For Russian hackers streaming the Safeco Field game Wednesday on their favorite U.S. propaganda tool, Facebook, the Mariners countered with some clever disinformation. In the ninth inning, trailing 1-0, Seattle gave the Texas Rangers six outs instead of the standard three.
As a cyber-strategy, it was brilliant — the Russians who thought they knew American baseball were totally discombobulated.
As a baseball strategy, however, it was the worst idea since Roseanne Barr’s 1990 attempt at singing the national anthem.
Choose your priority and make your value judgments.
The scoreboard was immutable, however: Rangers 5, Mariners 1, with four unearned runs in the ninth.
“Tough game today,” Seattle manager Scott Servais said. “There probably weren’t going to be a lot of runs scored given where we were as a club physically, then (we had) a couple of mental letdowns in the ninth.
“We’re playing good baseball. We just let the ninth inning get away.”
Given the circumstances, the one-inning collapse was not a shock. The Mariners’ past several days have been disruptive, to say the least. The day game followed a night game that had 17 runs (Seattle had nine) and 11 innings, and it was also the third game in three days in three cities. Bad Midwest weather forced the Mariners into a doubleheader Saturday and into a 3 a.m. arrival in Seattle on Tuesday.
Then there was the stunning loss Tuesday of second baseman Robinson Cano to an 80-game suspension for violating Major League Baseball’s performance-enhancing drugs policy. Publicly supportive of Cano, players, coaches and front office have to be more mad than sad over Cano’s foolishness that cut hard into the Mariners’ thin margins for making the postseason for the first time in 17 years.
No one can say precisely whether physical fatigue and/or emotional despair were primarily responsible for four misplays in the ninth Wednesday — unless, of course, one used common sense.
Cue up the Benny Hill theme:
With two outs and two on, first baseman Ryon Healy dropped a grounder that should have made for the final out, loading the bases. Relief pitcher Marc Rzepczynski struck out Ronald Guzman swinging, but catcher David Freitas, expecting a fastball and getting a slider, whiffed on the catch. The passed ball rolled 30 feet, scoring a run.
Then Freitas foolishly threw to first when he had no chance to get Guzman, which provided enough time for a second run to score on the passed ball. Reliever Dan Altavilla came on to walk his first two batters, forcing in a run. Shin-Soo Choo sent a soft chopper to second baseman Andrew Romine, who inexplicably lofted an underhand toss to first that arrived too late, scoring the fourth run.
Boos well-deservcd washed over the Mariners from the remainder of the crowd of 20,629, which served to sour a day that looked to have a potentially stirring outcome thanks to a preposterous pitching duel.
Before the game, the Mariners called up from triple-A Tacoma Christian Bergman, 30, for a spot start, his first of the MLB season. Unaccountably, he was brilliant — seven shutout innings, allowing two singles, no walks and adding five strikeouts.
“(He was) awesome,” Servais said. “(He was) better than anyone could have expected.”
The same could be said for his unorthodox Rangers counterpart. A week shy of his 45th birthday, Bartolo Colon was even better — a scoreless 7.2 innings with four hits and no walks. Besides command of both sides of the plate and a devastating sinker, he even stopped a comebacker with his considerable abdomen in time to throw out the runner.
“The art,” Servais said, “of pitching.”
Not to mention the art of entertainment. The Safeco crowd gave him a warm hand when he exited in the eighth.
The manager also pointed out that the hitters with the most experience against Colon, Cano and designated hitter Nelson Cruz, didn’t play. Cruz’s right foot was struck directly by a pitch Tuesday night. Although no bones were broken, he’s likely to miss a few more games.
The upshot was a missed opportunity of the kind the Mariners can ill-afford. The game was the first of 18 in a row in which they face no teams (as of Wednesday) with a winning record (Texas, Detroit, Oakland, Minnesota). Not until June 5 does Seattle face a contender (Houston).
Cano’s absence from the lineup is not impossible to overcome. But it would take something similar to what happened in 1995 when Ken Griffey Jr. missed about 80 games after breaking a bone his right hand slamming into the Kingdome’s outfield wall.
When Griffey went out in May, the Mariners were 14-12. When he returned Aug. 15, they were 51-50, thanks to journeyman help from guys such as Rich Amaral and Alex Diaz. Then the Mariners went on a run for the ages that pushed them into the playoffs.
The teams and times are different, so the parallels are inexact, especially regarding the ability of Cano to recover form at 35.
But if there’s any slack in an MLB schedule, the Mariners are upon it. A six-out ninth inning, however, is good only in cyber warfare.
Art Thiel is co-founder of sportspressnw.com.