I'm new at Lookout Landing, if you don't count the guest post. I love the Mariners, and I love baseball—even if it's difficult.
In Seattle, baseball season ends before summer begins.
Before every season I delude myself into believing this year is the year, or a year—a year I can actively root on the Mariners in games that matter during the latter two-thirds of the season. But at this point in my Mariners fandom, beaten down especially hard by the past few campaigns, I can't begin to fathom what it'd be like.
Do you remember when we used to have those? You could passionately cheer on the Mariners for the entire season. And when they'd face the contenders from the AL East, you'd look forward to the M's testing their mettle against the game's best instead of growing annoyed by advertisements that say, essentially, "Hey Seattle baseball fans, we know you bandwagoners prefer the Yankees to the Mariners—make sure you come down to root on the team you reverted back to because, again, THEY'RE ONLY HERE ONCE."
In writing this post, I had to look up the date of the most "summer showdown" game I could remember, with only a single moment to go off of. I assumed it was June or July because, as a fully conditioned M's fan, that's as late as high-leverage games are played. No, this was on August 17th of 2003. The Seattle Mariners were 75-49, one off the Yankees' pace for the best record in the American League, and four games back of the M's were the Red Sox—they had the AL's third-best mark. On one of those late-summer days when Seattle is the most beautiful city in the world, 46,105 were at Safeco for the rubber match with ace Freddy Garcia on the mound.
Back then, the newspaper writing was as good as the baseball. I'll let John Hickey describe what I saw looking in past the foul pole as I sat with my parents, two brothers and two sisters halfway up the left-field bleachers:
Fast forward to the eighth inning. Garcia was pitching a masterpiece, leading 3-1. He'd retired 17 men in succession, but when he walked Trot Nixon with two out in the eighth and followed that up by having Bill Mueller battle him for a double, it was time for help.
With men on second and third and Boston bopper Nomar Garciaparra at the plate, it was time for Soriano.
It was time for gallons of gas, pints and pints of pure petroleum. And Soriano knew it. He threw three fastballs. The first was clocked at 96 mph. Garciaparra swung and missed. The second was clocked at 96 mph. Garciaparra swung and missed.
Then it was time to get serious. Soriano threw the next one so hard that a pitch that was supposed to be up and in wound up down and away. And 98 mph. Garciaparra watched, and he was called out on strikes. End of rally.
It was baseball, pure. Within a battle between two great teams, our flame-throwing rookie went toe-to-toe with one of the game's best hitters and sat him right the fuck down.
What does this have to do with 2013? Well, we still have those moments. Briefly, at least. And sure, the context does make the moment, but the Mariners have created moments with context (with lower leverage, albeit), and they've showed their fans how joyous baseball can be—and then they immediately pull them away.
This post was originally going to be about those moments, and how Mariners fans shouldn't be so perpetually melodramatic when there's still plenty of baseball to be played. I don't mean "there's still plenty of baseball to be played" in the sense that this Mariners season can still become something, because it can't, but in the sense that there are still moments to appreciate.
Hell. Remember winter? Remember when you looked forward to spring training? Sure, there was more hope then, but man, it's going to be awful when there's no baseball again.
But as much as I want to tell you to appreciate the special Mariners moments that occasionally come about, it's become ridiculous how frequently they're pulled away. As I mentioned, I wanted to write about these moments when the M's do something that makes you say "that's why I love baseball."
Nick Franklin's single on Wednesday night was one of those moments, and it made me look forward to writing what I wanted to write. With everything on the line, the kid laced a single into right field, raised his average to .300 and seemingly won himself a ballgame. But no, they did it again. It isn't just that they blew it, or wasted the effort because at this point wins and losses don't matter that much. They're nice, but what last now are those individual events and the memories that come with them. And the Mariners are alarmingly effective at making it as if those moments never existed.
Larry Stone yesterday ran down the complete events as he described the would-be heroes.
I mean, just last week Kyle Seager did something that has never been done before in the history of baseball. With the M's down four and clinging to their last out, Seager reminded us why he is "the man" going forward and it isn't even something we can look back on fondly.
I don't know about everyone else, but I assume I'm not the only one who takes immense pleasure in looping video highlights of these big moments—when they last, of course. But that Seager grand slam? Like it never happened. Same for Franklin's single. Before that there was an 7th-inning Jason Bay home run in Minnesota. Then, of course, there was Cleveland: back-to-back two out home runs in the 9th? Into the ether. Same for Endy and Smoak's home runs two days later. Even Wilhelmsen's last out in the rubber match against the Yankees—retiring Robinson Cano with the tying run 90 feet way—is something I choose to block out because I can't help but feel foolish for having so much hope when the M's climbed back to a game within .500.
But then, as you add them all up, it's clear: all these little moments the Mariners quickly erase, the ones that you hope make up for forgetting about wins and losses, they're the ones that are forcing you to forget about wins and losses.
Since that inspiring victory in the Bronx, the Mariners have lost seven what I'd call "crushing" games. There were the three winnable contests in Cleveland, a blown save against the Padres, a blown save against the Twins, the grand slam game against the White Sox (in which the Mariners stranded 12 and went 3-for-16 with RISP) and then Wednesday's blown save against the Astros. There was even a ho-hum extra-inning loss against the Yankees mixed in.
At nine games below .500, the Mariners seem far, far below our already-tempered expectations. But the difference between where we are now and an eventful campaign that gives us the impression the franchise is taking a step forward is depressingly slim. Say Tom doesn't drop that ball in Cleveland, he doesn't blow the saves against Minnesota or Houston, and the Mariners drive in just one run against the White Sox before extras (or pushed the game another inning)—all minor, considerable things. They do that, they're 33-34. Maybe they pick up another one in there, they win just five of those eight winnable games, and they're 34-33.
I understand one preceding event changes everything that comes after it, and being revisionist about things doesn't say much but it's worth highlighting how close this season was to being better, and memorable, even if it only makes things worse.
As I mentioned before, this season is over from a wins and losses stand point. But if the Mariners can do anything going forward, if I can ask one thing, it's that they don't erase those rare high points. Baseball is beautiful, and its best moments make the rest worthwhile—for both good teams and bad. The only difference is that the good teams let their fans enjoy their teams' best moments instead of ripping them away.