I've been feeling a little convicted lately. See, the Mariners have been playing well--unexpectedly well--and while this fan's hope has been teased in the past, it has never quite felt the way it does now. Before, there was great late-season play by a team that fielded Trayvon Robinson and Eric Thames in the outfield. Now, there are building blocks who have money and time invested in them, and they are not only performing well, but showing progress--adapting to the major leagues, and filling valuable roles instead of open platoon outfielder positions.
As a result, my website contributions and conversations have resorted around a "Oh My God, It's Really Happening" mantra, which may or may not be hyperbole. But you know why it feels like this. I'm sure a lot of you feel the same way. Ultimately, the Mariners are probably not going to make the playoffs this year. And by probably not I mean that if they did, it would be a miraculous run rivaling 1995 and surprising both Mariners fans, all of Major League Baseball, and probably even the Mariners themselves.
So in the spirit of temperance, I will attempt to simmer the joy this week has built within me. Today's game gave Mariners' All-Star Hisashi Iwakuma his 8th win of the season, as well as handing the Mariners their first sweep of 2013 against a division rival sitting directly above them in the standings.
The scoring got off to a quick start, with a Michael Saunders home run in the 2nd inning, driving in Justin Smoak. Then in the 4th, the M's added to the board on the following sequence:
1. Kyle Seager single
2. Justin Smoak walk
3. Michael Saunders fly-out, sending Seager to 3rd
4. Mike Zunino sac-fly scoring Kyle Seager
This has happened before countless times over the past couple of years. What was weird was that today it looked like something they had willed into being rather than lucking into. It was exciting, but it wasn't a wait, what? exciting. It was a Oh, that's right, they can do this now exciting.
Hisashi Iwakuma pitched well today, only giving up a few mistakes in his 7 hit, 3 run outing. Mark Trumbo homered on a first pitch hanging slider in the top of the 5th. I'm not even sure I'd call that a huge mistake, because Mark Trumbo is damn good at hitting baseballs, and if you throw him something hanging, he will do exactly what he did in this at bat.
In the top of the 6th, Kuma gave up a single to Mike Trout, got rid of Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton, and then ran into a little trouble after Howie Kendrick doubled, sending Trout to third. After intentionally walking Mark Trumbo, Alberto Callaspo singled on one of Kuma's go-to rising fastballs just high and out of the zone, sending Trout and Kendrick home. The game was 3-4, and before you knew it, Chris Iannetta was up with the game on the line. Iwakuma has been in this exact situation way too often as of late, washing away his previous stellar innings like soluble chalk on the sidewalk. Ianetta tapped his feet with his bat and stepped into the batter's box. Stomachs were churning. Iwakuma threw a hanging slider, swung on and missed. Strike one. Then, another slider hit by Ianetta, as the sound of the bat making contact with the ball stung, and stung deep. It was foul. Strike two. He tried to get him out with a fastball, but it sunk low, thrown too hard. Another slider, once again fouled. Ianetta was fighting, making Iwakuma throw him something hittable, and it didn't look like it was going to end up the way the Mariners wanted it to. But Iwakuma reached deep and somehow found 93 MPH to get Ianetta swinging for strike three, and the Angels would never again threaten as dangerously for the rest of the game. Even with Charlie Furbush hinting at the usual bullpen heart-attack thing we have grown all too accustomed to.
Shutout wins are fun, and no-hitters are magical gifts from the baseball gods. But wins like this are like exercise for a team growing new muscles and learning how to use them. Instead of collapsing under pressure, the Mariners held on and fought for their victory because they earned it. Tom Wilhelmsen once again showed us his new self, getting Callaspo, Hank Conger, and Erick Aybar some contact outs to end the game. Everyone rightfully freaked out when Wilhelmsen lost his command earlier this year, and while it doesn't seem he is going to be the strikeout guy we remember for the rest of the year, he is still bar none one of the best arms in the Mariners bullpen. He also costs half of a million dollars.
So ultimately, what we need to take away from this past week isn't unchecked optimism shouting from the mountain tops. As Mariners fans, we should probably do our best to temper this excitement and proclamations of "We're Fixed!" with the cold, hard fact that there is a hell of a lot of baseball left to be played, the Mariners probably aren't going to make the playoffs, and for all we know, all this progress from the past two weeks could be ruined during the offseason when Jack Z. trades Nick Franklin and Brad Miller and some pitching prospects for Giancarlo Stanton, who will then pull a Chone Figgins and blow it. It's been fun to watch, and it has given us a glimmer of hope we didn't know existed before, but the Mariners are far from "There."
Still, in the top of the 5th, Joe Blanton went back into the Angels' dugout and did this:
At first it looks like he's just throwing a rage fit to let out some negative energy after giving up a home run to Michael Saunders, but then we realize that he was in a heated verbal scuffle with Angels pitching coach Mike Butcher. Baseball players on the best of teams have awful outings and less than stellar dugout relationships, but something about this one makes me think it was something more. Maybe that tempered optimism I'm stifling is the byproduct of something real, something tangible that is starting to make its way into the rest of the league. Maybe their conversation went a little something like this:
Blanton: FUCKING GOD DAMMIT MARINERS
Blanton: I'M PLAYING THE GOD DAMN MARINERS WHAT THE FUCK
Butcher: Joe, calm down, you've got to focus. You've got some good hitters coming up in the
Blanton: MARINERS THESE ARE THE MARINERS
Blanton: WHAT IS HAPPENING
Blanton: i'm going home.