Beautiful M's

An ugly season has its consolations: Edgar's long goodbye and Ichiro's hitting.

Edgar Martinez, who is going, kind of had us going for a few minutes on Monday, Aug. 9. The early word was that Seattle's all-time best-loved sports celeb was packing the Gar gear for the final time at Safeco and retiring to the domestic bliss of Kirkland and a possible trip to Cooperstown in five years or so. It turned out that he merely confirmed what wasn't really news: that he'll call it a career at the end of this season. Fortunately, that leaves fans with the anticipation of some adoring moments as the season winds down, and we count ourselves lucky to observe a few dozen more rope-line base hits and some towering long balls, the result of a swing that has been pure beauty since the 41-year-old two-time hitting champ broke in at the Kingdome 18 seasons ago. There will be plenty of time for tributes. Perhaps it suffices to observe that Edgar's presence the next six weeks will mark the rare occasion to use the term "beauty" in association with an otherwise butt-ugly baseball season.

It's rare but not impossible. "The beauty of the Mariners' season this year," a friend began the morning after Ichiro had gone 5 for 7 and halted Seattle's worst-ever losing streak on the road, "is that it reminds you of the old days, when the team never had a chance by August, and the only reason to pay attention was for keeping track of individual performances."

"Beauty," of course, is in the orb of the arbiter, or however that adage goes. Andrea Mitchell of NBC News, for example, recently described John Edwards as "pretty." Fine, but if you're married to Alan Greenspan (as she is), just about anybody would seem "pretty" by comparison, up to (but maybe not including) the Boston Red Sox's hirsute hitter Johnny Damon, a caveman-era metrosexual.

It seemed to me bold even to use "beauty" in a sentence with "2004 Seattle Mariners." Then again, there ought to be reasons to pay at least peripheral attention to the final two months of a blown season. Fortunately, the M's have provided at least two. One is Ichiro; the other is the unending casting call of the organization's probable stars of tomorrow. Stars (who knows this year?) that in September may even include Matt Tuiasosopo, the Woodinville wunderkind who, just weeks after signing with the M's and forgoing a football career at the University of Washington, went 5 for 6 with a home run for Class A Everett in a twin bill Saturday, Aug. 7.

But Ichiro remains the beauty mark amid this warts-and-all ball club's probable 100-loss season. His at bats are events again, and have been since he started his climb to the major-league batting-average lead. Through Sunday, Aug. 8, he was hitless in just two games during a monthlong stretch. It should have been just one game.On Friday, Aug. 6, Ich led off the game with a sinking line drive that skidded off the garage-sale carpet at Tampa's Tropicana Field. Replays clearly showed that Devil Rays right fielder Jose Cruz had deftly trapped the bouncing ball, but M's hapless skipper Bob Melvin couldn't be bothered to argue the call.

When Ichiro started his charge, he was hitting .320 and was 64 points below league-leader Ivan Rodriguez. A month later, after his only two five-hit games in American baseball, Ichiro was at .357. If he keeps it up, he could eclipse Edgar's .356, which led the league in 1995 and contributed to the saving of baseball in Seattle. True: Suzuki-san the past two seasons has seen his prodigious hit accumulations drop off as the football season approached. But with 174 hits through Sunday, he can't miss becoming the only player ever to have at least 200 hits during his first four seasons. There are consensus great hitters who never had four 200-hit years during their Hall of Fame careers.

Ichiro's midseason surge still will remain remarkable if only because it's happening amid an otherwise lackluster general effort by most of his teammates. Randy Winn, an exception, has played serviceable if unspectacular outfield (only three errors, one more than Ichiro), while approaching a .290 average.

Meanwhile, more than a dozen players have been shuffled up from Tacoma, and more, no doubt, are on the way. Some say Greg Dobbs (not error-prone power-hitter Justin Leone) is the permanent answer at third base. Others foresee 20-year-old Jose Lopez moving to third after the look-see he's been getting at shortstop.

Wags have been calling the M's second half an exhibition tantamount to an early 2005 spring training, when stats don't really count. Jamie Moyer probably cares about bad numbers, however, seeing as how the staff-ace-by-default hasn't won a game for two months after failing again Sunday, Aug. 8, during the 5-1 loss to the St. Pete Piniellas.

Fortunately, then, there's Ichiro, the only rose in the thorn garden of the 2004 M's—that and knowing how lucky we are to be there as the Edgar era comes to an end.

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