The Roof Closes on a Goof Season

The Mariners stink up the place. Would you like garlic fries with that?

One night at Safeco Field, during the recent hapless 2-6 home stand that ended with Sunday's 3-1 win against Detroit, and while reeling from the "aroma" of the garlic fries, I thought I overheard a passing kid amid the paying hoi polloi say she wished it would rain that night because she loved to watch the roof close. The roof once was needed to keep the bad stuff out. Now the lid exists to encapsulate the uniform-sporting, on-field bad stuff—that, and provide the occasional spectator's diversion, rather like when you go to the theater mainly because you love to see the curtain open and close.

One could belabor the flagrantly obvious: the closing of the stadium roof representing the premature end to what had seemed, until April 6, to be a promising Seattle Mariners baseball season. But the end of the campaign actually was signaled with just a third of an inning expired that first Tuesday of April. Rich Aurilia, the personification of inept front-office decision making, handled a gift-wrapped double-play chance with the finesse of Chevy Chase. The M's went on to notch a 1-7 start.

Going into Cleveland Tuesday night, May 25, they were 15-28. Beloved regulars Edgar Martinez and John Olerud were batting a hundred points below their better-year May averages. Official scorekeepers were being forgiven for inadvertently penciling "Old-erud" and "Mort-inez."

Olerud hammered one out the opposite way in the seventh on Sunday, May 23, but still was stuck at just .237. Aurilia, a power hitter with a total of no home runs, was batting .234 through Sunday. Bret Boone was at .240, with Randy Winn at .224. Only the reliable Ichiro (.325) and the amazing Dan Wilson (.318) could boast all-star stats, with Raul Ibanez (.268) and Scott Spiezio (.273) putting up the journeyman numbers many expected. Bemused field boss Bob Melvin faced the daily dilemma of finding a lineup that might surprise everybody with two or three runs.

Sunday he tried benching (or "resting," as the euphemism goes) Edgar and Aurilia. Sub-shortstop Jolbert Cabrera popped out with two on to end the first inning. Dave Hansen actually singled to start the second, but since "designated hitter" has become "designated out" this season, he was quickly erased on a fielder's choice. Olerud, for the first time since his tee-ball days, was placed in the eight hole Sunday, possibly because Melvin wanted the potential for speed should ninth-hitting Winn get on base (via a walk or a plunking, of course). After an Olerud walk, Winn hit a quick double-play ball to end the inning.

So nothing much works this year. Even when it starts well from a physical standpoint, there's a mental letdown. Ichiro stops at second after Boone successfully executes the hit and run in the third inning on Sunday. Only after inspecting the playing field does it occur to Ich that he ought to be on his way to third base. He eventually scores, but, since one run constitutes a big inning for the 2004 M's, two runners die when yet another double play ends a potential Seattle rally. Starting pitchers, who practically have to produce shutouts to get credit for victories, had just eight combined wins through Sunday. It equaled a quarter-season mark of futility said to date back to a spitball-era edition of the Crawford Warriors of the Texas League. Were it the National League, M's pitchers at least would have the chance to score their own runs; but there was that other problem—a bullpen that gives up what few leads the offense delivers. Saturday, Detroit put up seven of its eight runs in the eighth and ninth frames. Julio Mateo and Shigetoshi Hasegawa, stalwart relievers a season ago, couldn't save a spider from a bathtub this year.

The dwindling few who sustain passion for the season insist that something must be done about the ball club. That's tough when the first five guys mentioned above are either local icons, highly paid, or both.

Supposedly, the scout seated behind me in the press box May 20 was shopping Aurilia for the Chicago Cubs. The long-time Giants shortstop might return to form when he inevitably gets back to the National League. When he goes, the M's could stick promising Tacoma farmhands at short and third, move Spiezio to first base, and "rest" Edgar and Olerud until they retire in October. Bullpen pitching help also exists in the farm system, as do a sub or two for Winn in center. Freddy Garcia, who pitched seven innings of four-hit ball Sunday, could fetch terrific prospects in the trade expected by many.

Would it mean a playoff contender? Well, not this season, obviously, but the above fixes at least would mean that the thousands stuck with a lot of paid-for tix this year would have something besides the roof closing to keep them amused.

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