Madritsch baffles A's, gives hope to 2005

Take away Ichiro Suzuki's memorable chase for George Sisler's single-season hits record, and the 2004 season was a complete nightmare for almost every other person associated with the Seattle Mariners. If there were another bright spot to the otherwise forgettable season, though, it would be the improbable late season dominance of 29-year-old tattooed rookie named Madritsch.

Bobby Madritsch was all business again Wednesday night, putting the Mariners on his shoulders with the first complete game effort of his career and leading Seattle to a 4-2 victory over an Oakland team starved for a win.

The Athletics, losers of two in a row to the lowly M's, dropped one game behind Anaheim in the American League West standings with four games remaining. Oakland faces Seattle for one more game, then goes head-to-head with the Angels in a three-game set to finish the regular season.

Madritsch, the long-time independent leaguer who started the season at Triple-A Tacoma, has taken full advantage of a summer promotion to the Mariners. Entering the game as Seattle's hottest pitcher, the southpaw from Chicago's rough southside kept it going and then some.

Oakland (89-69) managed just three hits against the rookie hurler, unable to figure out Madritsch's deceptive array of pitches. Madritsch had the slider working well against the A's left-handers, biting away off the outside corner of the plate. When the A's looked slider, they were beat by the rookie's 91 mph fastball. Looking fastball, Madritsch's changeup killed them time and time again.

The best part? Madritsch was in control the entire game, throwing first-pitch strikes to 27 batters. And in situations where he could have panicked and showed a lack of poise typical in many rookie pitchers, he only got tougher.

There was no better example of this than in the sixth inning, when with the score knotted at one and two outs, the A's scored on an error by rookie shortstop Jose Lopez on a routine groundball that should have ended the inning. Madritsch got the next batter, Bobby Crosby, to ground into a fielder's choice, calmly walked back to the dugout and tracked down Lopez.

Cameras on the Mariners telecast zoomed in showing Madritsch giving words of encouragement to the shortstop, an act most 10-year veterans wouldn't even make.

While the M's rallied for three runs in the eighth, two credited to Oakland starter Rich Harden, to take a 4-2 lead, Madritsch remained composed and retired the final nine batters in order to move to 6-3 on the season.

His six wins put him second on the team, behind only the seven of Jamie Moyer, Gil Meche and Ron Villone. Making the feat all the more impressive is the fact that it came in a mere 11 starts, compared to the 32 of Moyer and 22 of Meche. Villone, a middle-reliever most of the year, has made nine starts but appeared in 55 games.

Madritsch's late season charge hasn't only assured him of a firm spot in the 2005 rotation, it's also helped the M's end the season with some positive momentum heading into next year.

Throw in the torrid play of Jeremy Reed (now batting .440), the recent hot-hitting of Lopez (already has five homers), and the pinch-me-I-must-be-dreaming play of Ichiro (now at 255 hits), and it's good to be a M's fan again.

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