Melvin's Mariners

Assessing the lineup after a 3-3 road trip and a home-opening win over the world champs.

Lay Jamie Moyers 117 home-opener pitches end to end and they would have gotten the ageless lefty halfway to home and hearth in Magnolia. The Moyer shutout of the World Champion Anaheim Angels, with seven strikeouts in as many innings, got his team to 4-3. It was the highlight Tuesday of the Mariners fourth win in their most recent five games, and the 5-0 victory widened the smile kid skipper Bob Melvin has been sporting lately.

Through the weekend, on a season-opening road trip to Oakland and Texas, Melvin had learned what humorists from Moss Hart to Casey Stengel have known: Baseball, like comedy, can be hard. By the end of a second-straight team-effort pratfall April 2 against the Athletics, Melvin looked like a guy who, after finally getting the chance to take Dads fancy ride on a big date, had the old mans Lexus run out of gas a block from Becky Sues place. Then the club won three of four, including an 11-2 thumping Sunday of the Rangers that proved what many had merely hoped:

Randy Winn, with just 997 years to go, can safely be said to be the acquisition of the millennium.

Freddy Garcia can still three-hit you into the seventh inning, even when he doesnt start batters with strikes.

The team can bunch up runsunless Jeff Cirillo is up with the bases loaded.

Despite a Rangers lineup sometimes showing frightening power, Oakland and Anaheim pose the formidable obstacles to the Ms postseason play.

Two lefties are a few too few for any competitive pitching staff.

Edgar Martinez, injured Sunday while trying toget thisleg out a base hit, should have a sedan chair available for futile trips to first.

If Sundays slug-around was the most satisfying of the early games, Thursdays theft of the third try against Oakland may have been the most telling. It indicated that a lot of games may get down to the late innings; it also showed that the Ms can suck it up several times if necessary, salvaging one of three while facing Hudson-Zito-Mulder, the most feared pitching trio since Koufax, Drysdale and, uh, Koufax. Yet, even with the multiple-comeback Thursday win, the Ms field boss was criticized, of all things, for a few managing calls for which predecessor hunch-player Saint Lou Piniella probably would have been praised. I myself, while inclined to be patient about this season, wondered why the potential game-winning runner was given second base without a fight in the 11th (especially puzzling after Ms catcher Ben Davis nailed Michael Young on a pitchout the next game). But the club won game three, 7-6. Said Melvin of his first trip to the big-league winners circle: The baseball gods made me work for it.

Godliness in Arlington, Texas, of course, takes the human form of Alex Rodriguez. He makes (one hesitates to use earns about a player hitting .240 through Sunday) $48,000 per hour, based on 162 180-minute games per year. That payout perennially leaves Texas officials affording a less-than-enviable supporting cast for K-Rod (he shares his teams strikeout lead). Team officials consider pitching something you do with a horseshoe or a movie idea. Chan Ho Park started Sunday and threw at a Texas-sized strike zone stretching to Mike Camerons left wrist. The Ms eventually tallied 14 hits courtesy of just about everybody but Cirillo.

Ms fans have created a regional Richter-measurable din by tapping fingers on tables awaiting the arrival of Cirillos offensive promise. He arrived in Seattle to face Anaheim for the home opener Tuesday after a 1-for-18 effort. As was the case last season, Cirillo is the teams greatest cause for concern.

But there are the bright spots. Kaz Sasakis four-strikeout performance Friday night shut down the Rangers and shut up skeptics. Camerons seven-hit start is encouraging. While the oft-injured Carlos Guillen yet again seems about as durable as a UPN sitcom, his two hits Sunday bode well for the bottom of the lineup.

Its the top of the lineup that neednt leave any Mariner partisans pining for improvements. Ichiro is playing his typical superb game, his I dare you defense freezing base runners. At bat, hes good for another 200-plus hits this year, even if some umps seem inclined to thumb him when he clearly gets an infield hit (the cheek-turning Ichiro uncharacteristically noted that he got a bad call Friday, when tape showed he beat out a roller to second).

As for Randy Winn, the compensation from Tamper, er, Tampa Bay in the Piniella deal, the No. 2 guy in the order merely collected 11 hits and scored six runs in six games. Even the most blubbering Piniella supporter must admit that Winns done more for his club than Lou has for his. Melvin, perhaps jittery during the first two series, reportedly messed up filling out his early lineup cards. Few would fault him, however, if he inadvertently spelled Winn as Win.

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