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A Grip on sports

Thursday: If you wonder what is the most miserable sports city in America, the Forbes website might not pop into your head as the go-to spot. Yet, the magazine has a list.

Forbes says Seattle is America’s most miserable sports city. Ahead of Atlanta, Phoenix and Buffalo, for goodness sakes. Is there anyway Seattle is the most miserable American sports city?

Sure there is. When was the last time a Seattle sporting season actually finished with you, the typical fan, feeling upbeat?

Sure, you could answer last NFL season, because the Hawks seem to be on the rise, but wouldn’t you have felt better if they actually had, you know, defeated Atlanta?

Heck, the last time – the only time – a Seattle professional sports team actually won it all was 1979.

There is a whole generation of Washington sports fans who have grown up without a championship team to call their own. Sure, there has been some college success in Seattle since the SuperSonics blasted the Bullets, but only a certain percentage of folks in Seattle root for the local university, while everyone rallies around a pro sports team.

So it isn’t hard to see why Forbes would put Seattle atop its list. But what will knock it off the top spot? It won’t be the Sonics, at least not for a while. Or the Mariners, unless some miracle happens down the stretch. The Sounders could chip in with a championship, but I doubt this is their season and that, even if it were, it would move the needle much.

So that leaves the Hawks, who each day seem to move further from the contender. Though the offseason was filled with hope and expectation, ever since training camp began I’ve been getting these feelings of trepidation.

Maybe it’s Percy Harvin’s injury. Maybe it’s Pete Carroll’s seemingly forced smile. Or maybe, just maybe, it’s 30 years of following Seattle pro sports teams. I’ve come to expect the worst. Or, as Forbes puts it, the most miserable.

Friday: When interim Mariners manager Robby Thompson popped out of the Fenway Park dugout in the ninth inning Thursday night and signaled for a relief pitcher, an argument ensued.

Did he make a mistake when he pointed to the bullpen? Whatever he did there, it wasn’t as bad as what he did at the beginning of the inning.

I maintain the mistake concerning whether Thompson signaled for Oliver Perez when he wanted Yoervis Medina wasn’t the most telling of the ninth. I go back to the decision to bring in Tom Wilhelmsen in to start the inning.

Years ago I had a chance to talk with Tony LaRussa, the guy who invented the idea of a closer, a relief pitcher who finishes tight games. The conversation covered a lot of subjects but one was how a manager should use his closer. LaRussa argued, and I agreed, developing roles for guys in the bullpen is crucial to success.

The more often you put a pitcher into a spot he was used to, the more often he was going to be successful. Set-up men set up, closers close. It was as simple as that to LaRussa. Which brings us to the ninth inning last night.

The M’s led 7-2. It’s not a save situation but Thompson, still in his first dozen games as a big league manager, went with Wilhelmsen, a guy who is supposed to be the M’s closer. The thinking was he needed work, I’m sure, but he got a lot more than he or Thompson wanted.

Closers get used to pitching in pressurized situations, when all of their attention has to be focused on every pitch. When they get into games and that’s not the case, some of them lose that edge and don’t pitch nearly as well. It happened to Wilhelmsen last night.

But that wasn’t the worst of it. With Wilhelmsen stoking a fire instead of extinguishing one, the rest of the pen was thrown into roles it wasn’t used to as well. Add into the mix the mix-up concerning who was to come in and we all saw how well the inning worked out.

Should Wilhelmsen be able to get three outs with a five-run lead? Sure. So should have Perez or Medina or Charlie Furbush. The difference is, if any – or all – of those three had failed to stop the Sox, then you still would have had your closer in your pocket to, hopefully, stem the tide.

Instead the roles were reversed and Thompson was forced to mix and match to finish the game. It didn’t work.


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