Monday, April 04, 2005

Game Report: Opening Day at Safeco Field

It was a nice, but chilly, day today. I decided to take the bus downtown rather than trying to park or drive anywhere near Safeco. The luck of the day seemed to start when I ran into my apartment building's office, like "Do you guys have change for a dollar? I only have 17 cents and I need a quarter." Upon finding out I needed the change to take the bus, my building manager gave me several free bus tickets.

The bus was late, and I arrived at the stadium at about 1:40pm for a 2:05 game. They had just set up a carpet in the outfield surrounded by balloons and flags, and were announcing the staff and players, who ran in from the outfield amidst fireworks. I made my way to my seat, watching and listening to the festivities. I heard the opening lineup and thought to myself: "Who's Wilson Valdez?" I wasn't the only one with that thought, as I reached the merchandise stand in the 300 level, to buy my scorecard. The lady in front of me said, "I'd like to buy a scorecard and program -- I haven't been following the team lately and I don't know who's on the roster!" I muttered, "Lady, I *have* been following the team lately and *I* don't even know who's on the roster!"

I got some fish'n'chips and settled into my seat right as the Star Spangled Banner was finishing. They presented some awards -- Golden Gloves to Ichiro and Boone, and the Silver Slugger to Adrian Beltre. After that, they introduced Edgar Martinez to throw out the ceremonial first pitch -- but first they showed clips of the 1995 Mariners, to make people forget that 2004 sucked. Edgar threw a ball to Dan Wilson, and the stadium went wild.

The Mariners took the field. The Mariners took the field! Opening Day! Play ball!

Opening Day...

Shannon Stewart stood at the plate. Jamie Moyer held the ball. Everyone in the stadium held their breath waiting for the first pitch. Were we going to get our old Moyer back, or were we just going to be stuck with an older Moyer? The first pitch was a ball, as was the second one. Things didn't look good -- but the third pitch was fouled off, a few feet shy of a home run, and the next two pitches were strikes. Jamie Moyer struck out the first batter of the season! It seemed like a good sign. Three up, three down.

And then the Mariners started off the season with a bang. Ichiro led off with a single. Some people were joking, "Hit count: 1 out of 300". Jeremy Reed popped out, and then Beltre belted a ball towards Radke, who fumbled it on a fielder's choice, allowing Ichiro to reach second, and Beltre to reach first.

Richie Sexson strode to the plate.

Richie Sexson, the local boy who we've been panning all winter as an awful gamble, a health risk, etc.

Richie Sexson hit a three-run home run on the first pitch. It wasn't a particularly good clobber, or a really far home run (it hit the scoreboard in left field), but it scored Ichiro and Beltre. 3-0.

The rest of our lineup passes uneventfully, as does the Twins lineup for the most part for the next inning or two. At 2:39pm, the first train of the game goes by. (Safeco field is right next to train tracks, and very near King Street Station; it's common to hear train whistles during a game about once an hour.) Lew Ford looks at a called third strike from speed demon Jamie Moyer that goes by at a whopping 71 miles per hour; I'm betting the train is moving faster than that.

The jokers who make up the inning intermission entertainment seem to have caught on to the fact that some of us really get bored of their schtick after a while. The grounds crew has a new dance routine, of course, and this year, rather than the normal old Hat Trick, we have EXTREME HAT TRICK! Which is, of course, three hats and a baseball under one of them, with -- oh, the suspense -- slightly faster graphics! Around this time I decide it is rather chilly outside and I put on another jacket rather than watching the hat trick.

During "Ask the Mariners", we find out that half the team would want to be played by Tom Hanks in the movie of their life. The other half wants to be played by Wesley Snipes. There are exceptions, of course. Some are reasonable, such as Shiggy being played by Jackie Chan, or Mike Hargrove by Jim Belushi. Some are unreasonable, like Ichiro being played by Brad Pitt. The best of all is Raul Ibanez, who suggests he bears a likeness to Yul Brynner. (The scary thing is: He does.)

The third inning for the Mariners lineup is almost a repeat performance of the first inning. This time, Ichiro strikes out (!) though the catcher drops the ball and has to throw to first to get him. Reed also strikes out. Beltre hits a single, and then Richie Sexson comes up to bat.

I bet you're all wondering, what did He-Whose-Last-Name-Lends-Itself-To-Way-Too-Much-Innuendo-Sexson do this time?

He belted another home run.

This time, it was a real belt. It was 418 feet, way over the centerfield wall. The score is now 5-0.

The crowd goes wild. The crowd, infact, went so wild, that none of us actually saw what Bret Boone did on the at-bat afterwards (he grounded to third into a 5-3 play for the third out on the first pitch), and were like "The inning's over? What?"

Richie, unsurprisingly, gets a huge round of applause when he walks out to his position at first base.

I note that the Twins' new catcher, Joe Mauer, is a real cute kid. He's also a real fast kid, stealing second once he gets on-base with a single to lead off the 4th inning. Unfortunately for him, nobody else manages to really get anywhere. Morneau strikes out when Jamie Moyer throws him THE HEAT, otherwise known as his 83 mph fastball. Gotta love Jamie. Boone and Beltre show off their golden glove stuff, Beltre snagging a line drive from Hunter, and Boone stopping Jacque Jones's shot up the middle.

The next few innings aren't particularly interesting from the side of the Mariners' batting, honestly.

Around this point, I get bored and read the rosters. Hey, both teams had #5 playing third base! Even odder: our #5 3B, Adrian Beltre, born April 7th, 1979, and their #5 3B, Michael Cuddyer, born March 27th, 1979. Both right-right, both listed at 220 pounds. Spooky!

Lew Ford, who came up last time to the sounds of trains, is prone to distractions, I suppose, striking out to lead off the 5th inning as the grounds crew closes the retractable roof over Safeco due to possible bad weather. Speaking of Cuddyer, he becomes the only Twins player to score a run in the game. He hits a low fly ball to shallow right-center field. From my angle, it looks like it's too short for Ichiro to get to, and too far back for Boone to get to; this'll probably be a routine single. Boone makes an astounding run for the ball, leaping to catch it, and we're all amazed by his skill -- until he drops the ball and is credited with an error, which sucks, because I'm betting most second basemen wouldn't have even reached the ball. Stewart gets a single, moving Cuddyer to second, and then Bartlett smashes the ball into right field on a nasty angle, and even Ichiro can't beat Cuddyer to the plate, throwing to second instead. Mark up one unearned run for the Twins. Mauer flies out to deep left field on a nice running catch by Randy Winn, and we end the inning with a score of 5-1.

Ichiro gets single #2 of the year, hitting the ball about 3 inches above Morneau's glove, and that's the last time a Mariner gets on base.

In the 6th, we get two nice pop flies to Ichiro, Jones hits a double, and then Lew Ford is up to bat -- the Lew Ford who Jamie Moyer has already struck out twice today -- and Hargrove pulls Moyer to put in Julio Mateo as pitcher. Whoa, okay, whatever. Fortunately, Ford grounds into a 4-3 play to end the inning; and Jones is infact the last Twins player to get on base.

After another boring inning or two, the cameramen decide to scan around the stadium for more former Mariners to make everyone happy. We see Edgar sitting in some nice box seats with his wife, and then a bit after that, they pan in on the ESPN announcers, where, whaddaya know, there's Mark McLemore! I briefly wonder if they've somehow hired John Olerud to help out somewhere. Or whether anyone's hired him at all, anywhere. It makes me sad.

Then the next inning starts, and after one batter, Hargrove pulls Mateo and puts in Ron Villone. I can almost hear the collective groan from any other USSM readers in the stands. We all hold our breath as Ronnie The Bear throws his first pitch to Joe Mauer. Amazingly, it's a strike. So are the next two. Joe Mauer is as dumbfounded as the rest of us as he's called out on a third strike. The skeptics wonder, "Who is this guy and what has he done with the real Ron Villone?" Morneau pops out foul to third base and the side is retired.

I note that the way the roster is now, if we had J.J.Putz as our closer, it would be amusing to see a game where Moyer opens, is relieved by Mateo, who gives way to Aaron Sele as a setup man, and then Putz closes, which would put the pitchers in the game in uniform order 50-40-30-20.

Bottom of the 8th, Radke is out, and the pitcher replacing him is... Terry Mulholland. Yes, the same Terry Mulholland I used to watch pitch in Phillies games back in high school in the early 90's. I guess it must be Old Lefties From Pennsylvania Day at Safeco or something. (No, I don't mean me!) Mulholland is a whole 4 months younger than Moyer, having only turned 42 a month or so ago, and they both had their MLB debut about a week apart from each other in June of 1986. Mulholland retires the side, and it is now the top of the 9th.

Everyday Eddie is back! He also apparently has his stuff, as he strikes out Torii Hunter and Jacque Jones in rapid succession, Jones taking a particularly impressive swish at a 81 mph change-up. And as if by reflex, the whole crowd stands up, as the speakers start playing the "oh-oh-oh-oh-oh" song and the boards all flash, "Up on your feet!" It almost feels like... like 2003 or earlier again. It's the 9th, we have a good closer on the mound, and a 4-run lead.

And Ford hits a pop fly to Randy Winn in left field, and that's the game.

I'm sure the other 46,248 people had as good a time as I did.

Let's hear it for, ladies, and gentlemen, YOUR 2005 SEATTLE MARINERS.

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