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Grip on Sports: The Mariners’ bullpen is ‘seriously regressing’

Seattle Mariners relief pitcher Nick Rumbelow walks back to the mound after delivering his second wild pitch of the seventh inning as Boston’s Eduardo Nunez steps back into the batter’s box at Fenway Park in Boston on Friday. (Elise Amendola / AP)
Seattle Mariners relief pitcher Nick Rumbelow walks back to the mound after delivering his second wild pitch of the seventh inning as Boston’s Eduardo Nunez steps back into the batter’s box at Fenway Park in Boston on Friday. (Elise Amendola / AP)

A GRIP ON SPORTS • What’s on tap for your Saturday? Is there any chance you’ll be digging a big hole in the backyard, preparing a place to bury your Mariner hopes? Read on.

••••••••••

• A week ago the M’s season looked promising. No, not just promising. Bright. Sure, there would be a swoon coming. There always is. And it hit. The usual June Swoon, as us witty sportswriters have a tendency to call it, using a bit of rhyme to get a point across.

But what do you call the past week? It’s no swoon. And it’s more than a pothole on the road to the playoffs. The word that comes to mind is collapse.

Five games against the two best teams in the American League East. Five consecutive losses. That’s bad.

But you know what is worse? The way the M’s have lost. In two of the games, they’ve blown five-run leads. Heck, yesterday in Boston they blew a four-run lead before they blew the five-run one.

As the Times’ Ryan Divish terms it, the bullpen is “seriously regressing.”

And we were naïve enough to believe that wouldn’t happen until August or September, when Edwin Diaz and Juan Nicasio and James Pazos and the rest would be dealing with fatigue. 

If the M’s keep this up, at least Diaz will be fresh down the stretch. The rest of the guys? They will be looking for work.

Nick Vincent just came off a disabled list stint. He got hammered and saw his earned run average climb. Nicasio’s ERA is above a half-dozen. The newest addition, Alex Colome, has one above five. These are guys they were counting on to bridge the gap from the starters to Diaz, one of baseball’s best closers. 

Instead of building bridges lately, they have dynamited them.

The M’s spent 11 days earlier this month in first place. Then Houston got hot and won and won and won. Still, a week ago the Mariners were just a half-game out. Their record was 46-25. The future was bright.

Then the Sox pounded Mike Leake on Father’s Day, there were three consecutive losses in New York and now a disheartening one in Boston.

Today they’ll call on Leake to stop the bleeding, to hold the gap with the Astros at just 3.5 games. They’ll hope the bullpen can get the game to Diaz. And that the losing streak will end.

• While the M’s are battling the Red Sox this evening, I’ll be at a banquet, making a fool of myself. (It’s what I do in front of a large group of people.)

There will be a speech, which isn’t something I do well. Unless I was wearing a catcher’s mask, standing in front of a bunch of people always made me nervous.

But it has to be done. I’ll thank a whole bunch of folks and then will share this … 

I loved, and still love, fastpitch softball. It’s a near-perfect sport. And it breaks my heart it is no longer much of an option for young men to play, at least not in this area. 

The other day I read a post on social media. It was from a guy, complaining that women are forced to play fastpitch softball. He was upset they don’t get the opportunity to play baseball as men do. Look, I love baseball and I believe in equal opportunity. I always will. But forced? Come on. In a lot of ways, they are the lucky ones. They GET to play fastpitch.

A great fastpitch game has everything you want in a sport. And one other thing. Perfection. See, you have to be perfect, or nearly so, to win a fastpitch game. One mistake and boom, you lose. For a competitor, it was – and is – the perfect game. 

You didn’t have to be the biggest, the fastest, the most athletic person to be good at fastpitch – Exhibit A is standing right here in front of you – but you had to be willing to play all out, to be focused on every pitch. And you had to be able to overcome failure because it happened a lot. For an hour and a half – that’s another great thing about fastpitch, how quick the games are – you knew every pitch would be a battle – and that’s fun.

But not as much fun as what was going on in the dugout or after the games. Those are the moments I miss the most.

I miss the nights spent with teammates exaggerating our accomplishments. I miss the afternoons spent trying to stretch our muscles, all the while playing a game of can-you-top-this concerning whose legs ached more. I miss the mornings when getting out of bed was such a chore it made you examine your life choices.

None of that happens anymore, except maybe the getting-out-of-bed part. And that’s too bad. After all we gave to the game, I’m sure all of us wish we could re-live those times just once more, to sprint down to first base, to sit in the dugout and laugh at something stupid, to down one more cheap beer with your teammates.

The game gave us those times. It asked little in return. It was – and is – the best.

Now aren’t you glad you are missing that?

•••

WSU: National attention can be a good thing. Or not. The Cougars are receiving both this week. On the positive side is this Washington Post piece on athletic director Pat Chun. On the other side? That would be this New York Times’ opinion piece from Timothy Egan, a best-selling author and Times’ reporter. It seems Mike Leach’s Twitter debacle is going to have legs. … Chun, as most new athletic directors do, is changing some of the Olympic sports coaches. The latest to go is swim coach Tom Jager, who was an actual Olympian. … There will be a new bag policy at Martin Stadium this year. … Elsewhere in the Pac-12, the recent NBA draft highlighted the conference’s strengths and weaknesses. … Oregon State is still alive in Omaha after routing Mississippi State 12-2 on Friday. They same teams meet today with a spot in the best-of-three championship series on the line. … Arizona State already has two quarterbacks committed for the next signing cycle. Is that good or bad?

Gonzaga: Johnathan Williams didn’t hear his name called during the recent NBA draft. But he has hooked up with the Los Angeles Lakers for the summer season. Jim Meehan has more in this story. … Liam Lloyd, the son of GU assistant Tommy and a Gonzaga Prep starter, has picked up a scholarship offer from Eastern Washington. Ryan Collingwood has more. … Former Gonzaga guard Matt Santangelo talks Hoopfest and more with Larry Weir in the latest Press Box podcast.

Idaho: Vandal fans’ football tailgating now has the official seal of approval from the state Board of Education. 

Indians: Spokane’s bullpen was almost as bad at the Mariners’ last night, giving up a couple runs and the game, 5-3. The Indians were swept by Tri-City. … Indians manager Kenny Holmberg loves working on defense. Dave Nichols explains in this story. … Most of the Spokane players have never played before crowds the size of the ones they saw in the opening homestand at Avista. Johnathan Curley talked with the players about that. … Around the Northwest League, Everett and Eugene both won.

Chiefs: As expected, Ty Smith was taken in the first round of the NHL draft. The defenseman was selected by New Jersey with the 17th choice. Kevin Dudley has more.

Auto racing: Ryan has a piece on an upcoming race that will honor a famous Spokane family.

Preps: This is the time of year when high schools fill openings on their staffs in every sport. Dave Nichols’ notebook covers the most recent hires.

Mariners: If you were watching last night – I listened and watched, depending on where I was – you knew from the first pitch it was going to be the hitters’ night, right? The first inning was stupidly offensive. And Nelson Cruz? He is squaring up just about everything. Still, the M's lost 14-10. … As we mentioned, Vincent came off the disabled list. Will Jean Segura head there? He missed his second consecutive game. … Ichiro’s disguise fooled no one. 

Seahawks: The battle at wide receiver is intriguing.

Sounders: The clock is ticking for many of the Sounders. Goalkeeper Stefan Frei is one who doesn’t want to wait a season to get better.

•••        

• As you can probably tell, I’m a little nervous. I would rather be facing a 6-foot-5 lefty from Calgary throwing 100 miles per hour in a Canadian tournament than speak in front of a crowd of people, but we don’t always get to pick our battles, right? I’ll try to foul off a few jokes and then dribble a single to right. That’s what I always did anyway. Until later … 


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