Notes: A night to remember for Balentien
Rookie gets first Major League hit off the bench on Tuesday
NEW YORK -- The Mariners' most lopsided loss in almost a month wasn't a total washout.It provided an unforgettable experience for rookie outfielder Wladimir Balentien. "I was sitting on the bench [in the bottom of the seventh inning on Tuesday] when [manager John McLaren] came up to me and told me I would be going to right field in the next inning," Balentien recalled. "So I started stretching my legs and got my glove." But after the Yankees scored seven runs to break open the game, McLaren changed his plans, and Balentien made his Major League debut as a pinch-hitter in the top of the eighth. "We always said that if we had a lopsided score, we'd get the regulars off the field, but I was hoping it would be lopsided the other way," McLaren said. "But it got the young guys in the game, and I'm sure it was memorable for some of them, with their first game in the big leagues being at Yankee Stadium." It was memorable, all right, and Balentien relived the at-bat on Wednesday afternoon inside the visiting clubhouse. "I was kind of nervous when I went up there," he said. "After the first two pitches, I had to step out and take a deep breath. I mean, it was my first [big league] at-bat, and at Yankee Stadium. I stepped back in, took two more pitches, both for balls, to make the count 3-and-1. "I was looking for a fastball [from Yankees right-hander Luis Vizcaino], got one and put a good swing on it." The line drive into left-center field drove in two runs and Balentien stopped at second base, savoring the moment. The score (12-3) seemed far less important at the time. "I took another deep breath and told myself, 'It's over with. I have my first at-bat and first hit,' " he said. "I feel great for the kid," McLaren said. But as long as the Mariners stay in the American League Wild Card race, at-bats for the young kids will be few and far between.
"We know they are not going to play much, and last night was a rare opportunity," McLaren said. "We expect to be in every game. The guys we brought up primarily will be used as pinch-runners, defensive help and extra catchers."
Balentien understands that, but he wants to learn as much as he can about big league life while he's here.The 22-year-old is coming off a terrific season for the Triple-A Tacoma Rainiers, batting .291 with 24 home runs and 84 RBIs. He was recently selected as the Pacific Coast League's Rookie of the Year. His Major League future seems bright, but there is some question as to when he'll become a lineup fixture in the Majors. The Mariners have more quality outfielders than places to put them. Patience might have to become a virtue for Balentien, who has one option year remaining. Here's the question: Balentien and catchers Rob Johnson and Jeff Clement all made their big league debuts in Tuesday night's game. When was the last time the Mariners had three players make their debuts in the same game? Big Blue: When it comes to sports, there's nothing more important to closer J.J. Putz than retiring the final batter of the game to secure a win. But Michigan football ranks a close second. So you can only imagine what the past few days have been like for the Michigan native and former Wolverine. On Wednesday, four days after Michigan's stunning loss to Appalachian State in Ann Arbor, Putz still was in no mood to talk football. "He's very sour, very bitter about it," good-natured teammate Willie Bloomquist said. Bloomquist was among the first to offer his condolences last Sunday morning, when Putz walked into the visiting clubhouse in Toronto looking glum. "I gave him a big hug and told him it was OK," Bloomquist said, tongue firmly in cheek. "I told him to keep his head up, everything will be OK and 'I love ya.' I feel his pain, and he knows I am always here if he needs help. Support is key in a crisis situation like this." Bloomquist was also quick to point out that his alma mater, Arizona State, has an unbeaten record against Michigan.
"We beat them in the Rose Bowl, so I think we're 1-0 against them," he laughed.Here's the answer: Pitchers Rich DeLucia, Dave Burba and Mike Gardiner made their Major League debuts on Sept. 8, 1990, at Fenway Park.
On deck: The Mariners, off on Thursday, begin a three-game series against the Tigers on Friday night at Comerica Park. It's the final stop on a grueling four-city, 10-game road trip. Right-hander Miguel Batista (13-10, 4.59 ERA) takes on Cy Young Award candidate Justin Verlander (15-5, 3.67) in the series opener. First pitch is scheduled for 4:05 p.m. PT.
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.