going to have to come out early and put quality at-bats on the opposing pitcher, as opposed to late in the game,” Ibanez said. “We’re already doing it in the tough part of the game.”

Not so tough to start off, since bullpen mop-up guy Darren Oliver was on the mound in the eighth. He allowed singles to Jose Vidro and Jose Guillen before Shields came in. He walked Jamie Burke, then watched Broussard nail a 2-2 pitch over the right-field wall.

“Your timing’s usually not there (when pinch hitting), so I had to figure out a way to come in to that at-bat and just battle,” Broussard said. “The whole at-bat, he was pitching me in. That’s how he pitches a lot of guys. I didn’t know what he was going to throw; I was just hoping I could make contact.”

Broussard did just that. Unfortunately for him, the Angels had made even more contact off Ramirez to knock him out of the game after just four-plus innings.


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