Thursday, October 07, 2004
Despite Bavasi's best efforts, however, the 2004 Mariners remained oddly watchable for the last two months of the season. Ichiro, indeed, deserves much of the credit. But a few other bright spots are worthy of mention as well.
There weren't a lot of compelling reasons to make the drive over to Safeco Field to take in a ball game this year before July 16. That's the day the M's decided to see if a slugging minor league journeyman named Bucky Jacobsen could hack it in the big leagues, and hack he did. With three homers in his first six games as a Mariner, "Bucky Fever" spread like the latest flu strain through the Northwest. Due the league minimum salary in 2005, it's a good bet that Bucky gets the nod as Edgar's replacement at designated hitter next year, freeing the Mariners esteemed front office some much needed cash.
Anytime a player reaches the big leagues after toiling in the independent Northern League, I must admit I'm always curious to see how he fares. When Bobby Madritsch first arrived as a Mariner on July 21, 2004, he had to start in the bullpen like any other rookie. Bobby posted a solid 3.00 earned run average out of the pen in four appearances, but it was "Kazuhiro Sasaki in 2002" solid. Madritsch allowed at least one baserunner in seven of his nine relief innings and looked a bit overwhelmed at times. In the topsy-turvy world of the 2004 Seattle Mariners, this was good enough for a promotion to the starting rotation, where Bobby was better than any of us could possibly imagine. Madritsch immediately took on the demeanor of a polished veteran, not a green rookie with just nine innings of experience. I just hope that the recently departed Bob Melvin didn't kill Madritsch's arm in the process.
It would have been easy for the Mariners to just phone it in in September and October, but with new life brought on by the September callups and Ichiro's record chase, the Mariner played well down the stretch, winning seven of their last twelve games against A.L. West contenders Anaheim, Texas, and Oakland.
.397/.470/.466 as a Mariner over 18 games. Small sample size, indeed, but Wow! Freddy who?
Ichiro had the most unbelievably ridiculous second half that I've ever even heard of. From July 1 on, the little guy did nothing short of hitting .423! over a 371 AB span. He had four five-hit games and five four-hit games. Those nine games alone gave Ichiro just four fewer hits than Bucky Jacobsen had all year. In addition to all the hits, a MLB record 262 in all, Ichiro finished second in the AL with a .414 on-base percentage and led the Mariners with a .869 OPS. There is simply no way to look at the facts and say that Ichiro wasn't better than he was in his MVP 2001 season. The only drawback is that when he hits .345 next year, we'll all be disappointed.