You didn’t think the Mariners were going to go 162-0, did you?
For 3 1/2 games, the Mariners looked like they might be a lot better than advertised.
They swept two games against Oakland in Japan, then hammered Boston 12-4 in their home opener Thursday, hitting five home runs.
They hit three more homers, all solo shots, in the first two innings Friday and built a five-run lead against the defending World Series champion Red Sox.
Yusei Kikuchi, in search of his first major league victory, pitched six strong innings. But the Mariners aren’t going to risk the left-hander’s health, as they’re trying to avoid the arm problems that have plagued so many star Japanese pitchers when they come to the United States (see Shohei Ohtani, Yu Darvish and Daisuke Matsuzaka).
So manager Scott Servais made the call to the bullpen.
Because, you know, it’s illegal to call 911 in those situations.
The result was a 7-6 defeat, the Mariners’ first of the season, as Boston’s Mitch Moreland hit a pinch-hit, three-run homer off closer Hunter Strickland in the ninth inning.
There’s still a chance these Mariners will be better than expected (which might not be saying much, since almost all preseason prognostications had them well below .500 in general manager Jerry Dipoto’s “step-back” plan).
What have we learned through a handful of games?
The bullpen and defense notwithstanding, this team is actually watchable – especially when Kikuchi and Gonzaga’s own Marco Gonzales are on the mound. And the M’s certainly dig the long ball.
The Mariners might be a bunch of misfits and castoffs from other organizations, but remember, the Cleveland Indians won that way. (Wait, that was the movie “Major League.”)
Take the Mariners’ Tim Beckham and Domingo Santana, who both have three home runs.
There’s already a Beckham T-shirt available online.
Beckham is pictured on the front of the shirt, a bat sailing out of his hands with the words “Flip It Like Beckham.” It’s a nod to the 2002 movie “Bend It Like Beckham,” and the exploits of English soccer star David Beckham.
The former No. 1 overall draft pick seems to have finally found a home, if only temporarily.
Beckham went 5 for 7 with a home run in the season-opening two-game series in Tokyo, then hit two home runs off Boston ace Chris Sale on Thursday.
Beckham, 29, signed a one-year, $1.75 million deal in the offseason, primarily to keep the seat warm at shortstop until J.P. Crawford, acquired from Philadelphia, is ready to be promoted from Triple-A Tacoma.
Beckham might have other ideas.
“It’s a good feeling,” Beckham told MLB.com. “No matter what team you’re on, you want to come out and play winning baseball. I’m here in Seattle with a great group of guys who love to compete. I love it. It fires me up. But as far as a good start? It’s (five) games into the season. Tomorrow is a new day.”
Beckham said M’s players aren’t worried about Dipoto’s long-term plan, in which he traded away the likes of Robinson Cano, Edwin Diaz, Jean Segura and James Paxton in the offseason and let Nelson Cruz walk as a free agent in an effort to replenish the farm system and contend in the 2020s.
“We’re ballplayers,” Beckham said. “We come to play a game at 7:05 or 4:10 tonight. We’re here between the white lines. It’s baseball and we’re expected to produce. When you’re in the lineup, productivity is expected. As far as the rebuild and everything else, we’ll leave that to the front office. That’s out of our control.”
Santana, who led the Cactus League with four home runs this spring, hit a grand slam in the season opener and went 3 for 5 with a double, homer and four RBIs Thursday. He has the makings of a fan favorite – in part because he’s 6-foot-5 and 220 pounds.
The 26-year-old hit .278 with 30 homers and 85 RBIs for Milwaukee in 2017 before being saddled with a role on the bench last season after the Brewers acquired Christian Yelich, the eventual National League MVP, and signed free agent Lorenzo Cain.
“Your whole career you’ve been playing every day and you prepare yourself to have a good season,” Santana told the Seattle Times this spring. “And then you have a good season, so you think you have a job and then that happens. It was really tough mentally, but at the same time you have to work through it and get better at it.”
Maybe that’s what these 2019 Mariners provide: a chance for guys like Beckham and Santana to show they can still produce. That a contender should make Dipoto a midseason offer for them or that they’re worthy of a contract next offseason.
“A lot has been written about the direction we want to take this organization,” Servais said. “A lot has been said, too, from people internally. We do like our team. It’s a different look to our team and I get that. It’s not the household names you’re used to seeing in our lineup, but these guys can play.”
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