Perhaps no American League franchise is better able to testify that valleys are educational than the Seattle Mariners, who in five years as an expansion team have never won more than 67 games in any season. Not only did the Mariners start at the bottom, they stayed there.
Yet in the past three weeks Seattle has shown more team balance than at any time in its history. The Mariners have been making the tough defensive plays; hitting the cutoff man regularly; and generally demoralizing the opposition with their clutch hitting.
The man whose leadership galvanized the Mariners into a club that scored 17 come-from-behind victories in its first 25 games is Manager Rene Lachemann, a former Dodger batboy who seems to find playing time for nearly everyone on his roster.
Much of Seattle's success in the first two months of the season can be traced to excellent pitching by starters Floyd Bannister and Gene Nelson, plus all kinds of help from relief ace Bill Caudill.
Bannister is a 26-year-old left-hander with two fastballs, good breaking stuff, and a lot of control. Nelson, a Yankee reject who reportedly has been learning to throw the spitball from teammate Gaylord Perry, is probably talented enough to win without it. And Caudill, working out of the bullpen, has struck out almost three times as many hitters as he's walked.
Still, Lachemann never talks about his team's improvement without praising the double play combination of shortstop Todd Cruz and second baseman Julio Cruz , no relation, but equally gifted in the field.
At this point the Mariners are playing winning baseball and occupy fourth place in the AL West -- ahead of defending champion Oakland, among others. As to whether the team is actually pennant material along with California, Kansas City and Chicago, Seattle fans are advised to wait and see if their team can improve its record over the next few weeks to at least 10 games over the .500 mark.