The Welcome Back Wak-Off! Youth is served!

Apr 12, 2011, 12:31 AM | Updated: 1:33 am

By Mike Salk

Holy cow!



At least that’s the edited version of what was going on in the Salk household in the ninth inning Monday night. I can’t really give you an accurate quote on a family blog, but you get the drift.

It was awesome.

For the last 10 days, we’ve been saying the Mariners have stuck with it even when they’ve gotten down early. Against a superior Texas team, they continually battled back even when the Rangers extended the lead. Late comebacks fell short in Texas on Monday and Tuesday and at home against Cleveland on Saturday and Sunday. Heck, they even tried to make it interesting late in the debacle that was their home opener!

Finally, it all came together on one fun night with former manager Don Wakamatsu watching from the other dugout. It was (with a hat tip to @NickSchnepf) a “Welcome Back Wak-Off!”

Yes, the Blue Jays helped with 11 walks, including three in a row with the bases loaded in the eighth. But the Mariners showed great patience in not trying to hit a 5-run home run. They let the game come to them, had great at bats, and it paid off. When this team is patient, they are infinitely better than when they swing away.

There are a few things I love about this win.

First, I love the stick-to-it-iveness. They stayed up and it eventually paid dividends.

Second, I love that Justin Smoak and Michael Saunders played huge roles. Smoak had a pair of hits, including a double that missed getting out of the park by less than a foot and a huge single to get the M’s within a run. He also walked twice. That combination of power and patience should define the player the Mariners traded for last season. Saunders has been a different player since he shortened up that long swing. He sounds confident in interviews and he looks even more confident at the plate. Yes, I loved the clutch double to set up the tying run. But even more I loved that it was stroked with authority down the right field line.

And yes, I loved the final at bat from virtual unknown Luis Rodriguez. I’ll admit to not knowing much about the utility man. People in the know like Dave Cameron tell me he is a solid player with some pop in his bat. All I know is this: I would have felt less confidence if Chone Figgins had been up in that situation. That is the prototypical “back-up quarterback” mindset that often drives me crazy (and leads to insane calls and texts about Mike Teal), but it’s true. The Mariners may have won this game in part because Figgins hurt his wrist.

Go figure.

As great as this win was, it was just one win. It won’t change the standings drastically. But I’m curious what it will do to a clubhouse that seems to want to come together and get past what happened last year. Their manager held a few (veteran) players accountable for their actions. The younger guys I’ve spoken with seem to like that everyone has a shot to compete for playing time.

In the case of Saunders, I believe he has earned a more regular spot in the lineup and I’m told that will occur. With Franklin Gutierrez potentially returning soon, the M’s will need to find a spot for him.

May I suggest left field?

They will need to clear a roster spot for Gutierrez and I’m curious to see who will be let go. Ryan Langerhans is the obvious choice, but don’t count out Milton Bradley. I’m told his outfield time will be limited soon and the M’s have some level of commitment to Jack Cust – maybe more as a team leader than a designated hitter.

But those decisions can wait. For now, let’s just celebrate the Welcome Back Wak-Off and be happy that the comeback was keyed by the young players we all want to see develop.

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The Welcome Back Wak-Off! Youth is served!