Mariners lose, but so do A’s and Indians
By KIRBY ARNOLD
SEATTLE — The sport of scoreboard watching became as interesting as the game on the field Thursday, and certainly more entertaining for Seattle Mariners fans.
They roared for the Anaheim Angels, who scored three runs in the 14th inning to beat the Oakland A’s. They pulled for the Minnesota Twins, who led most of the day before beating Cleveland in 10 innings.
And then the 43,264 at the final regular-season game at Safeco Field nervously walked away wondering whether they will see their Mariners at home again in 2000.
Even after a 13-6 pratfall to the Texas Rangers, chances remain good they will.
The Mariners looked like anything but a playoff team when they frittered away a chance to put a full game between themselves and the A’s atop the American League West race. At the same time, the M’s missed an opportunity to send the AL wild-card situation into a near lockdown over the Indians.
With three games left in their season, the Mariners need only one victory and a Cleveland loss to clinch a playoff spot.
It could happen today, when the M’s begin their final three-game series at Anaheim. That pleasant prospect was the focus Thursday night, not the lost opportunity or the complete pitching collapse that took place earlier.
"Mathematically, whoever invented this game knew what they were doing," shortstop Alex Rodriguez said. "One hundred sixty-two games, and it always comes down to one.
"We have to go to Anaheim and take care of business. We’re hoping they (the A’s and Indians) lose and we’re hoping we win, but we just need to take that rear-view mirror and throw it away."
Maybe it’s best to move forward, because looking back at Thursday’s loss was no joy.
Jamie Moyer lasted only 1 2/3innings, the shortest outing by a Mariners starting pitcher this season and his shortest (not including a rain delay after one inning at Texas in 1998) since the 1995 season when he lasted 1 1/3 innings at Toronto.
The Rangers led 4-0 after two innings, but the Mariners erased it with a five-run third. Stan Javier’s run-scoring double, Rodriguez’s two-run double and Edgar Martinez’s two-run homer put the Mariners back on top, 5-4.
But the Mariners had to pitch again.
Brett Tomko gave up two runs in 2 2/3 innings, Jose Mesa allowed four runs in 1 1/3, Jose Paniagua a run-scoring hit and a walk in 1/3, Kevin Hodges two runs in one inning and Frankie Rodriguez one run in two innings.
The pillar of the team’s strength, the bullpen, completed a poor homestand with some miserable numbers. The Mariner relievers, with just a 2.08 earned run average in their previous 31 games, left town with a 5.99 ERA in the seven games against the A’s and Rangers.
Not a good sign for a team that must hold it together with pitching and defense against an offensive-minded Anaheim team.
”We shot ourselves in the foot as a pitching staff,” pitching coach Bryan Price said. ”It’s time to grind now.
"I haven’t lost any faith at all in the pen," Price said.
When the starters have taken games into the seventh inning, the M’s have used Paniagua, Arthur Rhodes and Kazuhiro Sasaki in short, effective bursts. When the starters exit early, as Moyer did Thursday, the bullpen pitches out of synch. The results, as they were Thursday, can be humbling.
"We just need to get six or seven quality innings from our starters," Price said. "Then we can mix and match instead of asking our top relief guys to throw more pitches and get more outs."
Paul Abbot will accept that scenario.
He’s the starter tonight in Anaheim and embraces the pennant pressure.
"I don’t believe in pressure," he said. "The mound doesn’t get 80 feet farther from the plate and the fences don’t get 20 feet closer.
"This is going to be fun. This will help us get ready for the playoffs. It’s a do-or-die atmosphere. This is what baseball is about."
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