Sports

John McGrath: Still waiting for that second good game from Mariners

My wish list for the Seattle Mariners is brief, modest and very realistic.

I want to watch them play a good game.

That’s all, just one good game. I am tempted to add that winning a good game would be preferable to losing a good game, but, hey, I’d rather not be greedy. I’ll settle for a good game by the presumptive American League West contenders, and figure the result will take care of itself.

I remember what a good game looks like. It looks like the Mariners’ effort in the season opener, when they beat the Los Angeles Angels, 4-1. Starting pitcher Felix Hernandez threw a seven-inning gem, striking out 10. Hernandez turned the lead over to the bullpen, and the bullpen held on.

The offense produced 10 hits, four for extra bases. The defense executed two double plays. The Mariners accomplished all of this without committing an error, or forgetting how many outs there were, or assuming there was a runner on first base when there wasn’t a runner on first base.

Since playing a good game on April 6, the Mariners have gone 11 days without playing a good game. Their two victories in Oakland were distinguished by bullpen breakdowns: A 4-2 eighth-inning lead became 4-4 tie settled in 11 innings, and the following afternoon, a 7-3 ninth-inning lead became a 7-7 tie settled in 10 innings.

Exciting? You bet. But squandering a 7-3 lead in the ninth is not consistent with any reasonable definition of playing a good game.

The key to playing a good game, of course, begins with the starting pitcher. Hernandez’s seven innings in the opener set the bar at a height his four teammates in the rotation have yet to clear.

Is seven innings too much to expect? A complete game is as passé at a ballpark as the organist — times change, I get it — but if the Mariners’ typical box score shows five innings from the starter and five relievers behind him, a Seattle baseball season that began with great expectations soon will resemble the Seattle baseball season of, well, take your pick.

No reason to overreact. It’s early, and starters are still stretching out their arms after spring training limited them to incremental appearances. OK, there might be one reason to overreact, or at least react: The apparent spring training breakout of Taijuan Walker — an unfair mismatch for every hitter he faced in Arizona — has been reduced to a mirage.

Walker’s 2015 debut at Oakland, where he gave up nine earned runs before leaving with one out in the fourth inning, was a mess. Walker’s second start was another mess, albeit a mess that actually lowered an ERA that now stands at 17.18.

“I’m not going to pick on that kid,” manager Lloyd McClendon said after Walker failed to pitch into the fifth inning in a 5-2 defeat Wednesday night. “But if you ask me if I’m concerned with our starting pitchers, yes. We’ve got to get better. We’ve got to deeper in ballgames.”

McClendon’s disinclination to identify Walker as the scapegoat in the finale of a three-games-from-hell series at Dodger Stadium is understandable. His team was positioned for a sixth-inning rally Wednesday — runners at second and third, one out — when Logan Morrison took ball four. A split-second later, the would-be, one-out, bases-loaded rally was transformed into a less provocative two-out, two-on threat when Robinson Cano trotted toward home plate and was eventually thrown out.

Cano believed the bases were loaded when Morrison walked. The bases weren’t loaded, a fact third base coach Rich Donnelly didn’t dwell on with Cano because, like, what baseball player over the age of 6 doesn’t recognize which bases are occupied?

Dodgers’ play-by-play broadcaster Vin Scully told his audience that he’d never seen a big leaguer commit such an egregious mistake, but that’s not to suggest Cano’s blunder was unprecedented. Scully has been broadcasting baseball games for only 66 years.

Seasons are long, games are long — despite newly enforced pace-of-play rules, the Mariners and Dodgers needed 3 hours, 40 minutes to conclude a nine-inning contest Tuesday night — and boredom is an occupational hazard. But how does a veteran as admired for his work ethic as Cano succumb to boredom during the pivotal juncture of a game scheduled on Jackie Robinson Night at Dodger Stadium?

At least Cano held himself accountable for his attention lapse. The Mariners are pros that way: When they are beaten, they don’t seek out a players-only refuge adjacent to the clubhouse. It’s a stand-up team that takes its cue from a stand-up manager.

There’s a lot to like about this team, even though it’s April 17 and the Mariners have won only three times. The 2014 Mariners won their third game on April 2.

A fourth victory is forthcoming — trust me — but again: Results can sorted out later.

Just play a good game. A seven-inning start by the pitcher, two solid innings from the bullpen, timely hitting and efficient defense — everybody on board with how many outs there and how many runners are on base — that’s the ticket.

I’ve seen one of those games already. After almost two weeks, my only wish is to see another.

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