The crazy aspect of the 2010 baseball season isn’t that the Mariners stumbled into the All-Star break 18 games under .500.
It’s not a fluke when a team with as many flaws as this one needs a three-week winning streak to break even.
The crazy aspect of the 2010 baseball season is that the “Believe Big” battle cry remained pertinent for as long as it did. On the evening of April 30, the Mariners began their second Safeco Field homestand a half-game out of first place. Their unremarkable 11-11 record was underscored by a statistic that, in hindsight, qualifies as remarkable: They had scored three more runs (82) than they had given up (79).
Enhancing the mood of optimism on April 30 was the eagerly awaited debut of Cliff Lee in a Mariners uniform. As he carved up the Rangers lineup that night, the former Cy Young Award recipient revealed he was more than equal to the hype.
For a few hours, believing big required no extraordinary leap of imagination. All believing big required was for the Mariners to score, like, a run. Two runs would’ve been even better, but one run would’ve worked.
The run never crossed the plate. Lee’s stellar performance was scored as a no-decision in a 12-inning, 2-0 defeat.
Because a baseball schedule lasts six months, it is foolish to dwell on one game out of 162. And yet, a line can be drawn to precisely define where the 2010 Mariners devolved from a pretty good team with high hopes into the rancid mess of early errors, wild pitches, balls lost in the sun and too-little, too-late offense they offered fans on the last day before the break.
The line can be drawn on April 30, Seattle vs. Texas, a snapshot of a half-season that found two clubs briefly tangled up in the standings before they took off in opposite directions. The Rangers began a 15-6 run that night. The Mariners went into a 3-15 tailspin.
Take the lineup: Ichiro Suzuki went 3-for-5, a box-score showing befitting Seattle’s only All-Star position player. Chone Figgins went 1-for-5 – isn’t he always going 1-for-5? – while the “heart” of the batting order (Franklin Gutierrez, Jose Lopez, Ken Griffey, Jr.) went a combined 1-for-12. Milton Bradley played left field, where his glove proved to be a problem. Casey Kotchman played first base, where his bat proved to be a problem.
And then there was a bench whose limited versatility forced manager Don Wakamatsu into pinch-hitting Mike Sweeney for shortstop Jack Wilson in the 10th inning. Sweeney grounded into a rally-killing double play with the bases loaded.
As for the Mariners’ comically inept offense, their struggles began in the first inning, when Ichiro led off with a single and advanced to second on a throwing error. He never got to third.
The Mariners’ best chance to score on April 30 – and to win the game in the 11th inning – was on a suicide squeeze bunt with one out and the bases loaded. But as Ichiro was ambling toward the plate from third, veteran Eric Byrnes inexplicably pulled his bat back. Ichiro was tagged out, and when Byrnes took a full swing and missed for strike three, the threat was done.
Afterward, Byrnes left without talking to reporters, escaping from the Safeco Field clubhouse-level corridor on a bicycle. He barely avoided a collision with Zduriencik.
“He’s the ultimate competitor,” Wakamatsu said that night of Byrnes. “He was probably as disappointed as anybody. It affected him.”
Byrnes was so torn up by the embarrassment of the botched suicide squeeze and his subsequent release by the Mariners, he didn’t reappear on a diamond for a few hours. But once he hooked up with some buddies in a California softball league, all was right in his world.
The questions persist. All we know is that a once-promising summer unraveled on the Mariners, and that the unraveling began when Cliff Lee made his Seattle debut against the Texas Rangers.
Now, Lee is an American League All-Star wearing a Rangers uniform, representing a team that gained momentum on the very same night the Mariners lost their mojo.
A tale-of-two-cities season was decided on April 30. At least that’s my version, with some help from Cliff notes.