So, I couldn't make last night's Mariners game, as promised (I know that you were all just dying to hear what I had to say about that) but I did get to Goodyear for today's split-squad contest v. the Indians. Felix Hernandez was starting, and I was looking forward to seeing his heater, as well as whichever half of the starters showed up.
After buying a ticket one row behind the camera well to the left field side of the Mariner's dugout (Spring Training, like minor league baseball, lets you get up close and personal) I strolled into the park and the guy scanning tickets spotted my Cubs hat and said "Hey, I bet you're here to heckle Milton!" I explained that I had no such plans, thank you very much, just here to soak up the sun, watch a ballgame, have a couple of beers and do my pseudo-journalistic duty. Before the game, I watched Milton affably sign a few autographs for fans.
But Milton made it hard not to live up to the ticket-taker's prophecy. Besides the AP story in this morning's Arizona Republic (and on the PI), headlined "Bradley embraces the 'bad guy' role," Bradley pulled a move today that made near-comatose Mariner fan senior citizens sitting behind and beside me boo him heartily.
First, other Mariner news: Felix Hernandez is like unto a God (or demi-God, if Ichiro is our only allowable God) but he had a kind of rough outing. He threw first-pitch strikes to the first eight batters he faced, and cruised through three innings with three strikeouts and only one run allowed, which only scored due to a bad throw on what should have been an inning-ending DP. But the in the fourth, he walked the leadoff hitter on four pitches and the next batter on five. Only a DP saved him. In the fifth, he struck out the side, but also gave up a walk that scored on a double to the ninth hitter. He was yanked after five innings and 83 pitches, and took the loss.
As for Milton: remember, it's Spring Training. Everyone's here to get in shape, to work on their hitting or pitching or fielding, especially veteran players who are guaranteed a roster spot. Milton's bad guy move explicated after the jump . . .
So, in the top of the fifth, after the leadoff hitter struck out, Milton did what he is best at: he drew a walk. Then he stole second base. Then he stole third. Among the crowd near me—again, mostly retirees, mostly M's fans—lots of applause, nods of appreciation, words about Milton's potential upside. Then Ryan Garko hits a tough grounder to the third baseman—and Milton was running on contact. Easy toss to the catcher for the Indians, who's standing straight up, and Milton is gonna be out by ten feet.
He doesn't slide. He doesn't just accept the tag and trot back to the dugout. Instead, he puts his right shoulder down and barrels into the catcher, trying to dislodge the ball. The catcher of course hangs on (he'd had the ball long enough to bury it deep into his mitt, or his fucking jock strap for that matter) and Milton is out out out.
The crowd, throughout the park (attendance 3,534) erupts in lusty boos. Old timers behind me stir out of their heat-induced lethargy and begin talking about Pete Rose and Ray Fosse, about how any professional ballplayer knows that you don't do some things in exhibition games that you do in regular season games, about how low-class it was to potentially injure some Indians rookie (Lou Marson) just trying to make the team. After a strikeout ended the inning, Milton headed out to left field to more booing and heckling (I just yelled "Hey, Milton, how's your shoulder?").
In the bottom of the sixth, with Milton slated to bat second in the seventh, he was yanked. No other Mariner started came out before the eighth. Guess whoever was managing wanted the bad boy to not get scolded any more by the cruel cruel geriatric fans of Goodyear, Arizona.
In happier news, rookie second baseman Kyle Seager's mom sat in front of me and got some good photos of her son playing solid defense as a replacement for Chone Figgins in the eighth. Baseball is all about family values. Wonder about Milton's family sometimes. . .
Other takes on the game: From the Mariners website , and USS Mariner. From the Everett Heraldnet. The Seattle Times. Note in this last story that Milton says if another player had done this, no one would have said anything. That's purest bullshit. I have just gone to five spring training games in as many days, and every hard slide or brushback pitch elicited comments about how Spring Training is not the time for that kind of thing.
But, as Milton always insists, he does his own thing.