Now this feels like a debut.
When Taijuan Walker emerged last September for a so-called cup of coffee, there was much rejoicing and anticipation. Walker was (is) the team's best prospect in years, and seeing him arrive to the Mariners was celebrated. He was good, and the Mariners were bad. He was about to make the Mariners better, maybe, in games that didn't matter. From a competitive standpoint, the season had already ended. Watching starts from Walker and James Paxton down the stretch last year was fun, but only because of hope. Hope that someday, those two might be able to help the Mariners win some games that mattered.
Now, that time is here. Walker joins the rotation tonight, replacing the spot vacated by Erasmo Ramirez, who somehow managed to compile a 2.74 ERA in his five starts holding down the #5 spot in the rotation. The Mariners went 3-2 in that time. Despite the ability to avoid major damage, the writing was on the wall for Ramirez, and the Mariners have now gotten out ahead of the implosion. There's plenty of chatter about trades to send this roster over the top, whatever that top is, but here's the big internal replacement, the one they had all along. The piece they wished for, but couldn't expect. Still can't expect, but can hope. Dream. Their ace up the sleeve.
There are only a select group of pitchers that have that true "ace potential" tag slapped on them. Walker's one of them. Despite his previous debut and presently delayed time table, the Mariners now really get to see what they have. After Walker's final AAA dominance, he'll come in with very few restrictions -- clean bill of health, velocity returned, no innings limit considerations this late into the year. All he has to do is pitch, and all we get to do is watch.
The Mariners already have two pretty special pitchers. With Walker and Paxton, they might have two more. This year hasn't gone exactly as planned, but in many ways, it's gone even better than planned. What if they get some of the original idealistic plan to morph back into the current, unexpectedly solid plan? What if Walker hits the ground running? What if James Paxton follows behind him in a month? What if the Mariners trade for a bat and take on the rest of the summer guns blazing?
For decades, most of what fans had was daily entertainment that often ended in frustration, and only a lingering, taunting ray of hope. That hope has turned into something tangible, something that we can't quite touch, but something that we can at least smell. Taijuan Walker is a freshly baked pastry, the smell wafting down I-5 from Tacoma. Our mouths are watering. We could enjoy something delicious for many, many years. I'm prepared for him to be everything the scouts thought he could be and more. I'm prepared for him to be so good, so fast, that the trade rumors involving him die this season and don't pop back up this offseason. For the Mariners to add around him, not use him to fix something else.
He could struggle. He could even tank. The Mariners could add another arm and send him or Roenis Elias back to AAA. There's every chance that this is not the beginning of an era, that the pastry doesn't taste as good as it smells. That's known, that's accepted. Hope isn't always rational, but it is fun.
It always comes back to hope. This time, fans are standing on each other's shoulders, heads above the clouds. For years, the Mariners have lied on their backs, staring at the clouds below, wondering who would take them up there. Jeremy Reed. Jeff Clement. Dustin Ackley. Jesus Montero. Many have dragged the Mariners back down to the ground instead of lifting them up. But now, improbably, the Mariners have their heads in the clouds, and once again, another lift has arrived. I'm choosing to believe that this time, for once, the Mariners can push above the clouds to see the view from above.
Happy Taijuan Walker day. May he forever be awesome. May he forever be ours and never theirs.