It’s a good thing statistics are kept in baseball.
Because if I were relying on what I saw Tuesday afternoon at Safeco Field, I’d be thinking Vicente Padilla of the Texas Rangers might be the best pitcher I’ve ever seen.
A 31-year-old right-hander who during his 11 seasons in the big leagues has completed all of three games – see what I mean about statistics? – Padilla had the Mariners flummoxed in their attempts to put runners on base and frightened when they actually did.
Padilla faced 27 Seattle batters through eight innings. He allowed one hit, walked three, and hit a batter. That was it. That was all the Mariners could muster against a guy whose most distinctive weapon Tuesday was a sidearm “eephus” throw clocked as slow as 61 mph.
OK, to be fair, Padilla also featured a fastball and slider, and merely used the eephus as a toy – something to break up the tedium of those three-up, three-down innings.
As I was saying, Padilla could be the best pitcher I’ve ever seen, and if it weren’t for statistics, I’d actually be writing that Padilla is maybe the best pitcher I’ve ever seen.
But then I check out the numbers: Vicente Padilla’s ERA after five April starts was 7.43. Of the 150 or so other men holding down jobs as major league starters in 2009, none began the month of May with an ERA as high as 7.43.
Padilla can be solved, in other words, but solving any big-league starter requires a lineup more resourceful than the Mariners showed in their 7-2, 10-inning defeat Tuesday.
Take the top of the fourth inning, when Ichiro Suzuki broke up Padilla’s bid for a perfect game with a leadoff walk. The score was 0-0, thanks to Erik Bedard delivering a performance for the Mariners that was equal to his counterpart from Texas.
Anyway, Ichiro’s on first with nobody out. A chance to put things in motion, right? Get Ichiro to second, where he can break up the scoreless tie on a hit to the outfield, right?
Not if you’re Don Wakamatsu. When asked if he gave any consideration to having Jose Lopez put down a bunt after Ichiro’s leadoff walk in the fourth inning, the manager replied: “No.”
When asked to elaborate, Wakamatsu talked about the difficulty of manufacturing runs against the pitcher who began May with the highest ERA of any major league starter.
“Padilla,” the manager said, “is a tough guy to do a lot of things against. He can run a ball in on you on the hit-and-run, he can change speeds, and he’s a tough guy to bunt, because he likes to pitch in.”
So the bunt was off, as well as any attempt to steal second, or try a hit-and-run. Lopez, instead, had the freedom to swing away. He swung into an around-the-horn double play.
After scoring an unearned run when the Rangers’ Ian Kinsler botched Lopez’s double-play ball in the sixth, the Mariners appeared ready to manufacture another threat in the seventh when Russell Branyan led off with a walk.
Again, no bunt, but this time Branyan broke on a hit-and-run to avert the possibility of a double play. Then Adrian Beltre grounded to third baseman Michael Young, who initiated still another around-the-horn double play.
“He put the ball in our court and said, ‘Here it is, hit it,’ ” Branyan said of Padilla. “And we couldn’t get anything to fall in.”
Actually, the Mariners got one ball to fall in: Wladimir Balentien’s two-out single in the fifth. Rob Johnson ended the “threat” with a pop up to shortstop.
“No run support for our starting pitchers, no run support for our relievers,” Johnson said. “And they’re just going out and putting up zeros for us.”
Despite the paucity of sparks on offense, the Mariners – out-hit 11-1 through nine innings – were able to stay even until reliever Denny Stark’s recent work load (three appearances in three days) caught up with him. A few fans booed as Stark finally got the third out with the Rangers holding a 7-1 lead, but Seattle wasn’t swept for the first time in a 2009 series because of Denny Stark.
Seattle was swept for the first time in a 2009 series because it still has trouble stringing two or three hits together, much less stringing two or three runs together.
And while the Mariners’ refusal to quit in the face of defeat is admirable, gallant comeback rallies in extra innings are a tough way to survive a long season.
“No knock on our offense, but we are going to start winning some ballgames and blowing some guys out,” said Branyan, who has hit almost as many home runs (seven) as the rest of Tuesday’s starting lineup (10). “It’s just a matter of time before we all get in position to get hot.
“Right now the way we’ve been playing and with our record what it is, I think we have to be happy,” Branyan continued. “Everyone in here has a lot of pride; we all know what we’re capable of doing. Winning eases it, obviously, but we all want to be doing our part.”
In the meantime, the Mariners can dwell on the bright side. If Padilla makes his next scheduled start, against the White Sox on Sunday, the Mariners won’t have to face that harrowing “eephus” pitch again until the weekend before the All-Star Game.
John McGrath: 253-597-8742; ext. 6154