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Franz Lidz
May 23, 1988
Could the Seattle Mariners' hapless start this season be a case of poetic justice?
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May 23, 1988

Versed In Adversity

Could the Seattle Mariners' hapless start this season be a case of poetic justice?

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Trout's demonstration began in his first game of the season, in Oakland. After retiring the first two Athletics batters, he walked five straight. Then he made a throwing error and uncorked two run-scoring wild pitches. "If Trout taps his potential," said third base coach Ozzie Virgil, "he'll win his share."

After seven starts, Trout's potential still was untapped: In 28 innings, he had 22 walks, six balks and four wild pitches. And it will stay that way for a while since Trout is now on the disabled list with a broken pinkie. "Once again," says one of the more ancient Mariners, "the 'ifs' we started the season with have quickly changed to 'if onlys.' "

The helmsman steered, the ship moved on;
Yet never a breeze up-blew;
The mariners all 'gan work the ropes,
Where they were wont to do;
They raised their limbs like lifeless tools
We were a ghastly crew.

When Williams took over in May 1986, he had already managed three different teams to pennants and turned around a couple of franchises. At the time, Seattle was 9-20 and in total disarray. The Mariners had made 36 errors, were batting .207 and had been whiffed a record 20 times in one game by the Red Sox' Roger Clemens.

During his first six weeks, Williams unloaded five high-paid veterans and drilled fundamentals into whoever was left. Seattle began to show some signs of life: Batting averages rose, errors fell. In 1986 the Mariners finished 67-95 and last season were 78-84, the best record in their history. But now, during what Williams promises is his final campaign, they're adrift again.

On Friday the 13th, the Mariners were in Fenway Park for the opener of a three-game series against the Red Sox. It was Williams's 3,000th game as a manager. In the top of the second, Jim Presley singled and killed off a rally by overrunning first base and getting tagged out. In the next inning, Quinones tripled and got picked off third. Meanwhile, Seattle's pitchers were getting creamed. Through four innings Mike Campbell and Jerry Reed had surrendered 12 runs—three on a homer by Boston's designated hitter Sam Horn, who came to the plate batting .135 with no extra-base hits. The Mariners lost 14-8, and Saturday wasn't any better: They fell 3-0.

Going into Sunday's game, which the Mariners won 11-7, they were hitting a collective .266 to their opponents' .278. They were tied for last in the league in fielding and were next-to-last in ERA and tops in giving up gopher balls. Still, when asked about his team's continuing mediocrity, Williams bristles: "Look at the Cubs. They haven't won a pennant in 43 years. They're the ones you should be talking to."

Instead of the cross, the Albatross
About my neck was hung.

The dark, gloomy Kingdome is as inviting as a mausoleum. "It's especially tough on nice days," says Reed. "When there's a small crowd it's very depressing. When there's a small crowd and you're getting beat, it's doubly depressing." That's what it's like for the Mariners most of the time.

"Nobody enjoys playing there," says Phelps. "It's just a big warehouse." Pitchers loathe the short fences. "You can't keep a pitching staff together in the Kingdome," says one scout. "Just look at all the promising young arms who never developed there." Onetime Mariner phenom Mike Moore is the most obvious casualty. Moore, who won 17 games in 1985 and lost 19 last season, pitches as if anticipating disaster. "After a seven- or eight-game home stand," says Wilson, "you're ready to get outside and play some baseball."

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