SEATTLE – There’s no better time than now to sense the urgency.
The Seattle Mariners begin the 2007 season today, and a successful year seems imperative in order to retain not only the fans’ faith, but also manager Mike Hargrove, general manager Bill Bavasi and star outfielder Ichiro Suzuki.
With the jobs of Hargrove and Bavasi at stake, and Suzuki carefully measuring the competitiveness of the franchise as he decides how far to take his upcoming free agency, winning is more important now than any recent April.
It would help to win at least a couple of games this week from the Oakland A’s.
That’s all the Mariners managed the entire 2006 season, going 2-17 against the A’s in a pratfall that essentially wrecked Seattle’s season.
“It’s important to get off to a good start and it’s important to have a good series against Oakland,” left fielder Raul Ibanez said. “Is it more important than having a good series against Oakland in September? I don’t know.”
The A’s got into the Mariners’ heads in 2006, but so did the rest of the American League West Division. The Mariners went 19-38 against the AL West.
Just going .500 against the A’s and the rest of the West would have kept the Mariners in the race going into the final month. Instead, Oakland had their number, and an 11-game losing streak in August – including three straight losses to the A’s – finished the Mariners.
Nearly eight months later, Ibanez remains bitter with the memory of the A’s dominance over the Mariners.
“I was embarrassed about it last year and I went home embarrassed after the season,” Ibanez said. “That was a pounding. I’d never seen anything like that. It’s in the past now. But it’s in the near past, the very near past. It’s important for us to beat those guys.”
So, is it better to forget the thrashing the A’s gave the Mariners last year, or better to remember it?
“A little bit of both,” relief pitcher George Sherrill said. “We need to feed off it and make it piss us off, but not to a point where we can’t do our jobs. If you take out those games, we’re in the hunt the last couple of weeks of the season. Even if we played .500 against them, we’d have had a shot.
“When you look back over 162 games and know that one team took you out of it, well, this year that won’t happen.”
Ibanez believes the Mariners are better prepared to compete this year, having added Jose Vidro and Jose Guillen to the offense and re-tooled the starting rotation with the additions of Miguel Batista, Horacio Ramirez and Jeff Weaver.
“We still have to do what we didn’t do last year,” Ibanez said. “We didn’t wear down pitchers. That’s what a team like Oakland did against us. You wear down the opposing pitcher by taking tough pitches, by fouling off tough pitches, by having quality at-bats. I think our innings were too fast last year. I don’t foresee that to be a problem this year.”
The Mariners play the A’s 19 times again this season, including today’s season opener at Safeco Field. With 143 other games to play, nothing the Mariners do against Oakland this week or the rest of the season will be the determining factor in their fate.
Then again …
“It’s not to say we can’t dig ourselves out of a hole, but we don’t need to get too deep, too early.” Sherrill said.
Ibanez is confident that won’t happen.
“We’re ready to start the season but more importantly, we’re ready to have a good season,” he said. “This club is significantly different and I expect us to be playing meaningful games now and in September. I expect this club to be playing in the postseason. If anybody in here expects anything different, they shouldn’t be here.”