Cal Ripken Jr. approached Lou Piniella behind the batting cage hours before the game Monday and feigned anger.
“Did you have to get so many great arms?” Ripken asked. “Wouldn’t one or two have been enough?”
Piniella laughed. Ripken’s offhand remarks about the trades that brought three relief pitchers to Seattle last week were the kind the Mariners have been getting from those in baseball - but hardly the kind of response that’s been arriving in telephone calls and e-mail from fans.
“The reaction has been … mixed,” Piniella said, choosing his words carefully. “But we weren’t going to win without pitching.”
He has become weary in five days of defending a trade that no one in the organization wanted to make but, in the end, virtually all agreed had to be made. Jose Cruz Jr. wasn’t just a bright talent, he was a clubhouse favorite.
“It was a tough clubhouse the night we made the trade, tough because of the deal and tough because we lost a game,” one Mariners coach said. “But if we hadn’t brought in guys capable of closing games, this team might have died. Everybody loses a lead or two in a season, but 15 blown saves?”
In a huddle of scouts grabbing a bite before the game, a consensus of the six was that Cruz was an immense talent, raw and years away from his prime. But for a team in a pennant race, virtually all six thought Seattle had done what it had to do.
“This is an offense capable of getting to the World Series,” one A.L. East scout said. “That rotation - Randy Johnson, Jeff Fassero, Jamie Moyer, Omar Olivares - can get you to a World Series. Until they made the trades, that bullpen was going to keep their offense and their starting pitching from having a chance.”
“You don’t get a guy on pace for a 50-save season, but they got two guys who saved more than 30 games last year,” another scout said. “They rolled the dice. Everybody thinks Cruz has a great upside, but without relief pitching, the Mariners weren’t going to win their division.”
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