KANSAS CITY, Mo. – One guy toweling off in the losing clubhouse learned a hard lesson in his young major league career. Another knew he may have just provided a final chapter to his distinguished career as it draws to a close.
Seattle Mariners pitcher Jason Vargas and designated hitter Mike Sweeney both came away with something to think about after an 8-2 loss to the Kansas City Royals on Thursday night. None of it matters much anymore in 2009, but Vargas, who rallied to throw six decent innings after an opening-frame meltdown, and Sweeney, who popped his 100th career home run at this ballpark, both hope memories of this night will be something they can look back on.
“I don’t know if it’s tough to focus … you’ve got no choice,” Vargas said of his follow-up work after allowing five runs in the first inning. “Because, if you don’t, you’re really out of the ballgame, especially when our bullpen has been used quite a bit.
“I knew I had no choice.”
Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu had said his bullpen, forced to throw nine innings in the first two games here, could not afford another long night and Vargas would be left out there if things fell apart early.
And left out there he was after a 32-pitch first inning that saw a two-run homer by Billy Butler, a two-run double by Mark Teahen and 15,103 fans at Kauffman Stadium howling for blood. By the time Vargas was finally pulled for the night, his pitch count was at 109, seven innings were in the books, and he’d allowed only two more earned runs.
No one was handing Vargas any trophies, but Wakamatsu liked the adjustment he saw from a young pitcher competing for a back-end rotation job.
“I thought he tried to power his fastball in there and got hurt early,” Wakamatsu said. “I talked to him right after the first inning, after he’d given up five runs, and I thought he did a heck of a job after that.”
Vargas began the second inning by throwing softer pitches earlier in counts to keep hitters off balance. He also focused more on getting his pitches down in the zone, often a difficult in-game adjustment.
Sweeney watched from the dugout and then, in the fourth inning, launched his century-mark long ball at a stadium he played 13 seasons at with the Royals prior to last year. Adrian Beltre later that inning notched his second of four hits, tying a season high, and later scored to make it a 5-2 game.
But the Royals added three more runs in the fifth inning – only two earned after an error by first baseman Russell Branyan, who has been battling through back problems that have become more noticeable.
There was fairly hefty applause, and some fans even gave Sweeney a small ovation as he rounded the bases. He finished by tipping his cap.
“Just to say thanks,” he said. “To be welcomed the way I was tonight, it meant a lot and I just wanted to express my appreciation.”
Sweeney battled injuries his final season here in 2007 and heard fan criticism that he wasn’t getting back on the field quickly enough. So, the applause he heard on this night, possibly his final one here, meant a lot to him.
“There was a chance this was my last game at the ‘K’ and I just wanted to soak up every minute of it,” said Sweeney, who will eventually need double microfracture surgery in his knee.
Sweeney said he’ll look at his health, his family’s wishes and the team’s plans when considering the retirement question at season’s end.
“When they tear the jersey off my back, I’ll walk away and never have any regrets,” he added.
Nobody’s tearing anything off Vargas just yet. It was rough for any Mariners starter not named Felix Hernandez or Ian Snell on this just-completed 3-4 road trip. Garrett Olson lasted just 32/3 innings, Vargas went five frames last weekend, Ryan Rowland-Smith four innings and newcomer Luke French five.
That’s why Vargas was still out there in the seventh inning, retiring the final nine batters he faced on only 37 pitches.
“I’m always trying to get them to make contact,” he said.
“When the ball’s down and you’ve got a better angle on the ball, you throw more strikes and you’ve got a better opportunity to get outs quicker.”
And a better opportunity to have his career last as long as Sweeney’s.
Shelton sent down
The Mariners have sent veteran first baseman Chris Shelton back to Triple-A Tacoma after he spent a month with Seattle.
The team said that Shelton had cleared waivers and had accepted an outright assignment to the Rainiers.
Royals 8, Mariners 2
|Seattle||000||200||000 – 2||12||1|
|Kansas City||500||030||00x – 8||9||0|
E – Branyan (10). LOB – Seattle 9, K.C. 4. 2B – Ro.Johnson (16), B.Pena (6), Teahen (27), Y.Betancourt (12). HR – M.Sweeney (4), off Chen; Butler (13), off J.Vargas. RBIs – M.Sweeney (18), Ja.Wilson (2), Butler 2 (54), Callaspo (42), Teahen 3 (39), Maier (13), Y.Betancourt (27). SB – Maier (5). CS – I.Suzuki (7), J.Anderson (3). SF – Ja.Wilson. RLSP – Seattle 5 (Ja.Wilson, Branyan 2, Jo.Lopez 2); K.C. 3 (J.Anderson 2, Y.Betancourt). RMU – I.Suzuki 2, Branyan, M.Saunders, Maier 2. GIDP – Jo.Lopez. DP – K.C. 1 (Bloomquist, Y.Betancourt, Teahen).
|Chen W,1-6||6 2/3||10||2||2||1||4||5.28|
Inherited runners-scored – J.Wright 2-0. WP – Chen 2. T – 2:28. A – 15,103 (38,177).