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A new mantra


A new mantra
Well, look what the Baseball gods dragged into Safeco Field.

It's a legitimate Baseball team, fun and versatile and united. A season removed from losing 101 games, the Mariners are, well, endearing. They return home toting a four-game winning streak, a 5-2 record and the title, no matter how insignificant right now, of division leader.

And they did it without Ichiro.

Can we fast-forward to September, please?

Sure, there's a long way to go, forever to go. Seven games represent 4.3 percent of the 162-game Baseball season. Some of the Mariners haven't even finalized their living arrangements in Seattle yet. Nevertheless, there's optimism in the air today as the team prepares for its home opener.

It's not all about the victories, either. It's about the way the Mariners are playing. They aren't relying on a single strength that could evaporate and cause them to fall apart. They're using a multifaceted approach, winning in different ways, competing through their mistakes and forcing the action.

It would be presumptuous to declare them here to stay. However, it's not foolish to think they will play an intriguing brand of Baseball all season.

"A lot of people put us in last place before the season began, so I like it," said outfielder Endy Chavez, who has done a nice Ichiro impersonation as the replacement leadoff hitter, getting a hit in all seven games and holding a .379 batting average. "I know we've got the talent to compete at this level. We're just showing it on the field."

Back in February, back when the Mariners looked like a patchwork of reclamation projects and wide-eyed novices, new general manager Jack Zduriencik introduced himself and asked his players a rhetorical question.

"Why can't we win?" he wondered.

Zduriencik looked at his team not as an unknown commodity, but as a mysterious, intriguing roster. He knew he hadn't created a champion on paper, but, well, the Mariners had been that before and flopped. So, during an early spring-training meeting, he left their expectations open-ended.

"I don't think you should deny yourselves anything," he told them. "Don't sell yourselves short, guys. Why can't we win?"

Good question.

And one week into this long journey, the answer has been even better.

Manager Don Wakamatsu has done a wonderful job using the entire roster. A failure to develop and utilize the bench has been a criticism of past Mariners managers, but Wakamatsu's style is different.

He puts a premium on defense. He has turned a perceived weakness a lack of highly accomplished hitters in the lineup into an opportunity to play small ball. His patience with a bullpen that struggled during spring training has led to stronger performances.

Instead of looking at the Mariners' record, Wakamatsu is more pleased with a byproduct of those results: the confidence it has bred.

"The biggest thing is, we installed a belief system within ourselves that we can compete with anybody," he said. "I want to focus on what we do, as much as we can."

For the first time in years, you can see an identity developing. The Mariners are going to be the more aggressive team. They won't just stand at the plate and hack away. They won't just build a pitching staff without playing close attention to the defense. Most important, they won't lose games and make excuses afterward. They're always thinking about improvement.

The results won't always be so wonderful. The Mariners still have plenty of issues, but perhaps they'll be better than expected.

Last week, during a Huskies football practice, a fan approached me, wondering why I didn't think the Mariners would be much better than a 75-87 ballclub.

I told him they had a long climb to make after losing 101 games and a 14-win improvement sounded about right to me. He shook his head. He looked at the Mariners this way: They simply needed an extra year to meet the high expectations placed on last season's forgettable team.

"I think this is the year," he said.

A week later, the Mariners have five wins and two one-run losses. They've played well enough to be 7-0.

Is this the year? It's too early to know. Therefore, Zduriencik's question will remain the most pertinent.

Why can't we win?

Those underachieving Mariners have been replaced, apparently. Ken Griffey Jr. isn't the only one primed to make a triumphant return this season.

Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or jbrewer@seattletimes.com


Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: April 15, 2009

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