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Monday, May 10, 2004 - Page updated at 02:52 P.M.

Steve Kelley / Times staff columnist
Time to mourn late, great M's


MARK HARRISON / THE SEATTLE TIMES
Bret Boone kicks his bat after striking out to end the seventh inning with Ichiro on third base and the score tied at six. The Yankees scored a run in the eighth inning and beat the Mariners 7-6 yesterday at Safeco Field.
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As Ichiro's scorching line drive smacked into Alex Rodriguez's glove for the final out, a silent sadness fell over Safeco Field unlike any other in the brief history of this beautiful ballpark.

This wasn't just a loss yesterday. It was the early death knell to a lost season.

It was the beginning of the end of an era. The end of packed houses that require extra seating over the center-field fence. The end of Sunday matinees that mattered. The end of a beautiful run that began across the street in 1995.

This was an afternoon as melancholy as the last episode of "Friends." Like watching unfamiliar people playing in familiar uniforms.

Some losses are survivable. This one isn't.

Some losses can be forgotten before the team charter taxis toward takeoff. This one can't.

Some losses mean absolutely nothing. This one meant everything. It was a horribly difficult loss.

The Mariners blew a 6-0 lead to the New York Yankees in the second inning and lost 7-6.

Everything that is wrong with them was wrapped in this one game.

This team can't hit. Can't field. The starting pitching is erratic. And the bullpen is a mess.
 
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The Mariners are discovering what the San Francisco Giants already know. Teams can't lose quality players season after season and continue to be contenders.

Time and lack of talent catches up.

You can't try to make-do with Rich Aurilia and Raul Ibanez, when you need Miguel Tejada and either Vladimir Guerrero or Jose Guillen. You can't shrug off the loss of Mike Cameron's defense and think Randy Winn will replace him.

Winn was fortunate yesterday that Derek Jeter's long fly ball left the yard in the seventh inning because Winn had no idea where the ball was. Left fielder Ibanez is making catches in parts of the park Cameron used to own. And every team is running on Winn's arm.

These aren't the Mariners you remember. And this loss is to be mourned because it means this city, this summer, isn't going to have a pennant race to sustain it.

Great baseball has been something we've grown accustomed to in the Northwest, and losing a summer of meaningful games with New York, Anaheim, Boston and Oakland is like robbing us of Bumbershoot or Seafair.

The question no longer is whether the M's can win the American League West. They can't.

But can they avoid the cellar? Are they better than Oakland? Are they better than Texas?

They trail the Anaheim Angels, who made all the winter moves the Mariners didn't, by 9-1/2 games. Only Tampa Bay trails its division leader by as many games as the Mariners.

How bad are the M's? Take yesterday's loss. Please.

The starting pitching?

Jamie Moyer with a six-run lead has been like Michael Jordan with the ball in his hands in the fourth quarter in June. But yesterday Moyer gave up a solo home run to Rodriguez and a three-run monster shot to Jason Giambi.

The bullpen?

Julio Mateo allowed Jeter's game-tying two-run homer in the seventh. Rafael Soriano gave up a walk to Rodriguez and a single to Giambi to lead off the eighth.

And instead of getting the ground ball he needed, Shigetoshi Hasegawa fell behind 3-0 to Hideki Matsui before Matsui hit a sacrifice fly for the go-ahead run.

The defense?

Rodriguez singled in the sixth on a ground ball most shortstops would have devoured, maybe even have turned into a double play. Instead, Aurilia merely fell to his left and had no chance. Giambi homered on the next at-bat. And in the eighth inning, when they absolutely needed a double play, the Mariners couldn't turn Gary Sheffield's hard-hit chopper to short.

The offense?

After their six-run second, the Mariners managed two hits and three base runners over the final seven innings.

On this homestand, Bret Boone was 3 for 22 and took a called third strike yesterday with Ichiro on third and two out in the seventh. Ibanez was 4 for 25 in the six games; Scott Spiezio was 3 for 22; Aurilia 3 for 18, Winn 3 for 18 and Edgar Martinez 4 for 23.

The Mariners drew their three largest crowds in Safeco history this weekend. Like the ratings for the final episode of "Friends," you got the feeling everybody in town was watching.

They saw the end of the days of milk and honey. The last of the overflow crowds. The final weekend of hope.

This is what happens when you don't think boldly in the winter. This is what happens when you start acting as if pennant races are your birthright. This is what happens when teams get old.

Maybe it's only May 10, but it seems like late September. And yesterday, as the last out died in A-Rod's hungry glove, it felt like an era's end.

Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or skelley@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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