This is the time of year when baseball players are identified not by their arms, swing, legs, instincts or glove. But they are defined and labeled by their numbers.
After the Mariners' 3-2 victory over Anaheim yesterday at Safeco Field, we know that Ichiro has become a 200-hit guy for a second season — one of just seven players to do that in his first two seasons. John Olerud is a 100-RBI guy for the fourth time. Jeff Nelson is a 336-game guy, appearing in more games than any pitcher in Mariners history.
In addition, Ryan Franklin (7-4), who won the game, showed he has five pitches and rookie Willie Bloomquist had his first, second, third and fourth major-league hits.
But all of that may merely be a diversion from the real number everyone in the clubhouse furtively harbors. They are still looking out for No. 1. That thin digit is what separates the Mariners from the postseason with six games remaining. They can't afford to lose any of their final games — three here with Oakland beginning tomorrow and three at Anaheim this weekend.
And, by the way, the Angels also need to lose all six of their remaining games to force a one-game playoff in Seattle on Monday for the American League wild-card spot.
"That last candle on the mantle hasn't been blown out yet," said Nelson, who worked the final 1-1/3 innings to pick up his first save since Aug. 8. Nelson also passed Mike Jackson in pitching appearances at 336. "We know it's not much of a hope. But we didn't want them celebrating on our field. Let them do it in Texas.
"Who knows," he added. "Wouldn't it be great if the Rangers swept them and we swept Oakland, then see what happens in Anaheim? That's a little tough. In some ways, it's only a matter of time. But maybe it isn't."
The Mariners, who put themselves on this precipice with their last 4-6 road trip, have been clinging to the One Hope the past two days with victories over the Angels. But now they face the A's, with the best record in baseball (99-57), a five-game winning streak and the best pitcher in the league, left-hander Barry Zito (22-5, 2.74), taking the mound tomorrow night.
"In a lot of ways, these last two weeks have been our playoffs," Nelson said. "We shot ourselves in the foot a little bit on the road. We might have been in a better situation now, but it seems like we're playing a little better baseball at the wrong time."
The fact that so much was riding on the game makes Franklin's performance that much more impressive. He went 7-1/3 innings, allowed six hits and two runs.
"This game meant a lot to us. We had no margin for error and we didn't want them celebrating on our field," pitching coach Bryan Price said. "It was a big game for Ryan. He pitched deep into the game. He threw competitive pitches deep in the count. And he showed late in the game he still has stuff."
Franklin, whom Manager Lou Piniella said will be given serious consideration for the rotation next spring, has had four strong outings in his last five starts.
"I don't think I need another test," said Franklin, who had different roles in the bullpen before moving to the rotation. "If I make my pitches, it doesn't matter who it (opponent) is. I guess my only test is pitching in the postseason, which I hope is real soon."
Bloomquist, a September call-up who got his first start at second base because of Bret Boone's sore right heel, supported Franklin. He got his first big-league hit in the first, an RBI double into the right-field corner to score Ichiro. He also had a single in the third, a double in the sixth and another RBI single in the seventh, which turned out to be the winning run.
"I think that's awesome," Franklin said. "His first hits, first RBI. I hope he smiles about it all winter."
Bloomquist, who grew up in Port Orchard and was the Mariners' third-round draft pick in 1999, fittingly also made the game's final putout. Moving to left field in the eighth, he chased down a sinking liner by Adam Kennedy down the line.
"It was slicing away into the corner," Bloomquist said, "but I would have run through the wall to catch that one."
Ichiro picked up his 200th hit in the seventh during the Mariners' winning rally. Dan Wilson opened with a single off Angels ace Jarrod Washburn (18-6), who lost for the first time since Aug. 23. Jeff Cirillo bunted him to second, then Ichiro lifted a single to shallow left, sending Wilson to third. He scored on Bloomquist's single to right off reliever Ben Weber.
"Many factors have to work together to accomplish this milestone," Ichiro said of his 200 hits to put him in the select company of players such as Shoeless Joe Jackson, Lloyd Waner and Joe DiMaggio, who also did it. "I am very humbled and honored and I hope I can continue to play consistently."
Bob Sherwin: 206-464-8286 or firstname.lastname@example.org.