Mariners enjoy trip to Japan — except for results on the field
The Mariners didn't quite seem ready to play, splitting two games against the Oakland Athletics in Tokyo. But the players and manager Eric Wedge say the trip was worthwhile.
Seattle Times staff reporter
TOKYO — Whatever memories the Mariners take home from this unique trip overseas, they'll likely want to redo the ones involving on-field performance.
Whether it was jet lag, the distractions of being in a new country, off-field demands on their time, or just a simple break in routines so coveted by ballplayers, the Mariners never got their game on here. They were fortunate to win once and looked lethargic throughout, including in a 4-1 loss on Thursday to the Oakland Athletics that saw the bullpen allow three home runs in two innings.
One of the home-run yielders was George Sherrill, who pretty much summarized the general look of the squad as it was getting torched in exhibitions by Japanese teams and splitting with the A's.
"I hate to say it, but it still feels like spring training to me," Sherrill said. "It's kind of weird playing real games and then going back to playing spring-training games again. It's no excuse, I've still got to get better. But I've still got a little ways to go to get better."
The Mariners leave Japan on Friday afternoon, heading back to Arizona to finish Cactus League play. They resume the regular season in Oakland next Friday.
Such a schedule is unique to the Mariners, and there will be convincing debates both ways about its merits. The A's will play the remainder of their exhibition games in the Bay Area, not returning to Arizona.
But the Mariners will not only land back in Arizona on Friday morning — going backward in time against the international date line — they will play a game that night against the San Diego Padres. Such a schedule, imposed on them by their own team management, sounds like cruel and unusual punishment, given the hardships of international travel.
Then again, anyone who watched the offense put on a repeat of the 2010 and 2011 seasons in the two exhibition and two regular-season games might suggest they were the ones being punished. They could push the convincing argument that the Mariners are, as Sherrill went on to suggest about himself, a team in need of more spring-training polish.
Or, they could simply be a team in need of a three-day nap.
While Sherrill was only discussing himself, the rest of his teammates also appeared to be stuck in the blocks throughout the trip. The Mariners were outscored, out-hustled and outworked to the tune of a 14-4 combined score in two exhibition losses to the Hanshin Tigers and the Yomiuri Giants.
Once the games counted for real, they scored only one run the first 10 innings against Oakland in the season opener before winning with two runs in the 11th. Then, in the series and trip finale, they could not hold a 1-0 lead in the seventh inning as Jason Vargas was pulled after 85 pitches and the bullpen sent in to try to finish the job.
Instead, Shawn Kelley, Sherrill and Steve Delabar finished off the Mariners. Kelley hung a slider to Yoenis Cespedes, Sherrill hung another to Josh Reddick and it doesn't matter what Delabar did with Jonny Gomes because Seattle wasn't coming back from two runs down with three outs to go.
Not the way they played here.
Mariners manager Eric Wedge said he wouldn't have changed a thing about the trip. Wedge said his players got plenty out of it and gave some back to their warm Japanese hosts.
Several players participated in autograph sessions at public venues. Others took a tour up to tsunami-ravaged Ishinomaki to conduct a baseball clinic for children inside the disaster zone.
Still more visited the U.S. Embassy and met the ambassador to this country. Then, there were the sights to see, with players often having wives and girlfriends along on the trip eager to take in Asia.
Wedge said he felt his players handled themselves well.
"I was really proud of our players with what they did and the way they spent their time here," Wedge said. "It was a fantastic trip in that respect."
Mariners first baseman Justin Smoak, who accounted for his team's only run Thursday with a solo homer in the seventh, agreed the experience was a positive one.
"It was definitely an experience," Smoak said. "To come over here and see a different culture. It was fun seeing how baseball is played over here. It was a lot of fun."
But that line between fun and work was often straddled by the team. Even the most fervent proponent of the series, Mariners right fielder Ichiro, spelled out early on in the week what his team's mission had to be.
"We're not here for a vacation," he said.
Vargas echoed that line somewhat after becoming the second Seattle starter in as many nights to register a no-decision with one earned run allowed. He allowed just two hits in 6-1/3 innings Thursday.
"It was really cool to play here," he said. "We got to see a lot of things, got to do a lot of things, and at the same time got to come here and play baseball. So, we got the best of both worlds."
But only after a bit of a juggling act.
"It's a little tough," he said. "You obviously want more time, but we came here to work. The companions on the trip probably would have liked to have a little bit more time but this trip wasn't about that. It was to come here to play."
And as ballplayers on this trip, the Mariners made excellent community ambassadors. They leave behind the sense that they never did find that balance between the off-field stuff and the on-field performance.
The A's, limited as they are in talent and experience, looked far more comfortable.
Even with the goodwill work done by the team, a vacation of sorts is what the trip became.
Any seasoned traveler can tell you not all vacations are created equal; that those involving big cities and taking in sights can be huge stress generators. The Mariners were not only running around, putting in extra time with the community, but taking in the sights and sounds of a new country.
That takes energy. And in the end, the Mariners didn't bring a whole lot of energy to these games.
Those who needed the extra time in Arizona to prepare for the season had no choice but to be here.
Sherrill says he'll use the extra games in Arizona next week to get himself where he needs to be.
"You've still got to be prepared," he said. "And I wasn't."
Neither were the Mariners, from the looks of things. In the long run, though, it might not matter if they figure things out in a week.
After all, it's only baseball. And if sacrificing a mere game or two out of 162 is the price to be paid, the Mariners, years from now, might wake up and decide it was all worth it.
|All four major-league season-opening series in Japan have resulted in splits of the two games. A look at each:|
|2000||Cubs 5, Mets 3||• Mets gain split on pinch-hit|
|Mets 5, Cubs 1 (11)||slam by Benny Agbayani|
|2004||Devil Rays 8, Yankees 3||• Yankees swat five homers|
|Yankees 12, Devil Rays 1||in two games in Tokyo|
|2008||Red Sox 6, A's 5 (10)||• March 25 opener is|
|A's 5, Red Sox 1||earliest in MLB history|
|2012||Mariners 3, A's 1 (11)||• Japanese icon Ichiro|
|A's 4, Mariners 1||goes 4 for 5 in opener|