It was not a concession, because Lou Piniella concedes nothing.
“These kids play hard every day,” he said of the Seattle Mariners. “That’s let us hang in there in our division. To win a division, it’s not enough.”
Sixty-five games into a season upon which the future of the franchise is based, that is as accurate a six-word evaluation of the Seattle Mariners as any: They play hard. It isn’t enough.
It wasn’t enough Wednesday against the Tigers, when the Mariners rallied from yet another deficit - this one created by surprise starter Dave Fleming - only to lose when Detroit scored a pair of eighth-inning runs to beat Seattle, 8-6.
Point, set, match. The loss was the seventh in a row in Tigers Stadium, gave the Tigers a sweep of the three-game series and sent Seattle reeling toward the best team in baseball, the Cleveland Indians.
When they arrived in Ohio late Wednesday, they arrived as a team that was below .500 (32-33) for the first time in 1995.
There won’t be many clubhouse speeches by Piniella before that series begins tonight. He cannot ask much more of his players, he says, than they have given him.
“They battled back in each of the three games here, they come back, they fight,” Piniella said. “If you ask some of these kids to step out of their roles, to do more, you’re asking too much.”
The Mariners can get no more, for instance, from Edgar Martinez - just named the American League Player of the Month for June. Nor can they ask much more of Tino Martinez, who went 5 for 5 Wednesday with a pair of home runs, a double and five RBI.
And those of whom Piniella could ask more may no longer have the ability to deliver. Fleming might be Exhibit A.
Making his first start since June 11 and his seventh of the season, the left-hander signed to a $800,000 contract in April gave up six runs in 4 innings - meaning he has failed in each of his starts to get past the fifth inning.
“I don’t have much to say today,” Fleming said afterward.
“He wasn’t too good,” Piniella said. “But I can’t protect him all year, I can’t hide him. He’s got experience, he’s won, and we keep running kids out there who haven’t and aren’t ready to. If he’s going to stay on this team, he’s got to contribute.”
And if he can’t contribute?
“Then the front office has a decision to make,” Piniella said.
Against the surging Tigers, the Mariners built yet another lineup around the heart of their order - both Martinezes and Jay Buhner - and tried to make it enough.
The Martinez Boys contributed seven hits and all six RBIs. The rest of the lineup contributed … effort.
Darren Bragg had a pair of hits, including a triple. Joey Cora had a single, walked twice and scored twice. Luis Sojo had two singles.
But in crunch time, things unraveled. Cora’s eighth-inning throwing error led to a run. In the seventh, with the bases loaded and the score tied at 6, Bragg grounded out and pinch-hitter Mike Blowers struck out.
In the ninth, down by two, Edgar Martinez walked and Tino Martinez singled, but Buhner, Bragg and Blowers didn’t so much as advance the runners.
“Tino had a huge game, a great game,” Piniella said, “and we had some other chances and didn’t get it done.”
“Bottom line is, we lost,” Tino said. “When you lose, it doesn’t matter if you had five hits or no hits. You just lose.”
Fleming wasn’t tagged with the loss, though he certainly grabbed more than his share of the responsibility. The rookie originally pencilled in to start, Rafael Carmona, was charged with the defeat after pitching 2 innings and allowing one hit - pinch hitter Bobby Higginson’s leadoff triple in the eighth.
Against reliever Steve Frey, Kirk Gibson hit a sacrifice fly to score Higginson and put Detroit ahead, 7-6. Cora’s throwing error provided the Tigers with an insurance run.
“I don’t fault their effort,” Piniella said. “I don’t fault their intensity. I’m proud of what these kids have tried to do, especially in the absence of (Ken Griffey) Junior. But we’re short, period.
“We probably need another productive bat. We don’t have a fifth starter and our fourth (Salomon Torres) has been inconsistent. We’ve relied basically upon four relievers all year, and we’re wearing them out.
“And we can’t add payroll. That’s no complaint, just the facts.
“We’re getting the best these players can give, and what we have out here is what we’re going to have unless we bring up kids from the minor-league system.”Piniella’s Mariners will not, he insists, concede the AL West. They may not, he admits, have the ability to contend for a title.
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