I don't like going to games like these. Games agains the Red Sox, the Yankees and even the Blue Jays—they're rarely enjoyable, and usually miserable. I've laid out my grievances before, just recently actually, as the Marienrs were in the process of being swept by the Yankees.
The transplant fans roll in, and if not completely outnumbering, certainly out-shouting the fans of the hometown nine. And seemingly always, those treating the Mariners to a road game at Safeco are rewarded with seeing their team roll to a victory.
It's just too demoralizing, and though I rarely act on the preference and attend anyway, I often think I'd be better off just skipping these games. I'm aware that makes me part of the problem, sure, but I'll admit I take these things too personally. It borders on nauseating watching what frequently plays out, the obnoxiousness that often emanates from the "no I'm not from there, but my parents used to live New England" crowd.
These games, this series—this has been something else. And it's been something else not just for the outcome, but how it's transpired.
The Red Sox are down, and the Mariners are up. That much is clear. It was clear on the field, and in the stands.
With these games, you're bound to have a fair share of "Let's go Red Sox!" chants, as there have been the past couple nights—both before and after the mid-inning demolitions of John Lackey and Jake Peavy. But with every one, there was resilience. The past couple nights "Let's go Mariners!" chants roared through Safeco—as much as they could with the stadium still but half-filled—at a frequency greater than those for the opposition.
I realize that clearing such a bar—having more fans than the road team—is like laying a broom on the ground and stepping over it, but as the Mariners get ready to pick that broom up and sweep the Red Sox away with it, the resiliency in this team and those who passionately support it is palpable.
This feels like more than the dominating a bad team. This feels real.
Yesterday, following that big 12-3 win, Shannon Drayer wrote about the Mariners potentially reaching a corner. She writes: "We've seen that corner a number of times this year. I almost wonder if we might overlook the actual turning of the corner or perhaps it has been turned already." And, like with her, this concept of reaching and turning the corner has me thinking. Is this it?
Many months ago, I wrote on the continued wait for the moment that things change. Maybe it isn't a moment after all, but a continued onset. I won't go so far as to say the Mariners have turned the corner, but this is a slicing James Jones liner into right-center. He hasn't committed to going for second, but he's definitely making an aggressive turn.
Jones, in the non-figurative realm, has been one of the many just-right buttons Lloyd McClendon has pushed this season. Last night, as I was walking home from my bus stop, and had finished reliving Kyle Seager smash a ball off the Hit It Here Café for about the fortieth time, I moved on in the MLB At Bat App to the four-minute clip from Lloyd McClendon's post-game presser. If you know me, you know this: I like McClendon, as I think most do now.
Last night, in the calm steely way he talks—whether during a losing streak, or at his team's greatest high-water mark in a half-decade—he continued to push those buttons. Asked about Kyle Seager, a Safeco-conquerer unlike any we've seen in years, he said he'd like to see more. When asked about Mike Zunino, whose bomb was every bit as triumphant as Seager's, McClendon said "nothing's changed," that it didn't take another power outburst to convince him the young catcher will be a star soon enough.
McClendon knows what he has, and he has a good idea on how to get the most out of it. Manager praise isn't the most popular thing in advanced-thinking baseball circles, but even those who ask "What does a manager even do" often follow with "besides manage the bullpen?" Anecdotal evidence is just that, but Lloyd's molded and meshed a group of talented-but-inconsistent arms into one of the best 'pens in the game.
Still, I think we all know in-game tactics aren't McClendon's greatest strength. What's happening, and his impact, is outside the lines.
In listening to the Gary Hill's Mariners podcast this morning, I took pause at something Kyle Seager said post-game in response to a question from Drayer. She asked him when he knew the Mariners might have something here—what was his moment he knew things had changed?
It was something I never expected. It was the eight-game losing streak. He echoed what McClendon had said then, that every team goes through those stretches, and they knew then the type of club they had.
Now it's time that Seattle, and all Mariners fans, know the type of team they have. I won't sit here and tell you now that this is a world-beater guaranteed of winning 90-plus. But look around. We wake up this morning to trade rumors from multiple national writers, to recaps of Taijuan Walker knocking on the door and playoff odds—even by Fangraphs' more conservative projections—that outpace Edgar Martinez's career OBP.
Some people have probably heard about enough on the Mariners' run differential (though I haven't), which now sits at +52 and ranks second in all of baseball, but some perspective on that: the last time the Mariners were this good, by wins and losses, was the end of the 2009 season—and that '52' had a minus sign in front of it.
Seattle, you have a baseball team again. You're probably going to have a full baseball season again. Let's enjoy it, and let's have some fun.