SEATTLE -- Who could have figured Jose Guillen would be where he is today? A year ago at this time, he wasn't even playing baseball. He missed from July 20 through the rest of the season with right elbow surgery. He was on his seventh team in seven seasons, with a bit of a bad-boy reputation. He was coming off a pair of surgeries and uncertain what team would take a chance on him. But the Mariners took the gamble and signed him to a one-year deal. He's being credited with being a guiding force in the clubhouse. Entering Monday's game, he's second on the team in RBIs (81), third in home runs (20) and is hitting .295.
"Guillen has been a big part," said manager John McLaren. "He has shown great leadership down the stretch. He's been enormous. He pushes his teammates, he encourages them, he puts his arm around them. He's been a great teammate. And I don't think anyone looked at him in that light before." His reputation had been one of a tempestuous teammate, particularly during his short stint with the Angels. He clashed with manager Mike Scioscia after being removed from a late September 2004 game with a pinch-runner. Guillen flipped his helmet at Scioscia's end of the dugout and the two later had a boisterous clubhouse confrontation. Guillen was suspended for the rest of the season and the playoffs then traded Washington over that winter. "That's in the past," Guillen said. "It's behind me. I have a lot of friends over there [LA]. I've played with them in the past. It's always interesting to play them, especially in a pennant race. They're ahead of us." Guillen harbors no grudge toward Scioscia. In fact, he complimented him. "They run the bases well. They play hard," Guillen said. "Scioscia's got to get credit for that. He runs the show in that clubhouse." Guillen may be just as significant a factor in the Mariners clubhouse. He's carries himself as a leader, someone willing to encourage as well as admonish. Asked if he's the clubhouse leader, he said, "Could be. I respect the guys. They respect me. When I have something to say to me, I'm will say it. "I'm not this big animal guy who's a trouble-maker. I'm a family man. I don't drink. I don't even go out and do crazy stuff." Now, after resurrecting his career and perhaps his image, Guillen is facing his former team with the division lead on the line. "You get excited when you play this type of game," he said. The Mariners have not had a contending team since 2003. The past three seasons, they've finished fourth with losing records. "There are different players here now," he said. "Give credit to those guys. We have a great offense now. Remember that. This offense can destroy pretty good pitching now. "I wasn't sure about pitching stuff, but all the guys really step it up, especially [Jeff] Weaver and [Miguel] Batista. We've given good run support for those guys. Hopefully, those guys keep doing what they've been doing. We'll take it from there." It's big but ... McLaren understood the hype surrounding this three-game series with the Angels. They entered the series two games behind and have a chance to come out of it one game ahead -- in the best-case scenario. But it's not even September, and McLaren puts that in perspective. "We know it's a big series. It means a lot but I don't think it a situation where it's do or die," he told the media before the game. "It's not to that point yet. "We don't want to lose perspective where you are in the season." After this series, it gets even tougher. The Mariners play 10 road games at Cleveland (one game makeup), followed by three-game series against Toronto, New York and Detroit. That will be a greater test. McLaren said what bolsters him is the fact that his team has pulled together so well. "With this streak [34 games over the final 35 days], we're going to be together a lot," McLaren added. "We're going to keep bonding together, keep pulling for each other, keep fighting together. I feel so good about the guys we have in the clubhouse because they care about each other. I feel like the guys are getting closer and closer. "When you're going down the stretch, chemistry plays a big part of it." Mariners' log: McLaren said that besides Guillen, Jose Vidro and Batista "might be considered gambles. But I'd hate to see where we'd be without those three guys." ... Seattle mayor Greg Nickels encouraged fans to wear blue with a "Mariners Monday" proclamation to help support the home team. Fans showed up at Safeco Field with an excessive amount of Mariners' logos on their backs. "It's always great having the fans behind you," McLaren said. ... Since Aug. 7, Raul Ibanez has led the AL in average (.429), slugging percentage (.844), home runs (nine) and is second in on-base percentage (.483) and RBIs (21). ... Entering the game, Ichiro Suzuki had seven infield hits in his past seven games. On deck: The Mariners play the second game of the series and homestand Tuesday night. Former Angels hurler Weaver (6-10, 5.51 ERA), takes the mound for the Mariners to be opposed by righty Ervin Santana (5-12, 6.03 ERA). First pitch is scheduled for 7:05 p.m. PT.
Bob Sherwin is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.