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Sports >  Seattle Mariners

Commentary: Baseball brawls may bring bonding, but Mariners will be hurting from suspensions

June 28, 2022 Updated Tue., June 28, 2022 at 5:14 p.m.

The Mariners and Angels clear the benches Sunday after Seattle’s Jesse Winker was hit by a pitch and charged the Angels’ dugout.  (Ronald Martinez/Tribune News Service)
The Mariners and Angels clear the benches Sunday after Seattle’s Jesse Winker was hit by a pitch and charged the Angels’ dugout. (Ronald Martinez/Tribune News Service)
By Larry Stone Seattle Times

SEATTLE – There is always a kind of shared camaraderie that happens in the wake of a baseball fight. Participants relive the drama, compare notes on which teammates comported themselves with particular valor and lament perceived cheap shots from their foe.

That certainly occurred with the Seattle Mariners as they continued Monday to dissect their Sunday melee with the Angels – Who started it? Who escalated it? What would be the repercussions?

The Mariners were still filled with the righteous indignation that comes with their unwavering belief that it was the Angels who bear the brunt of blame for things getting out of hand. As manager Scott Servais said in discussing his hope that the Mariners’ inevitable suspensions would at least be staggered: “We did nothing. We didn’t hit anybody. We didn’t throw at anybody. It all came from the other dugout.”

But the Mariners’ firm conviction of having the moral high ground, while soothing to the psyche, does little to lessen the very real repercussions that will come out of this brouhaha. Namely, that a team still vacillating between being either a long-shot wild-card contender or falling entirely out of the race, will be severely depleted at the precise time it was finally heating up.

The word came down in the early evening: Outfielder Jesse Winker was suspended seven games, shortstop J.P. Crawford five games and outfielder Julio Rodriguez two games. In other words, three huge cogs in a lineup that already is compromised by injuries and poor performance will be out for varying lengths of time. All three played Monday; they will appeal and perhaps have their suspensions lessened, but this will be a burden that the Mariners are ill-equipped to overcome.

“They (the suspensions) will hurt because of the players involved,” Servais said. “They play a lot for us, and they do a really good job. Anytime you lose a key guy, it hurts the lineup.”

The Mariners certainly got a taste of that Sunday when, postfight, they had to play the next seven innings with a lineup that resembled something you might see in spring training. They lost 2-1 to snap a five-game winning streak.

“Unfortunately, they took three of our four top hitters out. It made yesterday’s game very difficult,” Servais said.

The fallout continued Monday when Luis Torrens came up with a sore shoulder from the fight that landed him on the injured list. That’s on top of various bumps, cuts and bruises, one of which emerged on Servais’ upper arm, prompting him to say, grimly, “Shouldn’t be in these things.”

The Mariners must hope that the fight will become a galvanizing event that helps them overcome the lineup deficiencies – though Monday’s game was not encouraging in that regard. Starter George Kirby was blasted for seven runs in four innings, while the Mariners had just three hits in a lackluster 9-2 defeat. After a flurry of wins on the road trip, they are in danger of quickly regressing back into full crisis mode.

Servais said he talked to the team after Sunday’s game in Anaheim, California, to remind them that they need to focus on moving forward, not wallowing in what happened Sunday.

“I told them I don’t want this to get in the way of what we need to do,” he said.

Servais acknowledged the bonding that takes place after a brawl but said the Mariners didn’t really need it.

“I think this club has always been really together,” he said. “The energy is in our dugout on a daily basis. I feel it. I certainly felt it on the road trip. We got a lot of guys on base. We got a lot of hits.

“When you’re not doing anything offensively, I’ve always said it looks like you’re not trying; people say there’s no energy, the ballclubs dead. So now there’s a big melee or whatever you want to call it – are we going to come out tonight and try any harder? No. Our guys are trying plenty hard. This is about figuring out a way to beat the Orioles.”

Winker, who bore the brunt of MLB’s punishment – and was greeted with a rousing ovation from the fans Monday at T-Mobile Park – said he was enraged when the Angels threw behind Rodriguez in the first inning.

“I mean, they threw a ball at Julio’s head. And that was enough to really upset me,” he said. “I didn’t like that at all. He’s got such a bright future ahead of him. Yes, we’re all out here playing a man’s game; I get that. But no one should be throwing at Julio Rodriguez’s head; nobody’s head. We didn’t throw the ball at (Mike Trout). We wouldn’t hit a guy to bring up (Shohei) Ohtani, who already had a home run. It makes no sense to do.”

The Mariners felt the whole incident was instigated by the Angels as payback for a pitch high and tight to Trout the night before, and then escalated by them (as well as the umpires for not immediately ejecting Angels starter Andrew Wantz).

“It was all premeditated,’’ Winker said. “They had an opener begin the game to do that. … The unfortunate thing is it all could have been stopped with a simple ejection and people just not talking. But there’s a man with a cast on (Anthony Rendon) and the manager (Phil Nevin) talking. That’s why this started. If they’re not talking, none of that happens. But they decided to run their mouth, and I didn’t like it. It’s that simple. There’s nothing left to say about that.”

Nothing but the fact that the Mariners will soon be playing without Rodriguez, their emerging superstar; Crawford, their glue guy at shortstop; and Winker, who just finished his most productive week of the season after a rocky start. That’s on top of missing Ty France, Mitch Haniger, Kyle Lewis, Tom Murphy and now Torrens.

They can feel good about the fact that they had each other’s back, and believe in their heart of hearts that this was all on the Angels. But as Servais said, what they really need to do is make sure they don’t squander what has been a sustained run of excellent pitching – 24 consecutive starts before Monday in which they gave up three earned runs or fewer, as well as a revitalized bullpen.

And the fallout of the fight undeniably made that an even tougher job.

“We’re just trying to grind through this thing,” Servais said, speaking before the game. “Hopefully, we do get completely healthy again and can get our original team out on the field. I’d hate to waste or not take advantage of the starting pitching we’ve had. I don’t want to look up at the end of the year and say: ‘Man, we let this one get away. We didn’t take advantage of a group of five starters and a bullpen that really came together.’ ”

Yeah, there was bonding Sunday, and afterward. But at what cost?

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