It was after the third out of the Tampa Bay Rays half of the eighth inning Sunday when I realized what Safeco Field has become for the Seattle Mariners.
Remember that scene in “The Wizard of Oz” with the sleeping flowers? Dorothy says, “I can’t run anymore. Oh please, I have to rest for just a minute. Toto, where’s Toto?”
That’s what Safeco Field has become for the Mariners: A place where they can’t run anymore because they’re falling asleep.
Back to the top of the eighth, a laborious inning that began when shortstop Brad Miller sailed a routine throw into the first-base dugout. A sacrifice bunt preceded an RBI sacrifice fly, and when reliever Vidal Nuno finally retired the side on a strikeout, everybody in a cream-colored uniform stood still for a moment.
Never miss a local story.
One player losing track of how many outs there are is a daily occurrence for the Mariners. But all nine guys on the field losing track of how many outs there are at the same time?
What’s that about?
“Right now we’re snake-bitten,” manager Lloyd McClendon said after his team concluded a 2-9 homestand of almost unprecedented futility with a 3-1 defeat. “We’re easy pickings right now, but things will get better.”
If nothing else, things will get different. For the first time in three weeks, the Mariners weren’t scheduled to play Monday. They’ll begin an eight-game, three-city road trip Tuesday in Cleveland, where they might want to be more focused than they’ve been at Sleep Country, er, Safeco Field.
The struggling Robinson Cano didn’t appear in the series finale against the Rays, and thus avoided committing another gaffe on the base paths. With Cano out of the mix, Nelson Cruz took it upon himself to deny the Mariners a scoring opportunity against the sensational Chris Archer.
Cruz had reached on an infield single after Seth Smith led off the fourth with a line-drive double, but the no-out threat soon turned into a two-out threat once Archer struck out Kyle Seager and Mark Trumbo. Still, there were runners on first and third and the left-handed hitting Logan Morrison at the plate to face the right-handed Archer.
Runs for the Mariners figured to be as scarce Sunday as strikeouts were plentiful. A lefty-righty matchup, with a man on third representing the tying run, qualified as precious.
And then Cruz, as anxious as American Pharoah out of the gate, took off for second base. Suddenly, the precious scoring chance devolved into all kinds of uh-oh.
“I tried to make something happen,” said Cruz, who admitted he misread a sign.
With Cruz trapped in a pickle between first and second, the Mariners might be able to steal a run if Smith makes a simultaneous dash for home. But he was late to break — imagine that — and the Rays applied a tag on Cruz before Smith touched the plate.
The bang-bang resolution of a rundown that almost ended up with a run found inquiring minds wondering: Did Cruz respond to a cue from the dugout?
“I’ll tell you what,” McClendon said. “If my general manager thought I put that play on, I should be fired. Nellie thought he saw something that wasn’t there.
“Players make mistakes. We’re not playing well and so it’s blown out of proportion. Nobody feels worse than he does.”
Are the Mariners looking forward to spending a few days away from Seattle?
“Yeah,” Cruz said with a sheepish smile. “You never want to leave home, but if good things are gonna happen, you welcome it.”
The Mariners are a respectable 12-13 on the road this season, but their record at Safeco Field is a baffling 13-19. The park ranks among the most impressive of a 1990s baseball-stadium boon that began in Baltimore. On late-spring afternoons as glorious as Sunday, it’s difficult to imagine a more appealing baseball venue.
But there’s something about Safeco Field that puts the Mariners to sleep, and poses a question: