Silence in Sodo

The Mariners are the coldest ticket in town.

It's been so quiet at Seattle Mariners games this goin'-nowhere season that the dozens who flock to Safeco Field must wonder amid the murmuring patrons whether they're actually at a Scientology birthing experience. I thought I heard someone whisper "sshhhhhsh" the night of April 18, when a man asked a woman in a concession line if she thought Ichiro would ever get a hit again. It turned out that it wasn't a human utterance, just the distant whiffing sound of Adrian Beltre's bat missing a pitch about a foot off the outside corner.

That night, when the M's lost to Texas 7-4, they lured 17,927, the fewest souls ever to convene at a facility open for nearly seven years. The draw for walk-ups had been Felix Hernandez, the "can't-miss" pitcher. That night he couldn't miss the sweet spots of a pair of Rangers bats, and it was 4-0 Texas at the end of two.

Fast forward to Sunday, April 23: "King Felix" is back on the mound, the M's now are 7-12, in last place (as usual) in the American League West Division, with home attendance off nearly 20 percent from last year.

By then the locals had set another new low, having drawn 17,613 on Wednesday, April 19, while winning the obligatory one game of the week with a walk-off long ball, the first such feat since 2004. Ich had hit in five straight at-bats, but by week's end he was still at .244. Nominal closer Eddie Guardado had blown two saves in four days. A Friday-night bobble-head giveaway padded attendance but was spoiled when suddenly unloved bobble-boy Ichiro repeatedly left runners in scoring position.

By Sunday, the suits from the front office had recited the company line: The April gate is never great; we knew sales would dip a little; the club will draw when the marquee guys wake up. I went to the lower echelon of Safeco personnel for theories about poor attendance (promising not to quote any ushers or vendors by name so they wouldn't be fired by the CIA). Responses echoed what had been issued by M's prexy Chuck Armstrong and others.

Seemingly nobody, then, amid the intractable administration of the Black House that is Safeco, is willing to concede that attendance is off because product has been awful, the latter being true because General Manager Bill Bavasi hasn't done a heckuva job. The fact is, the M's have no weapons of mass production. Adrian Beltre was booed by many of the 28,659 on hand Sunday before his base hit in the seventh. Hitting just .186, he has three RBI and no home runs and may, alas, have become a role model for slumping Richie Sexson. Carl Everett, the everyday DH, has three dingers, including the game-winner April 19, but is hitting just .220.

Sunday featured the anemic '06 M's in a peanut shell. Pitching has kept the club in games. Lack of timely hitting has caused the losses. Hernandez had another wobbly start against Detroit but gave up just one earned run in seven innings. The M's "offense" had nary a hit until the fifth inning (the team had just two singles in Saturday night's 2-0 loss) and left eight on base. Sunday's 6-4 loss, a product of two unearned Tiger runs in the first and a three-run Detroit homer in the eighth, left the M's with one win the past eight games and little time to reflect, what with the world-champ White Sox now in town.

It's a good bet, though, that the silent spring will lead to a lot of Sodo-area crowd noise by late summer. The problem for the M's is that the din will emanate from the nearby White House, aka Qwest Field.

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