Dugout fight emphasizes just what a mess Mariners have become
The Mariners say they are keeping Friday night's dugout incident in-house, but don't expect it to provide inspiration or unity
Seattle Times staff columnist
Of all the bad moments in the Mariners' history — all of the 90-loss seasons, the games of manager roulette, the fruitless 34-year quest for a World Series appearance — the final five innings of Friday night's loss to the Boston Red Sox might have been the most incendiary.
By now everyone knows about the fight that erupted on the Mariners' bench in the middle of the fifth.
It was the kind of franchise-embarrassing moment that sits a manager on the hot seat. And it was another profound example of how some Mariners veterans are doing everything in their power to sabotage the manager.
Manager Don Wakamatsu, angered once again by second baseman Chone Figgins' lack of hustle, confronted Figgins Friday night, after the Red Sox had been retired in the fifth and told him he was being pulled from the game.
But instead of accepting his manager's decision, Figgins came after Wakamatsu and the observant people on the third-base side of Safeco Field witnessed a flash-fire scuffle that saw everyone in the dugout quickly gather around Figgins and Wakamatsu.
"We were just trying to make sure nobody got hurt," starting pitcher Jason Vargas said.
Think of the confrontation as something like Reggie Jackson vs. Billy Martin, without the star power.
Something like this has been festering for months, festering really since Ken Griffey Jr. drove out of town two months ago.
Since practically the home opener, the Mariners clubhouse has been as glum as summer camp on a rainy day. And the veterans have quietly grumbled their concerns to one another about Wakamatsu.
Other Mariners, including Jose Lopez, were involved in the public scuffle. True to the nature of this season, however, swings might have been taken, but there were no hits.
Russell Branyan, a member of the 85-win '09 Mariners who rejoined the team three weeks ago, was one of the players who came to Wakamatsu's defense. He put himself in the middle of the melee. He spoke to Figgins after the fight. He defended his manager. He provided veteran leadership, something rare for this team, this season.
"We've underachieved mightily," Branyan said. "Our task is to play fundamental baseball and that's about it. But the way we've played it's hard to convince any fans to come out and watch."
The fifth-inning fight did nothing to ignite the team.
In the ninth, Red Sox pinch-hitter Jeremy Hermida chopped a ground ball to third that Lopez sloppily ole-d into a base hit. After the inning was over and his teammates jogged off the field, Lopez practically walked back to the dugout and repeatedly waved his right hand in disgust toward the crowd.
It looked like a get-me-out-of-here gesture. It was disgraceful.
After the game, Wakamatsu tried to act as if nothing had happened.
He praised Vargas' pitching. He lauded shortstop Jack Wilson's defense. Said he was generally pleased with the overall defense, ignoring the error that started the fight.
He didn't mention Figgins.
But Figgins, who was expected to be a leader on this young team, was the trigger man in the melee.
In the fifth inning of a 1-1 game, left fielder Michael Saunders' throw toward second base on Mike Cameron's double was 10 feet to the left of the bag.
With Cameron bearing down on him, second baseman Figgins stayed on second base, rather than risk a collision with Cameron. The ball rolled past Figgins and Cameron took third.
It was another uninspired moment in this OMG season.
But after the game, when Wakamatsu was asked if Figgins would be suspended he said, "No." When asked to elaborate on the incident, Wak said it was an internal matter.
But the scuffle happened in front of half of the Safeco Field crowd, in the eye of the Fox cameras and in full view of the Red Sox's dugout. This was an external matter, and the long-suffering Mariners' fans deserved an explanation.
"When players underachieve, there's a lot of tension," said Josh Wilson, who pinch hit for Figgins in Friday's fifth inning. "Maybe it will be the release." It looked more like a rebellion.
The confrontation confirmed the seriousness of this Mariners mess. It wasn't an isolated incident. It wasn't, as Wakamatsu tried to explain Saturday, just one of those things.
And I doubt if it cleared the air and brought the team together.
The day after, the Mariners seemed like a team in denial, hunkered down and unwilling to discuss what had happened.
Both Figgins and Lopez were in Saturday's lineup against Boston lefty Jon Lester, but after the Mariners' win, Figgins implied that his dispute with Wakamatsu isn't over.
In other words, this problem isn't going away.
Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or firstname.lastname@example.org
About Steve Kelley
Steve Kelley covers all sports, putting his spin on matters involving both the home team and the nation.
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