Their winning streak broken by a game whose only redeeming virtue was that was over, the Seattle Mariners gathered in the clubhouse Wednesday for a meeting that was both sobering and comforting.
The dizzy spell manager Eric Wedge suffered during batting practice Monday, the players learned, was determined by doctors to be a “very mild” stroke.
Injuries are an occupational hazard for pro athletes, but strokes – when the brain is deprived of blood flow, the second-leading cause of death worldwide – reduce sprains and pulls and even career-ending
fractures into trivialities.
What was comforting was that the 45-year old Wedge, who’s married with two small children, avoided what literally could have affected him like a bullet. He’s out of the hospital and back at home, where he’ll stay until the Mariners return from a six-game East Coast trip that begins Tuesday in Boston.
“We’re going to err on the side of caution,” general manager Jack Zduriencik said after briefing the team on Wedge’s condition. “We’re just going to have Eric rest. It makes sense.”
Excluding close relatives and baseball people who’ve influenced him, Wedge’s favorite American is the late John Wayne. Which is to say, the manager has never been mistaken as a real-life version of Stuart Smalley, the touchy-feely therapist portrayed on “Saturday Night Live.”
But Robby Thompson, the bench coach serving as interim manager, shared a side of Wedge we’re not prone to see.
“I’m sure there’s a lot of concern out there,” Thompson said. “Eric is a very caring man and loves every one of those guys in the clubhouse. And I think they have that in return for him. …
“We’re going to put our hearts, thoughts and prayers in him, his wife Kate and their extended families.”
The clubhouse was full of long faces Wednesday, but there also was a sense of relief.
“I think Jack gave us some good news,” said shortstop Brendan Ryan, who heard the word “stroke” and was reassured to learn the manager had endured an incident that doesn’t figure to compromise his prospects for a long and healthy life.
“It’s scary stuff,” Ryan said. “You don’t want to see that happen to anybody. But he’s a tough guy. You don’t want to try to hurry from something like that. He’ll come back in his own time and we’ll be thinking of him and he’ll be with us.
“The sooner he gets back, the better.”
A 31-year-old veteran of 11 pro seasons, Ryan is atypical among the Mariners, whose every lineup under Wedge has been turned over to a core of 20-somethings.
When first baseman Justin Smoak was reminded of the faith his manager had invested in him during an unproductive spring, Smoak answered: “I don’t think it’s just me.
“There’s a lot of guys in here – a lot of young guys – and he’s stayed with us for a long time now. He’s gonna get through this.”
Meanwhile, the task of getting the Mariners through a 10-game stretch without their manager belongs to Thompson. A two-time All-Star second baseman with the San Francisco Giants, Thompson has been working with Wedge, in one capacity or another, since 2003, Wedge’s first season as manager in Cleveland.
“Robby is going to handle the club baseball-wise,” said Zduriencik. “I’m happy he’ll have the opportunity.”
The role, by the way, will be unofficial. Until Wedge’s anticipated return to Safeco Field on Aug. 5, results will be recorded on Wedge’s record.
Not that Thompson cares about such small stuff. He’ll call the shots, the games will go on, but his No. 1 ambition is for his buddy to get back to the dugout behind the first-base line.
It’s a sentiment that prevailed Wednesday.
“When your skipper goes down like that, you’re not happy,” said starting pitcher Joe Saunders, who got rocked by the Indians, early and often, in the Mariners’ 10-1 defeat. “But like Jack and Robby said in the meeting, our thoughts and prayers are with him and his family. Hopefully he has a speedy recovery and he gets back here soon.”
As for the game? It best could be described like this: It took a tenth of a second for Cleveland leadoff hitter Michael Bourn to get a successful bunt down on Saunders’ first pitch. It took the Mariners almost two hours to record their first hit off comeback-saga left-hander Scott Kazmir.
“One of those days,” lamented Saunders.
The day could have gone better for a team that took the field with the longest active winning streak in baseball. On the other hand, it could have gone worse, too. Much worse. It could have been a day remembered for tragic news.
“You’d rather it be a pulled calf muscle or something,” Ryan said of Wedge’s diagnosis. “But it is what it is.”
Or, more precisely, if the battery of tests Wedge underwent can be trusted, it is what it was.john.mcgrath@ thenewstribune.com