Mariners Earn Reprieve, But Holes Remain

It's been a strange season in Seattle. In two-months time the topic has changed from "Is this team better than the 2001 squad" to "What's wrong with the Mariners." In his first column since joining InsidethePark.com, Alex Kratz gives his take on the second burning question.

For the past week, I, as well as every other red-blooded Mariners fan, have been frustrated to tears by the lack of spark in our friendly, neighborhood Major League baseball team.

As a journalist, the responsibility falls on me to ignite a fire under this team of complacent overachievers. It's my responsibility to poke holes in their fragile confidence and point out their weaknesses, their soft spots, their Jeff Cirillos.

It's my duty and I have been relishing the opportunity ever since I arrived at InsideThePark.com, especially during these dog-days of summer. We have watched as our beloved Mariners have feasted on mediocrity, growing as fat and content as an executive at Enron.

Of course, my problem was that I had too many options for stories concerning, "What's Wrong with the Mariners?" In a column, you usually choose one area of focus and analyze it to death.

I have been racking my brain and asking others, trying to figure out what the single most important thing wrong with the Mariners or single most important component missing from the team. Everyone I spoke with gave me a different answer.

I was told to bash this infielder or rip that starting pitcher. Some wanted me to question the front office or the managing. My head spun with possibilities.

In the end, I decided that the most disturbing aspect of the Mariners slide has been our lack of passion and energy. We've looked old, slow and overmatched. And the poster boy for this description has been the positively placid, John Olerud.

Sure, he's still one of the best fielding first-baseman in the league, but, as a hitter he's been about as intimidating as a scientist at a biker bar. His average has dipped below .270 and his power numbers, well, let's just say those words - numbers and power - don't apply to Olerud this season.

With the Mariner's heading into a pivotal two-game mini-series with their bay-area rivals, I felt a sense of urgency to light a fire under this emotionless robot of player who, by way of Edgar Martinez's latest leg injury, is now batting clean-up.

Oh, the horror.

I sat down at my desk and turned on my computer, my heart pumped with rage as I settled down to lay all the blame for the M's downward turn on the nicest Mariner in the history of the franchise.

Then the phone rang. My friend, a fellow sports writer, had two tickets, seven rows up from first base. "It's perfect for booing Cirillo," he said. Perfect to watch Olerud passively lose another game for the Mariners, I thought.

I decided to go to the game and write my story after gathering new fodder for my assault on the helmeted one.

My friend and colleague agreed that Olerud had been less than dynamic at the plate, but that we had other problems that could be addressed through trades. Why didn't we get Aramis Ramirez and Kenny Lofton from the Pirates? Why don't we get Dmitri Young from the Tigers to take over for disappointing Randy Winn in the outfield? Why don't we get Jeff Conine from the Orioles? He can play left field, third base and first base our three weakest position and he hits the ball hard every time he gets up, my friend pointed out.

We had plenty of time to discuss this because neither team got a hit until the fourth. Here we go again, we said to each other.

However, the Mariners grinded out an ugly run after Ramon Hernandez let the ball squirt out of his glove when Carlos Guillen slid into home after a sacrifice fly by Mike Cameron in the bottom of the fourth. Hey, when you're going like the Mariners have been going, you take what you can get.

In the first, Olerud struck out on three straight pitches, looking horrible in the process. In the fourth, he coaxed a walk that loaded the bases for Cameron's sacrifice. In the fifth, he came up again after last year's Cy Young winner, Barry Zito, walked the bases loaded.

There were two outs and I was understandably skeptical. These are the times he never comes through, I told my friend. He reminded me that the Big Rude had delivered the night before in Minnesota when faced with a similar situation.

Sure enough, on the next pitch, the stoic John Olerud, impervious to my pessimism, clutched up and ripped a line-drive to center, scoring two. Mariners take the lead 3-0.

"Looks like you need a new story buddy," my friend laughed as we stood and cheered the skinny lefty, who delivered again in the fifth, just to spite me, with a single that scored another two in the seventh.

With Olerud's clutch hits and Ryan Franklin pitching the best game of his career, my Mariner rage quickly transformed into a glowing ball of warmth that fills my chest every time they win another big game.

And this was a huge game. On the first night of their longest home stand of the year, the Mariners defeated the second-place A's to increase their lead to five games with a chance to make it six Thursday night.

For now, Olerud and the Mariners have earned a reprieve from at least one editorialist. Nevertheless, glaring problems remain, most notably: who's going to play third? Last night Cirillo went 0-3 with out getting the ball out of the infield and Willie Bloomquist doesn't appear to be the short-term answer. He has been pressing for hits ever since his grand slam before the All-Star break. The Mariners need another bat, desperately, especially with Edgar's health constantly in doubt.

All that editorial rage and frustration that subsided is liable to boil over if last night's win doesn't carry over into the next month, when Billy Beane and the A's are sure to add a big name to their lineup while the Mariners will likely choose to add someone to the list of worthless pick-ups, joining the likes of Al Martin and Jose Offerman.


Alex is an aspiring sports writer who is new to InsidethePark.com. He remembers the days when Ken Griffey Jr. had two working hamstrings, healthy knees and flexible ankles. Give him a piece of your mind at adkratz@yahoo.com.

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