NEW YORK – It was more than just his office door that Mariners manager John McLaren kept closed after this latest defeat.
McLaren ordered the clubhouse door sealed tight this time after his players had filed in following their uninspired 6-1 loss to the New York Yankees on Saturday afternoon. Then, in a rapid-fire tirade that lasted only a few moments, he unloaded on his team with angry words that could be heard echoing in the hallway outside.
When it was over, the clubhouse door finally opened, and a sullen McLaren, voice shaky at times, repeated the verbal criticism for the media in a much lower tone. But it was clear from all involved that he is fed up with the lack of production from a team whose expectations have vastly exceeded results so far.
“We can’t hit for them,” McLaren said. “It’s up to them. We put their names in the lineup, and it’s up to them to hit. If that doesn’t work, we’ll look at other options. We spent two hours in the cage before the game and have nothing to show for it.”
Seattle’s starting rotation has put up numbers that rank them among the best quintets in baseball. But the offense has been its polar opposite, now having scored one earned run or less before the ninth inning of its past three games.
The Mariners have scored three earned runs or less upon entering the ninth innings of their previous six contests. They are also 0-13 in games in which their opponent takes a lead of two or more runs at any point in the contest.
“Everything he said, he hit the nail on the head and he’s absolutely right,” left fielder Raul Ibanez said. “It’s time for us to pick it up.”
A crowd of 52,810 at Yankee Stadium saw firsthand how helpless the Mariners look when falling behind. Facing aging Yankees starter Mike Mussina, clearly not the dominant arm he once was, the Mariners again could not produce any big hits when it mattered.
This time, though, the Mariners also didn’t get the pitching to keep things close. Felix Hernandez had a rare off-day, yielding three third-inning runs that snapped a tie at 1 and put New York ahead to stay.
Hideki Matsui hit a run-scoring single just past the third-base bag that scored the second Yankees run of the frame and kept the rally alive. After a throwing error by Ibanez allowed Matsui to move into scoring position, Melky Cabrera lined a ball to center and made it a 4-1 game.
Johnny Damon closed out the scoring with a two-run, upper-deck homer to right off Hernandez in the sixth. Hernandez was pulled after 5 2/3 innings, and Cha Seung Baek finished off the game.
The Ibanez error came when he thought about throwing to second base after Matsui looked like he’d try to leg out a double. But when Matsui stopped and headed back to first, Ibanez tried to hold off on his throw a little too late and wound up spiking the ball into the ground.
That error and an ensuing bobble by Ichiro Suzuki didn’t improve McLaren’s mood. He’d seen the Mariners make four errors in Friday’s loss, prompting him to close his office door after that game and avoid the media.
But this time, he got everything he had to say off his chest.
“We had a really good spring training,” McLaren said. “We’re a better club than 13-18. Our overall game is not very good. We have to get better. I need to take full responsibility because it’s my team and we have to get things right.”
McLaren had held other, 1-on-1 meetings with players of late. Richie Sexson was summoned to the manager’s office on Saturday, shortly after McLaren spoke with the media postgame.
Sexson had quashed Seattle’s last real hope of getting back in the game by grounding into a double play in the fourth with two on, two out and the score still 4-1. Later on, in the eighth, down 6-1, he grounded softly into a force out on a 3-1 pitch with two on.
Mariners catcher Kenji Johjima, who had his own meeting with McLaren a few nights ago, collected two singles in his first start after sitting the past two days. Johjima said he was used to his former manager, Sadaharu Oh, yelling at players back in Japan after every loss and that McLaren’s tirade wasn’t anything too shocking.
“If he throws chairs, it’s bad,” Johjima quipped.
But Johjima said there’s only so much a manager can do. Every player, he said, has to worry about taking care of their business so that the team will benefit as a whole.
“It was for us to get going,” he said of McLaren’s outburst. “It was because of us that we had that meeting.”
It’s because of them that a season that looked so promising five weeks ago is teetering in May.
Ichiro got his fourth stolen base of the series, though replays showed he was out. … With his 390th double, Derek Jeter passed Joe DiMaggio for fifth place on the franchise list. … Yankees manager Joe Girardi said he might give Mussina an extra day of rest the next time through the rotation rather than skip Ian Kennedy’s turn. … Seattle’s four-game skid matches a season high.