Was it only last Sunday that the 2015 baseball season began? Just seven days ago?
It seems longer than seven days, because so much has happened.
Take the Seattle Mariners. During the course of a week, they’ve variously resembled everything fans hoped and everything fans feared.
On Monday, the Mariners looked like a terrific team with no weaknesses. On Tuesday, they looked like a team vulnerable to a familiar nemesis, left-handed pitching. On Wednesday, they looked like a team that doesn’t surrender despite giving up five early runs. On Friday, they looked like a terrible team with no strengths.
And heaven knows what to make of Saturday, one of those It’s Only April But If This Is What’s In Store My Head Will Explode Before It Gets Warm games.
Fifth starter J.A. Happ was not supposed to outpitch Oakland A’s ace Sonny Gray. Cleanup hitter Nelson Cruz was not supposed to hit a three-run homer in the eighth — actually he was, of course he was, but the league’s defending home-run king seemed to be stuck in a changing-places funk — and when his shot landed, the Mariners had a 4-2 lead.
If that lead is turned over to the 2014 bullpen, Seattle wins with some ninth-inning suspense involving Fernando Rodney. But the lead was turned over to the 2015 bullpen, and 14 minutes later it was gone.
Yet the Mariners found a way to win an unseasonably intense thriller in 11 innings, thanks, in part, to Rodney closing the deal with a three-up, three-down effort notable for, well, the three-up, three-down part.
The fifth game of a 162-game season was not going to define the Mariners’ destiny, but Saturday posed a kind of line-in-the-sand pivot point. Losing meant dropping a second consecutive series to a top AL West rival. Winning meant a very good chance to take two of three at Oakland, where Felix Hernandez starts Sunday.
A rational person familiar with long-term percentages will point out how winning a game that simultaneously loomed as a victory or defeat on every pitch does nothing more than turn a 1-4 record into a 2-3 record. But what’s the fun in being rational?
Mariners fans woke up Saturday morning fearing the worst — an early-season skid brought on by the dormant bat of Cruz and shaky starting pitching — and went to sleep Saturday night with renewed belief of what’s possible when Cruz finds his groove and the starters settle down.
After a week with the abrupt twists of an amusement-park ride, the Mariners are in a good place, mentally and physically, which is more than can be said for a lot of other teams.
The Los Angeles Angels, for instance. Owner Arte Moreno hasn’t merely botched the Angels’ handling of Josh Hamilton’s treatment in a drug-rehabilitation clinic. Understandably anxious to void a contract guaranteeing the outfielder $83 million, Moreno’s has been so inept that he’s created a rift, perhaps irreparable, between the front office and Hamilton’s teammates.
Hamilton’s voluntary admission into a drug-rehab clinic is nobody else’s business — his privacy was assured through a collectively bargained agreement — and the news was leaked anyway, because Moreno regards the contract he offered to Josh Hamilton as more important than Josh Hamilton.
The matter almost certainly will go to court, and so might the New York Yankees and Alex Rodriguez. Seems the Yanks once promised a Rodriguez bonus money for achieving milestones, such as surpassing Willie Mays on the all-time home run list. (A-Rod entered the weekend with 655 homers, five behind Mays.)
The Yankees will argue Rodriguez’ numbers are tainted — ya think? — rendering him ineligible for contract bonuses. A-Rod’s lawyers will argue that a contract is a contract.
What a mess.
While the Angels and Yankees are sorting out their legal battles, the San Francisco Giants are wondering if a curse has been put upon them. The defending World Series champions lost third baseman Casey McGehee to a strained knee Saturday, latest in an injury epidemic that has sidelined starting pitchers Matt Cain and Jake Peavy, right fielder Hunter Pence and first baseman Brandon Belt.
Speaking of curses: Eleven of the players on the Texas Rangers’ 40-man roster are hurt, and nine are ailing with the Tampa Bay Rays.
The Mariners? Their injury list begins with the left-shoulder impingement of minor league pitcher Edgar Olmos, and ends with the soon-to-be-healed broken wrist of shortstop Chris Taylor.
Still, the most destructive injury of all — a team’s wounded psyche — seemed imminent Saturday. If the Mariners squander the 4-2 lead Cruz gave them with his eighth-inning home run, there’s no telling when the bleeding stops.
One week down, only 26 to go. I’m tired already.