If ever a manager had reason to arrange room on the bench for somebody mired in a funk, the Mariners’ Lloyd McClendon had it Wednesday afternoon with third baseman Kyle Seager.
The fourth-year veteran was hitting .156, a staggering .104 points below his career batting average and 44 points under his 210-pound weight. Furthermore, while Seager had shown decent power since becoming an everyday player — 42 homers since 2012 — he had gone 43 games without yanking a ball over the fence.
It was a slump of such magnitude that a columnist in the Wednesday sports section — I know the guy intimately, and he’s a bit of a buffoon — noted the poor timing of the Mariners’ plans to hold Kyle Seager Bat Night during their next homestand.
But then Seager came up in the seventh inning and unleashed a home run swing, with a man on,
that awakened another listless Safeco Field crowd watching another lackluster effort against the Houston Astros. Two innings later with one out and two on, and the Mariners trailing by a run, he hit another homer — a three-run shot that snapped an eight-game losing streak.
After he was mobbed at the plate, giving his teammates a chance to participate in a ritual they have been forced to watch all too often from the other dugout, Seager stood in front of his clubhouse locker and shot a death stare at the columnist who mocked Kyle Seager Bat Night.
“I’m funny how like I’m a clown?” he asked, sounding like that character Joe Pesci portrayed in “Goodfellas,” Tommy DeVito. “I make you laugh? I’m here to amuse you? How am I funny?”
Nah, just kidding.
Seager spoke in the same polite, humble tone he always does. He’s only 26, but he has been playing baseball long enough to realize slumps are an occupational hazard best solved through perseverance.
Devoting time and effort to every detail of his craft never has been an issue for Seager. The issue, McClendon suggested, is Seager’s tendency to seek too much information.
“You can overthink a little bit too much,” the manager said after the 5-3 victory. “I learned a long time ago to keep it simple: See the ball, hit the ball.”
“I’m kind of a guy who’s always tinkered with stuff,” he said. “I’ve always watched a lot of film and broken things down a lot. Obviously, that can hurt you in some aspects if you overthink it.”
The bottom-of-the-ninth at-bat was not overthought. The Astros had brought in closer Josh Fields, a 2008 first-round draft choice of Seattle and former minor league teammate of Seager, who had seen Fields twice in the first two nights of the series.
Though Fields had just used a sequence of change-up, fastball, change-up to strike out Justin Smoak, Seager geared up for heat on the first pitch, and Fields threw heat.
See the ball hit the ball watch the ball. The no-doubt blast landed in the right-field seats, giving Seager more RBIs on two consecutive swings (five) than he had in 16 previous games (two).
When the Mariners’ lineup was posted outside McClendon’s office Wednesday morning, Seager’s name looked like something of a statement: Not only would he start, but he would bat fifth.
When a hitter is slumping, McClendon would tell reporters a few hours later, “you have two options: sit him or play him. I chose to play him.”
One game, even if it’s a career-best game, should not be seen as evidence that Seager is on the verge of turning so torrid he inspires everybody else in the batting order to follow his lead.
But Seager’s seventh-inning homer clearly put him in the mental comfort zone that enabled him to step to the plate in the bottom of the ninth and turn defeat into victory with one swing.
Kyle Seager Bat Night still is set for May 10. If he’s resembling the hitter who accounted for all five runs the Mariners scored Wednesday, Seager will look back to April 23, when he starred in his own Turn-Back-the-Clock Day by adhering to baseball’s two most basic rudiments.
“Relax,” he said, “and play the game.”john.mcgrath@ thenewstribune.com