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Grip on Sports: It took a team effort for the Mariners to lose last night

Seattle Mariners starting pitcher Chase De Jong delivers against the Cleveland Indians during the first inning in a baseball game, Sunday, April 30, 2017, in Cleveland. (Ron Schwane / Associated Press)
Seattle Mariners starting pitcher Chase De Jong delivers against the Cleveland Indians during the first inning in a baseball game, Sunday, April 30, 2017, in Cleveland. (Ron Schwane / Associated Press)

A GRIP ON SPORTS • Some baseball losses are shouldered by the hitters. Some are the fault of the pitchers. And some, like the M’s defeat last night in Toronto, can be blamed on someone else. Read on.

••••••••••

• The M’s put a lot of capital into developing Mike Zunino as their everyday catcher. So far it hasn’t worked. So this year’s team, which fancies itself a playoff contender, is relying on a grizzled major league veteran, Carlos Ruiz, and a grizzled minor league veteran, Tuffy Gosewisch.

Yesterday, it was Tuffy’s turn to catch. With rookie pitcher Chase De Jong on the mound. And the game turned on Gosewisch’s decisions.

They were not good ones.

De Jong was cruising in the fifth inning. Low pitch count, a 2-1 lead. Two quick outs. And a quick 1-2 count to Kevin Pillar with a couple of really well-located fastballs.

Gosewisch called for a breaking ball. De Jong threw it. Low, just where the 33-year-old catcher indicated he wanted it. Then Gosewisch called for another. This one was even lower, in the dirt. Now the count was full.

With a one-run lead in the fifth, you would think De Jong would challenge Pillar. Make him hit to get on. Heck, a home run would only tie the game. Instead Gosewisch called for a third consecutive breaking ball. It just missed.

And opened the gate for a five-run inning. A gate that might have closed except for another bad pitch call.

Steve Pearce came up with two on and two in. With two strikes, De Jong tried to get him out with a fastball up.

After the game, De Jong took responsibility, telling reporters he shook off Gosewisch because he wanted to throw the fastball up. As a former catcher, it’s admirable to see a pitcher fall on the sword like that. It shows maturity on De Jong’s part and will serve him well as his career unfolds. But it’s not true. I watched the sequence over and over yesterday.

I didn’t see any head shake. Gosewisch went through the sign sequence, De Jong agreed and the catcher stuck his glove up to the top of the strike zone quickly, as catchers will do.

De Jong’s fastball was at the same level Gosewisch wanted, even though afterward the righthander said the pitch was three inches below where he intended. If that’s the case, then the glove wasn’t put in the correct place.

No matter. It was obvious Pearce was looking for a fastball up. And he didn’t miss it. Game, set, match. Three-run dinger.

Manager Scott Servais called the inning a learning experience. For De Jong, sure. He’s 23 years old and, if not for the M’s injuries, would probably be pitching in Tacoma, developing his craft.

But Gosewisch? He’s, in baseball terms, middle aged. This is his 13th season in pro baseball.

He’s been around the minors so long he’s a living, breathing Crash Davis. Without the home runs. Or Susan Sarandon.

If he hasn’t learned how to call a game, to nurse a young pitcher through a tough inning, to get him to challenge a hitter with the bases empty and two outs, he’s not going to learn.

Baseball is a cerebral game. And catchers have to think more than anyone. There’s a reason more major league managers these days played the position – Servais, for example – than any other.

But yesterday the decisions made behind the plate in the fifth inning bit the M’s in the rear. And cost them a chance for a fifth consecutive win.

•••

WSU: Around the Pac-12 this week, there have been some interesting stories that examine future issues. … Arizona’s Rawle Atkins may have played his way into the NBA. … Arizona State’s non-conference basketball schedule is finished. … Washington has some offensive questions that have to be answered this fall. … Oregon’s receivers have talent but not much depth.

Gonzaga: We missed Jim Meehan’s APR story yesterday. Sorry. … The NBA draft combine will decide Eric Mika’s future. … BYU filled the vacancy on its coaching staff.

EWU: Vernon Adams’ transfer was the impetus for a new business. Jim Allen explains what it’s about in this story. … The Eagles announced an addition to their basketball coaching staff Tuesday. … If you were wondering what is going on these days with Cooper Kupp, here is one answer.

Idaho: In our APR links Thursday, we somehow didn’t get this one concerning Idaho’s on-going problems in football.

Empire: The league may be different, but the rivalry between Spokane and the Arizona Rattlers remains the same. Jim Meehan has an advance of tonight’s game in the Arena.

Preps: Lewis and Clark remained alive in the 4A soccer playoffs with a 2-1 win over Richland. Jim Allen has the story. … The 4A district track meet was yesterday and Whitney Ogden was there. … We also have roundups of softball, baseball and tennis action. … Former North Central football coach Art Bauer died Thursday. Jim Allen has his obituary.

Hoopfest: There is still time to get your team into this year’s all-new Hoopfest. Well, not all new. But big parts will be different. Jim Allen’s story explains it all.

Mariners: Dave Nichols has his Mariners Log today, as per usual. We added the links to the end.

Seahawks: It’s rookie mini-camp weekend for the Hawks, with the focal point their top draft pick from Michigan State. … Frank Clark’s tweets thrust his history back into the spotlight in a way that leaves the Seahawks disappointed. … Eddie Lacy loses weight, makes money.

•••       

• There is no more Spokane event than Hoopfest. Don’t wait. If you want to play, get your team in now. But if you aren’t the playing type, it’s also fun to volunteer. There are a lot of opportunities available. Just contact the Hoopfest office. They’ll guide you through the simple process. Until later …

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