I recommended watching the Pistons and the Heat tonight, and I should have taken my own advice. Instead, I decided to watch the Mariners to see if they could win their fifth straight, something they never accomplished in 2005. Going into the game I was getting excited for the Mariners. With last night's win the pulled to .500 on the season at home and were only three games out of first place. Richie Sexson was showing signs of coming out of his season-long slump and the middle infield combo of Yuniesky Betancourt and Jose Lopez was continuing to be better than advertised. Even better, the Mariners looked like they had caught a break tonight as the scheduled starter for the Orioles, Hayden Penn, had to have an emergency appendectomy. In his place would be a hodgepodge of relievers, "highlighted" by John Halama.
The good times lasted for four batters. Then, Ramon Hernandez stepped up to the plate and tattooed a Pineiro offering out of the park to give the Orioles a three-run lead before the M's could even bat. The Orioles ended up sending all nine hitters to the plate in the first inning and also tacked on another run to make the score 4-0 as Ichiro entered the box for the first time. He got a hit to extend his hitting streak, and as it turns out, that was the highlight of the night.
It didn't look like that would be the highlight for most of the game though. The Mariners got to Halama in the third inning and pretty soon Sam Perlazzo seemed to be throwing any reliever he could find at the Mariners in hopes of preserving the lead. His tactics worked, as the Orioles led 5-3 going into the bottom of the 8th.
The eighth started off very promising with a lucky single off the bat of Carl Everett. Then, Adrian Beltre stepped up to the plate and actually put a charge into a ball for a change. He drove a LaTroy Hawkins offering deep to right center and Corey Patterson was not able to catch it, allowing Everett to score and Beltre to make it all the way to third. Suddenly, Seattle was down only a run, the closest they had been the entire game, and the tying run was on third base with no outs! It looked as if the comeback not only could happen, but would happen.
Ah, but these are the 2006 Mariners and they are managed by Mike Hargrove. First up was Kenji Johjima, who has been everything the Mariners could have asked for both at the plate and behind it. Unfortunately, he left plenty to be desired this at-bat as he popped up to first base. Due up next was Willie Bloomquist but Hargrove decided to pinch hit Roberto Petagine in his place. This would have been a great move - except that Petagine's last appearance was as a pinch-hitter an entire WEEK ago in Oakland. It is absolutely ludicrous that Hargrove is not using Petagine more, especially considering how badly Richie Sexson has struggled. Even worse, when Hargrove finally does use him, he puts him in an extremely pressure-packed situation. Petagine was set up for complete failure and that's exactly what happened as he popped up to third base. There were now two outs in the inning and Yuniesky Betancourt was due up. Once again, Hargrove went to the bench and this time sent up Jeremy Reed. Hargrove likely made the move to set up the classic lefty-righty mismatch that managers absolutely love, but I really did not like the move for two reasons. First of all, I am not convinced that Reed is a better hitter than Betancourt. Though it is true Reed has heated up recently, Betancourt is in the midst of the longest hitting streak in his young career and Betancourt's numbers over the season are better than Reed's. Also, Seattle had to put someone else at shortstop for Betancourt in the ninth since they pinch hit for him, which greatly weakens the infield defense. The move seemed destined to harm the team. Sure enough, once Reed was announced as the pinch-hitter, the Orioles brought in their closer Chris Ray and it took him only four pitches to strike out Reed and preserve Baltimore's lead.
It felt like the Mariners may have blown their chance at winning the game in the eighth, but in the end it may not have mattered as the bullpen completely melted down and allowed nine runs in the top half of the ninth, highlighted by Ramon Hernandez's grand slam. Somehow, the Mariners found a way to squander a close game and get blown out in it at the same time, making this loss exotically painful.
Aside from the atypical bullpen meltdown, this game was painful because it pointed out how poorly Mike Hargrove has used the bench this year. It started back in mid-April when Seattle designated Joe Borchard for assignment just to keep Matt Lawton, supposedly because he was so valuable to the bench. That move backfired miserably as Borchard was snatched up by the Marlins and Matt Lawton is no longer with the ballclub because Hargrove never used him. In Lawton's place is Mike Morse, or as Mike Hargrove called him, "the infielder we've been looking for all year." Looking for all year? He's been sitting in AAA all year, just waiting to be called up. Did you forget about him? Maybe you did because he was only batting .227 and striking almost exactly once out of every four at-bats against AAA pitching. Please Mike, is this really the infielder you've been looking for? How does this make Hunter Brown feel, who plays every infield position and has clearly outperformed Morse this year in Tacoma? Brown is nothing special, but he would make a great utility infielder because he can play all over the diamond and you won't feel too guilty about not getting his bat in the lineup on a regular basis. On the other hand, hitting is supposedly Morse's strength, so if he is not getting to the plate (which he won't) he's a wasted commodity, kind of like Roberto Petagine right now. I got spoiled watching Lou Pineilla use a bench to perfection, but I expect more out of Mike Hargrove, especially now that he's got the infielder he was looking for. I really should have watched that Heat/Pistons game.