By Ryan Divish The News Tribune
SEATTLE — It became glaringly apparent over a month ago that the Seattle Mariners would finish the 2013 season with a losing record, just like they did last year, and the year before that and the year before that.
Notice a pattern?
The only drama of this final month has been how far this team would finish below .500 and who would be fired or let go following yet another abysmal season.
After Sunday’s uneventful and unexciting 9-0 loss to the American League West champion Oakland Athletics, Seattle finished with a 71-91 record — a step back from last year’s 75-87 campaign.
As for the other drama, well, that was taken care of this past week. The team confirmed that general manager Jack Zduriencik will be back for 2014, which he was under contract for. But manager Eric Wedge has decided he’s seen enough of the organization. He opted for unemployment instead of another year with Zduriencik, team president Chuck Armstrong and chief executive officer Howard Lincoln.
Wedge met with the team postgame to say goodbye.
“I just told them how much I appreciated their effort, how much I care about leaving,” he said. “They are the toughest part about leaving.”
But the players weren’t enough to keep him with the Mariners.
“I wanted to see this thing through, but there were factors involved that became obviously clear to me that weren’t going to allow that to happen,” Wedge said. “That’s the decision I made. Now I will move on to the next adventure. Hopefully, I get an opportunity to manage again. It’s something I like to do.”
For many of the players on Seattle’s inexperienced roster, Wedge is the only big league manager they’ve ever known.
“It’s different,” said first baseman Justin Smoak. “Wedge has meant a lot to all of us. We wish him the best. He’s been around all the young guys for three years. He’s helped us grow.”
So for the third time since 2008, the Mariners go into the offseason in search of a manager. It will be the team’s ninth manager since 2002.
Perhaps it was fitting that Bob Melvin was sitting in the visitor’s dugout on Sunday. Melvin was one of those eight previous managers. Unlike the exits of Wedge or Mike Hargrove, Melvin did not leave the organization of his own volition. He was fired after the 2003 season in which the team won 93 games. Since then, he has went on to manage the Diamondbacks to a National League West title in 2011 and the A’s to the last two AL West titles, while earning manager of the year honors in both the National League and American League.
Melvin and the A’s will now prepare for the American League Division series against the Detroit Tigers.
“Real consistent,” he said of his team that finished 96-66 this season. “I’ve said that before. To have a winning month every month means there’s no letdown, there was no real significant period where you had big time concerns. I don’t think I’ve been on a team that was that consistent over the course of a six-month season so it’s really a credit to the players, the coaches that prepare them to play every day and our coaching staff does a great job with them.”
The game itself was forgettable much like large parts of this season. Erasmo Ramirez struggled in his worst start of his abbreviated season. He showed little command with his pitches, lasting just 1 1⁄3 innings and giving up four runs on three hits with four walks and three strikeouts.
Wedge replaced him with Hector Noesi, who hadn’t pitched in a game since Sept. 11. And Noesi showed why he hasn’t been on the mound since then, giving up four runs on four hits with a walk and two strikeouts in the three innings pitched.
Down 4-0 after two innings, the Mariners chances of rallying were slim, but possible. Down 8-0 after five innings, the Mariners thoughts could start drifting to offseason vacations and hunting trips.
Really the only intrigue after that was whether Raul Ibanez would hit his 30th homer of the season.
Unfortunately, the 41-year-old will have to share the record of most home runs in a season by a player over the age of 40 with Ted Williams.
With fans standing and applauding, Ibanez popped out to left in his final at-bat. He went 0-for-4, finishing the year with 29 homers.
“I’m sorry I disappointed them,” he said. “I really wanted to get it for them. It was a special moment. I could hear them. I could hear them when I was on deck, people were saying, ‘Hit a home run!’ And I kept thinking, ‘No, no, no, just a line drive, just a line drive, don’t try to hit a home run.’”
Ibanez took his position in left field in the top of ninth, but Wedge sent Abraham Almonte out there late as a replacement and allowed Ibanez to come off the field alone. Of course, he hustled in from his position.
The 17,081 in attendance and his teammates standing on the top step of the dugout all gave him a standing ovation.
“It was really a special moment, one that I will always remember,” Ibanez said. “I’m always going to appreciate the fans here in Seattle for that and for all the years I was here. And I’m always going to appreciate Eric Wedge for letting that moment happen. He thought of it on his own. I didn’t really know what was happening.”
The same could be said for Mariners fans as the postseason begins this week. This makes it officially 12 straight seasons without a playoff berth for the organization. The rebuilding plan started under Zduriencik and praised later by Wedge seems to have unraveled in this season. But the players believe progress was made toward reaching that goal even with the unmet expectations.
“It was a tough year for us,” said third baseman Kyle Seager. “We obviously didn’t do what we wanted to do. But I think there is a lot to get from this team. I think there is a good nucleus here, a good core to continue to work for it. I think it’s something we can feel good about going into next year.”