By Kirby Arnold Herald Writer
SEATTLE — Nobody with the Seattle Mariners was immune from the strain of a 101-loss season that ended Sunday with a 4-3 defeat to the Oakland A’s.
But there were three young players in the clubhouse late Sunday afternoon — Justin Smoak, Adam Moore and Michael Saunders — determined to channel what they endured in 2010 into something more enjoyable in 2011.
With expectations of contention long dashed, the Mariners played their final games this season hoping to get a better idea if Smoak, a 23-year-old power-hitting switch hitter, is their first baseman of the future; if Moore, 26, can be the offensive-minded catcher they projected since they drafted him in 2006; and if Saunders, 23, can become a regular corner outfielder with offensive production to match.
Smoak finished with a .218 batting average, 13 home runs and a 10-game hitting streak during which he batted .441.
Moore, who didn’t play Sunday, hit safely in seven of the final eight games he played. He finished with a .195 average, four homers and 15 RBI.
Saunders, who got a 46-game first taste of the big leagues last year, batted .211 with 10 homers and 33 RBI in 100 games.
“Hopefully, it’s something that everyone learns from,” Saunders said. “On a personal standpoint, it’s not a year that I’m particularly proud of. It’s going to fuel the fire for the offseason to make sure I work hard and make sure I’m ready for spring training. Hitting .200 is unacceptable. That’s what’s going to drive me to work hard this offseason.”
If nothing else, the young players learned that nobody succeeds at the big-league level if they can’t relax.
Smoak, who went 1-for-3 Sunday and hit an RBI single in the eighth inning, said he put too much pressure on himself after the Mariners acquired him from the Texas Rangers on July 9 in the Cliff Lee trade. He suffered through a 2-for-36 stretch in late July before the Mariners sent him to Class AAA Tacoma.
Recalled Sept. 18, he batted .340 with three home runs and eight RBI in his final 13 games.
“It’s a grind and it’s a tough game,” Smoak said. “But it’s the same game I’ve played my whole life. If you can have fun, good things will happen. I had ups and downs and learned a lot this year. I feel a lot better where I am now and I’m looking forward to spring training.”
That didn’t make losing any easier, and that never changed for the Mariners.
They lost 101 games for the second time in the past three seasons, establishing some offensively inept milestones.
The .236 team batting was the lowest in franchise history, beating the .240 average by the 1983 Mariners.
n Their 513 runs were the fewest of any 162-game season in franchise history. Even the 1994 team, whose season was shortened to 112 games because of the players strike, scored 569 runs.
Their 101 home runs were the fewest of any team, strike years or not. The ‘94 team hit 153 homers in 112 games.
The Mariners batted .197 with the bases loaded and .226 with runners in scoring position.
That included 2-for-12 effort with runners in scoring position in Sunday’s game, which ended with Greg Halman on second base while Matt Mangini and Josh Wilson struck out before Ichiro Suzuki flied out.
“That was our season in a nutshell,” manager Daren Brown said. “We had guys in scoring position and we were one hit short.”
The Mariners’ next task is to hire a manager and find a way to avoid such an awful season again.
“We had very big expectations but the results were terrible,” Suzuki said. “I don’t think anyone imagined this. It’s stupid to imagine this, but here I am today. This is the evidence. This is what happened.”
Read Kirby Arnold’s blog on the Mariners at www.heraldnet.com/marinersblog