TOKYO – Time to go.
It’s been grand, Japan. Thanks for the smiles and the sushi. The Mariners had a great time.
But when they make a 38-year-old, 270-pound pitcher look like Bob Gibson in his prime, it’s time to get back to spring training for a few pushups and 300 hours in the batting cage.
Bartolo Colon crushed the Mariners’ hopes of an entire week in first place with a dominating performance in a 4-1 Oakland win Thursday night at the Tokyo Dome that split the opening series and regenerated a theme from the past couple of years – wasting a great effort from a starting pitcher.
Jason Vargas gave up one run and two hits in 6.1 innings, but the offense was typically enfeebled. Ichiro said sayonara to his homeland with a 0-for-4 night, and only Justin Smoak helped Vargas with a solo home run.
“Give Vargas a lot of credit,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “He pitched a lot differently than we were used to. He didn’t throw any change-ups until the fourth inning.”
After the Mariners started the week of their first trip to Japan with decisive exhibition losses to the Hanshin Tigers and Yomiuri Giants, only Wednesday’s opening 3-1 win over the A’s behind starter Felix Hernandez prevented talk of relegation to Japanese leagues.
Since two games are an extremely small sample size, here’s what can be said definitively:
• Good week: Shortstop Brendan Ryan became engaged to his longtime girlfriend, Sharyn, Tuesday atop the 52-story Mori Tower downtown. The romantic drama included the safekeeping of the engagement ring by Hernandez. Ryan’s explanation: “If the ring was lost, only Felix could afford to replace it.”
• Bad week: Mike Carp sprained his right shoulder diving for a ball Wednesday, and was put on the 15-day disabled list. Carp was seen increasingly as a solid answer to the perennial problem in left field. No one knows the severity of the injury, and there still five games of spring training, but in the battle to see who finishes third in the A.L. West, no advantage can be surrendered.
The other thing that was plain was that everyone in the Seattle party was dazzled by the host country.
“I’ve been impressed with so many things on so many levels – the people, the culture, the baseball – two teams took it to us pretty good,” said manager Eric Wedge before the game, laughing a little nervously. “It’s interesting how they prepare and work their way through games. It was a good experience for players and myself. You pick things up and get better.”
The trip marked a couple of anniversaries – one good, one sorrowful. The earthquake and tsunami that killed more than 20,000 devastated the landscape and disrupted the economy was just more than a year ago.
And 20 years ago, billionaire Hiroshi Yamauchi became the first Japanese to become majority owner of an MLB franchise when he helped buy the Mariners for $125 million. The hope was he would see his team play for the first time. But he did not attend, and CEO Howard Lincoln said Yamauchi didn’t have to give a reason.
“It was time we came, and we’re glad we did,” said team president Chuck Armstrong this week. “People have been wonderful, and I’m glad we went up north to visit in the disaster zone. It’s been tremendous.”
As long as they don’t have to face Colon too many more times.