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Originally published Monday, August 9, 2010 at 7:08 PM

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Mariners players deal with manager Don Wakamatsu's firing

Russell Branyan says Don Wakamatsu, who was fired Monday, was the same professional manager this season who led the Mariners to 85 wins last year.

Seattle Times staff reporter

When Russell Branyan returned to Seattle in late June after a trade with Cleveland, the first baseman watched Don Wakamatsu carry himself in the same professional manner he'd grown accustomed to during 2009's surprisingly successful Mariners season.

But while the Wakamatsu he knew remained the same, the Mariners failed to rekindle last season's chemistry and, mired in the middle of a miserable 42-70 campaign, Wakamatsu was fired, along with bench coach Ty Van Burkleo, pitching coach Rick Adair and performance coach Steve Hecht before Monday's game against Oakland.

"I know that the man that was in that office yesterday and the man that was in that office last year hadn't changed," Branyan said. "Don has maintained the level of professionalism that you like in a major-league manager. He prided himself on building relationships and having his guys go out there and compete and win ballgames."

But the winning never happened this season, and players who spoke with the media before the game shouldered much of the responsibility.

"I don't think it's fair to say it's the manager's responsibility to take the blame, because it's not," Ichiro said through his interpreter, Antony Suzuki. "I'm just saying we're all responsible."

Mariners ace Felix Hernandez and second baseman Chone Figgins declined to speak with the media before the game.

Standing in front of a group of TV cameras, left fielder Michael Saunders said it wasn't easy to deal with the frustration of losing his manager. But he said he was happy for interim manager Daren Brown, whom Saunders played for with Class AAA Tacoma.

"It's kind of a situation where you have mixed feelings about it," Saunders said. "Obviously the relationship with Wak and then what happened today. It's a little bit of a sad clubhouse. Everyone had their own relationship with Wak and Ty and Rick and Steve. To see them go, it's never a fun time, never a happy time."

With the Mariners transitioning to their fifth manager in a little more than three years, there was a feeling in the clubhouse that the team is back to square one.

"That's the only way we can look at it, because the team's in this situation," Ichiro said. "Our challenge, just as a team and as an individual, remains the same because we have to perform to win. Our attitude is still the same."

Branyan pointed out that the lofty preseason expectations, coupled with the team's disappointing performance, combined to take a toll. Still, he said he was surprised when he heard the news.

"When that team's going one way and the expectations are going the other way, that's not what you want to see out of an organization that you're trying to improve," he said. "We've got a lot of great guys in this clubhouse, a lot of guys who really care about the game and are proud to be Seattle Mariners, but for some reason, we just haven't been able to win this year."

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Mason Kelley: 206-464-8277 or mkelley@seattletimes.com

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