Ichiro Safeco Era Ends, Losing Era Continues Unabated

now you can smile

I know that it's not unique to us, but my family is pretty bad with goodbyes. I don't mean we're overcome with emotion or that we turn into these weepy wrecks; it's that entirely too often, we say goodbye, and then we keep talking. "Goodbye. Oh, wait!", basically. Goodbyes are seldom clean, generally taking several minutes. It's a habit you get used to, but that can drive other people crazy, I've learned. A lot of people like clean, certain goodbyes. You end, and then you have ended.

I don't know if it would've been possible to have a clean goodbye with Ichiro. Monday afternoon, the Mariners traded Ichiro to the Yankees, and Monday night, the Mariners played Ichiro and the Yankees. Ichiro was given a rousing ovation when he was introduced as a starter by the Safeco PA, and then of course he got an even more rousing standing ovation before his first at-bat. There was clapping, there was cheering, there was bowing, there was crying. That was the moment. That was Seattle's strongest and most heartfelt farewell to a franchise icon.

But then there was the rest of Monday's game to complete. Then there was Tuesday's game, and then there was Wednesday's game. These were to be Ichiro's final games in Seattle, at least in 2012, but then these were to be three whole games. Ichiro was going to start the games and bat several times. Nobody would complain about being able to see Ichiro, even in another uniform, but the series made the goodbye a little awkward. A little stretched out. Safeco bid farewell to Ichiro with a moving ovation, and then Ichiro was still there, for a few days yet.

I figured that today could be powerful - maybe less powerful than Monday, but more powerful than Tuesday. On Monday, people first found out that Ichiro was gone. Today was Ichiro's actual last game in the ballpark. We don't know if he'll still be around in 2013. We don't know if Seattle will ever host Ichiro playing baseball again. I expected something or somethings, although I wasn't sure what.

And maybe remarkably, it didn't seem that powerful. Ichiro stepped out of the box before his first at-bat again, and he bowed to a standing ovation before his first at-bat again, but it didn't feel the same as it did on Monday. Subsequent at-bats were treated with degrees less fanfare. When the game ended, Ichiro acknowledged the fans in right field, then he acknowledged some of the fans above the dugout, then he walked into the visiting clubhouse and was gone. For the rest of this season, Ichiro will play zero games in Safeco Field. The rest of this season might well be the rest of his stateside career.

I don't know what I was looking for. Ichiro was given a very touching, very genuine sendoff. It would've been unreasonable to expect that to sustain for three consecutive days. Ichiro knows how the people feel about him, especially now that he's on another team and there's no longer any reason for people to be critical. Maybe I was looking for every Ichiro moment to be like the first one. Maybe it's impossible for anything to feel sufficient after all that Ichiro did. That's probably what it is, really - I feel like Ichiro deserves an ovation beyond that which is possible. I feel like Ichiro deserves to be honored in a way that doesn't exist. In a way that exceeds human capability.

Writers might never be satisfied until what they have written is perfect, which is of course an impossible standard. Maybe this is why so many writers are depressed. I think I'm suffering from Ichiro sendoff perfectionism. I wanted everything to be perfect, and at first, when he was announced on Monday, it was. But you just can't do that three days in a row, and today I was left feeling like maybe we should've built up instead of going the other way around. Instead of giving Ichiro the best ovation first, maybe he should've gotten the best ovation last. Somehow that would make things better. For us, and for him.

What this all comes back to is how it's weird that he's gone. I don't know how to feel now that the Mariners have entered a new era we all knew was coming. The last couple days of baseball have mostly felt like normal Mariners baseball, with occasional emotional interruptions. I feel like I should've felt more. I feel like I should've felt more, and I feel like Safeco should've acted like it felt more. Nothing seems like enough. Ichiro's departure is such a profoundly meaningful thing and any feelings about Ichiro leaving almost have to be inadequate. How could it be possible to process this? Why can't we better process this?

None of the above is making good sense and it's taken me far too long to write it. The Mariners don't play the Yankees tonight or tomorrow, and while they do play the Yankees next weekend, that'll be in New York. I can't say when Ichiro will again set foot in Safeco Field. This is a brand new position for me and all of us. It's going to take some getting used to, then it's going to take some getting used to how quickly we got used to it, and in the meantime apparently there's going to be bad blogging. I'm sorry about this heap of confusion and I'm sorry about whatever might be written tomorrow.

What about the actual Wednesday baseball game, you ask? The Mariners lost it, 5-2. For a time they were not losing it, and were in fact winning it, but between the first and ninth innings the Mariners got no-hit. It wasn't long ago that Geoff Baker criticized the Mariners for not scoring until it was too late in the game. For trying to rally only after the game was already basically lost. Lately the Mariners have taken the opposite approach, scoring early and hoping it's enough. It can work, but it also can not, especially against a team like the Yankees, especially when Tom Wilhelmsen is unavailable and Charlie Furbush is hurt.

Ivan Nova allowed a pair of runs in the bottom of the first. They scored on a walk and a groundout. There were two singles, and those would be the only hits Nova would allow, although he did issue six walks. No matter; no more runs. It almost held up. Hisashi Iwakuma got out of trouble in the second. He got out of trouble in the third. He got out of trouble in the fourth. He got out of trouble in the fifth. Iwakuma put nine guys on base in five innings, but only one of them scored.

Then Oliver Perez turned in a sharp sixth. Then Josh Kinney turned in an even sharper seventh. Kinney might've had the best-pitched half-inning out of everyone, striking out Andruw Jones and Russell Martin swinging before getting Ichiro to pop out. The Mariners were six outs away from keeping the Yankees to one run and winning, and while the Yankees are the Yankees, Safeco in 2012 is Safeco in 2012, and the smart money has been on nothing happening.

It came apart in the eighth, thanks in part to Kinney, in part to Lucas Luetge, and in part to Shawn Kelley. It was Kelley who pitched to Jayson Nix with one out and the bases loaded, and it was Kelley who threw a two-strike slider that didn't fall down below Nix's knees. Over his career, Nix has posted a lower OPS than Alex Liddi has posted in 2012, but looking at statistics can make you think something other than "these are the very best baseball players in the world," and Nix did something good baseball players do by driving a double to the gap. The game wasn't over, but the game was over, and the Yankees added a fifth run moments later because the Yankees never know when not to dive onto a dog pile. The Yankees figure "what's one more?" when the guy on the bottom thinks "please, no more."

Kelley's slider wasn't good enough, and the Mariners lost. The most they managed the rest of the way was a Casper Wells single with two out in the bottom of the ninth. The game ended, appropriately enough, with Carlos Peguero swinging through a high fastball. Peguero is the proud owner of a walk and 15 strikeouts in 32 trips to the plate, and Franklin Gutierrez can't hurry back fast enough. Not because I don't find Carlos Peguero entertaining, but because I don't find Carlos Peguero entertaining on an everyday basis. I am interested in knowing what Carlos Peguero would do with 600 at-bats. I am more interested in just being told by some all-knowing power than in observing those at-bats for myself. I would make it through maybe 200 before I'd remove my eyes, dump them down the sink, lean back on the couch, relax, and then panic that Carlos Peguero is coming up again and now I can't find the mute button. Helpless and blind, I would soak in the details and see Peguero striking out in my imagination. And those strikeouts are even more offensive than his actual strikeouts.

Seven runs and 12 hits. For the series. Seven runs and 18 hits in the series before. Did you know that the Mariners don't have a very good offense? On one hand it's right to blame Shawn Kelley the most for today's loss, since he did the most win-expectancy damage, but then it's this offense forcing the pitchers to have to be too close to perfect. Pitchers will get blame for their mistakes because the hitters make too many mistakes to give the pitchers a margin of error. How are you feeling about this conversation? We've only been having it for the past several years. Do you feel like there are still new avenues to explore? The Mariners probably do. This conversation will only end when the Mariners say so, and I don't think the Mariners are about to say so.

Okay so in truth, I don't know what in the hell to make of the Mariners' offense. Maybe it really is fine and it's just god damned Safeco. This Safeco effect is making evaluation entirely too complicated. But I'm frustrated with something. Dammit, whatever is the matter, stop being the matter. If I have to be frustrated I want to be frustrated about other matters. Like Tom Wilhelmsen's changeup. Ooh, somebody's greedy! Way to show off, Tom Wilhelmsen. Way to be a talent-hoarder, Tom Wilhelmsen.

Boy did this veer off. The Mariners didn't score and they lost. Ichiro plays for the Yankees. Roll it and smoke it.

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