By LARRY LaRUE
The News Tribune
The News Tribune
ANAHEIM, California – The Angels scout was talking before the game about strengths and weaknesses among the best teams in the American League when someone asked him about the Seattle Mariners.
“They don’t score runs,” he said.
If the Mariners’ hopes for a post-season berth die in Anaheim this weekend, that may be a fitting four-word epitaph, and on Friday they took a huge step backward with a 9-3 loss to an Angels team that was piling up offensive milestones.
“Well, we’re out of mulligans now,” manager Lou Piniella said. “We’ve played 160 games and it’s come down to a two-game season – we have to win these next two games. We have to find a way to score more runs.”
You want offense? Troy Glaus and Benji Molina hit three-run home runs, and Garrett Anderson added a solo shot. Glaus and Darrin Erstadt each produced their 100th RBI of the season, giving Anaheim four players with 100 or more.
Oh. You wanted Seattle offense?
Trying to protect a half-game lead in the AL West, the Mariners scored twice in the first inning – but did it without the benefit of a hit. And that was their biggest inning of the night.
Small wonder, then, they will awaken in second place for the first time since June. And if getting bopped by Anaheim wasn’t harsh enough, the cosmic forces of baseball jumped on the Mariners with both feet in the fifth inning.
Trailing at the time, 7-3, they’d loaded the bases with two outs for John Olerud. And as Olerud’s lazy little fly ball settled into the glove of left fielder Scott Spiezio, the out-of-town scoreboard changed – showing that Oakland had moved ahead of the Texas Rangers, 3-2. The A’s held on to win that game 7-5, taking a half-game lead over the M’s in the division race.
One day after Jamie Moyer was shelled, and perhaps hurt, Paul Abbott was pounded. And for a team that is now in second place in the division race, and only one game ahead of Cleveland in the wild-card chase, there is a growing concern.
If they make the playoffs – and that is a large “if” – who could they beat? With what offense? With who pitching?
An MVP candidate three weeks ago, shortstop Alex Rodriguez has disappeared and now has only three hits in his last 29 at-bats.
“I have to find a way to help my team win,” Rodriguez said. “It’s put up or shut up time.”
Without Rodriguez hitting, teams are pitching around Edgar Martinez, who walked twice Friday, and taking their chances with Olerud. Those three hitters on Friday were a combined 1-for-9.
“There’s not much in that lineup to fear,” the Anaheim scout said. “They could get hot, but they’re not a good-hitting team, and their pitching isn’t dominant.”
The Mariners proved him right.
Abbott, who grew up in Orange County but has never won a big-league game in Anaheim, wanted this one more than any he could remember.
“It was a huge game for the team, and if anything it meant even more to me,” he said. “This is my backyard, my family was here, my friends. I was pitching to keep us in first place.”
Ahead 2-0 before he took the mound, Abbott was behind 4-2 before the first inning ended, done in by a three-run home run by third baseman Glaus.
Two innings later, another three-run homer – by catcher Molina – put it away.
When the game began, the Angels had two players with at least 100 RBI this season.
When the night ended, they had four.
“I threw what, 84 pitches? And if I could take two back, we’re probably still be playing,” Abbott said. “This is a stupid game, sometimes. I just didn’t get it done.”
Nor did his teammates, who managed all of five hits.
“We’ve needed well-pitched games the last two games and didn’t get them,” Piniella said. “Now, we’ve got John Halama and Aaron Sele going the last two games, and I’ve got confidence in both of them.
“We may play with the lineup a little, but there’s not a lot we can do. These are the players who got us this far. These are the guys who have to win two more games. We can talk in the clubhouse forever about what has to be done, but it has to get done on that field.”
For the 52nd game this season – nearly a third of their games – the Mariners scored fewer than four runs. In those games, they’ve lost 47 times.
“We’re a good team, we’re 18 games above .500,” Abbott said.
On the Anaheim side, there were smiles in a clubhouse that could be playing out another disappointing season. And some of those came from men who remembered another September – 1995.
“If all we have to play for is to spoil their season, that’s fine,” Tim Salmon said. “I remember them spoiling ours in ‘95. One thing we’ve never done this year is quit, and we’re not about to now.”