SEATTLE -- Nearly 24 hours after Mariners shortstop Brendan Ryan was the final casualty in Philip Humber's perfect game, he struggled to understand how the White Sox pitcher had thrown him a chase slider with a full count and history on the line.
Ryan was the last out in Humber's 27-up, 27-down afternoon at Safeco Field, victim of a checked swing strikeout on a pitch he still couldn't believe as he sat in front of his locker a day later.
"I'm thinking, he's got to throw a fastball," Ryan said. "There's no way he's going to want to take a chance and walk me on the last pitch. No chance. I'm staying on the fastball, 100 percent. There's no way he's throwing the slider. And he threw the slider. Oh my gosh."
White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski said he didn't even consider throwing the fastball after Ryan had just taken a good cut and fouled back the lone heater Humber threw in the seven-pitch at-bat.
"No matter what, I at least wanted the no-hitter," Pierzynski said. "If he walked him, he walked him. We had just thrown him a fastball, he had a good swing on it. We were going with his best pitch, and we were going down with it."
It was a strategy Ryan couldn't comprehend, though he spoke with admiration for the courage the pitcher and catcher employed and carried off in such a critical situation.
"If I'm catching, I'm risking the no-hitter a hundred thousand trillion times over for a perfect game," said Ryan, who was pinch-hitting in that final at-bat. "You have a chance for a perfect game, I'm risking the no-hitter."
Which is why Ryan couldn't get to sleep until about 2 a.m. Sunday.
"There's no closure, because if it was a fastball for a strike, there would have been contact, there would have been the closure," he said. "There would have been a play, a dive, a catch and throw or there would have been a small fist pump, more of a thank God feeling running to first. But there wasn't.
"That's why I cannot believe he'd throw a chase slider. I said it 300 times last night. I cannot believe he threw that pitch. It's a movie I'll never see the ending to, I feel like. I really would have loved to have found out what would have happened if there was a strike."
Ryan, 30, said Saturday began on an ominous note when the Mariners broke their normal routine and stretched in left field in order to be in the sunshine.
"We stretched on their side. And when we got there, they started playing 'Taps' because it was Army Day [at Safeco Field]," Ryan said with a wry shake of his head. "I was screaming, 'It's not over yet, it's only April.' And then we started stretching. ... Unbelievable."
Then Humber started throwing strikes, the Mariners kept swinging, and before they knew it, history was happening right on their heads.
And the Mariners were left Sunday to pick up the pieces. This is a young team that went through a 17-game losing streak last year, but feels it has considerable potential. This is expected to be a step-forward season for a lot of those youngsters, but Saturday the rug got pulled out from under any progress.
"We've got the 17-game losing streak last year, and now the ... I don't even want to say what happened yesterday," Ryan said. "Where do we go from here? It's serious gut-check time. You can't just roll this stuff out there every day or whatever. That was a pretty tough one last year, and this is right there with that. Hopefully things turn around dramatically."
Wedge vows Mariners will be stronger
SEATTLE -- Mariners manager Eric Wedge says the perfect game thrown against his team by Philip Humber on Saturday will help his team grow stronger, if they respond the right way to the challenge.
Wedge said his young troops are being battle tested by things he admits he didn't see coming, including becoming just the 21st team in Major League history to come up empty in 27 straight at-bats.
"I'm treading uncharted waters, and they are too," Wedge said before Sunday's series finale against the White Sox. "But I'm not going to come in here with my head down or come in here like some college rah-rah coach. They're grown men. This is one of those moments. I'm not going to make it bigger than it is, but I'm not going to lessen it either. What they do with it, we'll find out.
"We're going to be a championship team here. I know a lot of people doubt that. That's their right. But we are going to be a championship team here. I say that with humility, but with confidence. There are certain things we're going to go through -- and I didn't see this one coming yesterday -- but if you're going to be a championship team, it's not an easy road. You have to go through things that help you be that much better and stronger. And this will be part of it."
Wedge said he knows there are fans wondering where the Mariners are headed. He said he has "thick skin and broad shoulders," and likes the passion of all fans that come with opinions, pro or con. But he also believes his team is on the right track in the big picture, and his job is to keep the ship pointed forward.
"The only thing I can think about is what we can take from it," he said. "I know that losing streak we had last year is going to be part of our DNA. And now, for all the doubting Thomases in the world, this is their greatest day. So for me, this has to be my strongest day. It doesn't change my thought process on what I know we're going to do.
"It doesn't take anything away from the kid or how he threw the ball. It was an historic day in baseball. I don't have all the answers right now, but we will figure this thing out. We're going to find out sooner than later how our kids react to this. It happened, and now we've got to respond."
Smoak sits out Sunday as planned
SEATTLE -- Alex Liddi made his first Major League start at first base on Sunday with Justin Smoak getting the day off, which was something the club had planned since he returned from a sore hamstring on Wednesday.
Manager Eric Wedge said the day off Sunday, combined with Monday's travel day, was scheduled all along to give Smoak a helpful rest.
Following Tuesday's four-hit game, Smoak has gone 0-for-11 in the three games since, but he said the leg is not a reason for his struggles.
"No, the leg is fine. There is no excuse there," said Smoak, whose average has dropped to .203 through 15 games. "It's just putting together good at-bats and looking for my pitch to hit, and not just swinging at everything up there.
"Right now, I feel like if I see a fastball, I'm swinging, no matter where it's at, instead of waiting for my pitch in my zone. Of course you're out there hunting fastballs, but you can't swing at all of them, and I feel like I've been doing that. I just have to work on some things and get it going from there."
• Manager Eric Wedge said left fielder Mike Carp is going to need more time with Triple-A Tacoma before he's ready to return from the disabled list with a sprained right shoulder.
"I talked to him yesterday," Wedge said. "He's in a rush to get here, and I respect that, but he needs to be down there longer. He needs to be in the outfield more, he needs to play at first base and he needs to build up his arm strength."
Wedge said Carp's .133 batting average in his first seven games isn't a factor in not coming back yet. "But I do feel like his timing has been off all spring, and that's something I want him to work toward with his at-bats down there."
• Wedge said center fielder Franklin Gutierrez will also need extensive time, probably his full 20 days of Minor League rehab, when he is able to report, after recovering sufficiently from his partially torn pectoral muscle. Gutierrez is currently getting at-bats in intrasquad games against Minor League players in extended Spring Training in Peoria, Ariz., but has yet to play in the field.
• The Mariners' Triple-A team in Tacoma had just one hit in a 12-0 loss to Fresno on Saturday night, the same day the White Sox's Philip Humber threw a no-hitter against Seattle. The two teams were thus a combined 1-for-56 for the day.
"I didn't know that until this morning," said Wedge. "That would have been a kick in the teeth. But hey, it's baseball. It's why it's the best sport out there. It's unpredictable."