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Seattle Mariners Enter Already Crowded AL West Elevator, Make It More Crowded

It's crazy to think about, but the Mariners were six games out of the division lead just nine games into the season. Nine games in. The M's were 2-7, the Rangers were 8-1, and any innocent little daydreams we had about a competitive year had already been flushed down the toilet. It was hard enough to imagine the M's being better than the Rangers at all, so to imagine the M's being at least six games better than the Rangers over the rest of the season? That was pushing it. It wasn't going to happen.

Things didn't get much worse over the coming two weeks, but they didn't get any better, either, and after the Mariners' loss on April 24th, they were seven games out. No matter, though; by that point we'd already grown re-accustomed to our situation. So the M's wouldn't contend in the AL West. So what? When you're looking for fans who can handle that kind of reality, you call on the fans with experience.

And now look. It's been nine days, and the difference has dropped from seven to two. The whole division is in tight. The Angels and Rangers are tied in the lead. The A's are behind by one. The M's are behind by a pair. On April 24th, the AL West had the broadest spread of any division in baseball. Now, the spread is the smallest, with the second-smallest difference between first and fourth being a full game larger.

Any and all separation once achieved in the AL West has just about been erased, and we're practically at the point where we're starting over. Only, instead of starting over with a 162-game season, we're starting over with a shorter season, allowing for greater variability. Sure, the Rangers and Angels are out in front by a little, but one game? Two games? These gaps can disappear in a night or a weekend. This division is just about where it was a month ago, and that only gives the Mariners a greater opportunity to make something of the season.

It's just been an incredible turnaround, and the change in our perspective since the end of that Oakland series is night and day. We were resigned, then. We were resigned, and we were coming to terms with it. Now the games matter, and the results matter. and all the little things matter. Calls matter. Swings matter. Bounces matter. We came into 2011 knowing that we'd need to focus on the big picture, but now we're getting to think about the little picture, too, and being a baseball fan just makes so much more sense this way.

You can blame Francisco Liriano and his shitty no-hitter for the fact that I don't have much of a game recap for you tonight. Because of my job's other obligations, I was barely able to pay attention to the Mariners until the final few innings. I don't know how this game would've gone had Michael Young's drive in the first not hung up just long enough for Michael Saunders to track it down in front of the wall. I don't know how this game would've gone had Pedro Strop not thrown a wild pitch in the seventh. I don't know how this game would've gone had Young not grounded into a double play in the top of the eighth, and I don't know how this game would've gone had any of the Mariners' first three singles in the bottom half been fielded. But I know how this game went, and after Brandon League sealed the deal in the ninth, I smiled the smile of a pet owner who finally got his parrot to talk. My idiot little baseball team is doing what I wanted.

I don't know how long this whole being-in-the-race thing is going to last. Who does? The Mariners might lose the next two games of the series, and then some more games after that. Given the speed with which they initially fell out, and given the speed with which they've climbed back in, the Mariners have shown how quickly things can change. But watching Erik Bedard put the finishing touches on another strong effort, watching Justin Smoak hit the ball everywhere, watching Ryan Langerhans dive into third base on a bunt, watching Jack Cust come through again, watching Brandon League punch batters out - tonight, we saw more exciting, meaningful Mariners baseball. They played an important game, and they won an important win.

Cherish this for as long as this goes on. Cherish the big plays, the thrilling wins, and even the frustrating losses, because being able to feel any kind of emotional response whatsoever is so much better than the alternative. We can deal with the alternative, but the alternative blows.

Michael Pineda starts tomorrow.