SEATTLE – For Robinson Cano, a double-play grounder in his first Safeco Field at-bat as a member of the Seattle Mariners, a walk and a run scored, two more indifferent ground balls and a nice glove-scoop assist to nail Raul Ibanez at first base.
Another day, another $148,148.15.
This is the twisted reality of the Mariners. Flop (or decline to dip a toe) in the free-agent reservoir and they’re too cheap to compete. Boat the big one with eight-figure bait and each swing becomes a line item, with assessments of worth spiking and sinking at a pace that would have even Wall Street’s high-speed traders crying uncle.
But, hey, when the patient is as chronically ill as Seattle baseball, the temperature must be taken hourly.
The M’s kept hope alive for another day Tuesday night with a 5-3 victory over the Los Angeles Angels, though the narrative careened from “How about these guys?” to “That’s so Mariners” almost by the inning.
A brief scorecard:
• The Super Bowl champion Seahawks – Pete Carroll, Russell Wilson, Malcolm Smith and friends – generate pregame delirium among the 45,661 customers. M’s starter James Paxton promptly surrenders back-to-back dingers, one by Albert Pujols that almost certainly was piloted by Maverick and Goose.
• Manager Lloyd McClendon wins his first video challenge, thanks to replay officials apparently being imported from the Pac-12. Then he loses the argument to have his runner advance, and the M’s leave the bases loaded.
• Paxton retires 13 in a row, mowing down the side in the fourth inning. Two innings later, he departs with a strained latissimus dorsi. It’s a muscle. Pitchers need it.
But a pair of jacks by reclamation project Corey Hart and some mostly nails relief by a bullpen that’s been, well, mostly nails preserved the good vibrations. Frankly, any Seattle success is bound to more in this vein and less of the Grand Omnipotent Stomper variety that characterized the season-opening sweep.
Even now that they’re playing in Robbie Cano World.
So far in the seven-game Cano era, there have been but two obvious distinctions: inconclusive movement in the standings, and the robust booing that greeted Seattle’s new second baseman in Los Angeles.
When was the last time the M’s had a player that got rival fans worked up enough to boo? Or even look up from their iPhones?
“I’m not surprised,” Cano insisted. “We’re in the same division. If I was a fan, I would be the same way. You don’t want your opponent to get better. I’ll take that.”
As a compliment?
“You know what? Let’s look at that way – that now this team can compete with anybody,” he said. “Not only in our division, but in the league. In the past, everybody sees this team as young kids who need to learn and grow. But now it’s different. And that’s not what our rivals want to see.”
Make that a third distinction: the $240 million dollar man splashing cold water on all the reasoned minds cautioning about the small sample size of the results so far.
It is not the Mariners’ way to dabble in instant icons. Ken Griffey Jr. was an undeniable force the minute he turned his cap around, but it was understood he would have to grow into his eminence. Ichiro Suzuki was a curiosity from a far shore, even while he was a Rookie of the Year and MVP in the same season.
Cano arrives with instant gravitas. And a contract that binds him to the M’s until he’s 41 and people will be more surprised that he actually can run out infield outs rather than be put off that he won’t.
Though both general manager Jack Zduriencik and McClendon have insisted Cano wasn’t signed to babysit Seattle’s kids, he has in fact made it a point to offer counsel to his teammates – and nudges to the organization, as when he lobbied in spring training for another right-handed bat and starting pitcher.
“You want to come here and you want to compete,” he said Tuesday. “You don’t want to prepare yourself for 162 games and then go home. You want to compete and play and who knows what’s going to happen on Oct. 1.”
His most valuable contribution has been in the opportunities he’s provided for Justin Smoak to succeed behind him. But, really, that’s Smoak’s doing; teams will keep pitching around Cano if the first baseman stops delivering.
For his week’s work, Cano has not yet hit a home run and driven in but two runs. But we’re persuaded he didn’t sign with Seattle simply to be able to grow the beard Yankee policy wouldn’t let him.
“Let’s remember this: this guy chose this city,” said Zduriencik. “He’s embraced this.”
And who’s embraced the Mariners lately, at any price?