It was less than three weeks ago, in these very digital pages where the 2004-2006, 2008, 2010-2013 Mariners were eulogized and put to rest. This team, for 100 games, has been different. In the long Winter since 2003 every bit of success has been built on quicksand. The 2 teams (2007, 2009) that have given us hope sold it to us on an adjustable rate mortgage, with interest rates set to skyrocket. How do you get hope out of 2 above .500 teams in a decade with a combined run differential of -71? Those teams were fun, they brought happiness. But they rang the bill up on the credit card. When the interest compounded and the bill came do all we had to offer was our memories of Ken Griffey Jr. combined with age and uncountable Coca-Colas and a generational pitching talent, spending his days as Sisyphus.
This team feels like all the others. The lineup has Robinson Cano, Kyle Seager and the usual collection of unready callups, failed prospects, and once gloried veterans hoping to recover enough success to find way to a contender and/or one last payday. The rotation has one Paragon, another star of lesser brilliance and an odd collection of those that have never known success, don't know success and can't remember success. The bullpen's greatest star is a man who literally doesn't know what uniform he's wearing on a given day.
For 99 games the Mariners have largely played exactly how they've spent the majority of their fanbase's memory playing: They've pitched some, they've played defense and they have been troubled to use their bats only just as much as is necessary. Unlike all those past teams this one has won, and often convincingly. Their run differential is good, their won-loss record is good and hope, like a blade of grass peaking through volcanic rock, has begun its return.
But it's so, so, so fragile. All it takes is the 100th game. For Jake deGrom with command of a changeup, an Abraham Almonte impression from James Jones and the psyche begins to retreat back to what we know: Failure. Failure combined with the mundane. Failure of repeated, long honored style. Immediately we begin to question "is this the moment?" Is this where our fantasy ends? Do the Mariners spend the next 62 games regressing to what most of us have feared they've been all along? Do they awaken the ghosts of 2011? Does management acknowledge that, while teams like the Yankees spend every July effortlessly adding Brandon McCarthys and Chase Headleys that wins are not secondary and perhaps even tertiary to "fan experience" and above all their sacred coin?
The Mariners need to win, and they need teams the Yankees and Royals to lose. Their are other teams, the Indians, the Orioles, the Blue Jays. Teams with seemingly more impressive rosters, better front offices. Teams more ready to make use of the last 1/3 of the season to wipe away the mirages of the first 2/3. The Mariners and their fans pretend to know suffering but we see the Pirates who, after decades of failure, were tormented with teams in 2012 and 2013 that pretended to find success, before finally succumbing to inferiority in the season's final months.
Last year I likened the Mariners to my 5 year old son, who was eager to learn many things but failed at almost all of them. The thought was the Mariners, like my son, would not become successful by changing into something else overnight but by gradually refining to the best version of what they were, their failure sloughed off through long periods of effort and gradual improvement before finally achieving a success merited, paid for honestly and bedrocked in a foundation to stand for ages.
I know nothing. My son, who 6 months ago could not read a word, spends hours in books on native bird and insect species. He has achieved his 3rd belt in Tae Kwon Do in 3 months. He has gone from not knowing one Mariner to crying about the thought of losing Taijuan Walker, unconsoled even at the thought of receiving David Price in return. His learning and achievement came after long periods of incremental improvement followed by gigantic, unexpected, breathtaking moments of triumph. Once they come there's no going back.
The Mariners spent 99 games crawling through the aches and pains of improvement and on the 100th got reminded of where they came from. You, dear Lookout Landing reader, with your beautiful intellect and mind for more than narrative know that the team is more than what's come before it. But how much? Will this be the breakthrough? Will ownership allow substantive addition? Has Dustin Ackley found a toe hold or is he merely faster, beardier Justin Smoak? Can James Jones reverse his tailspin? Can Mike Zunino fish his OBP from The Abyss? Can Felix possibly keep up the greatest season a Mariner pitcher has had in almost 2 decades?
The Mariners have 2 months to prove that this season isn't an inch ahead toward an impossibly far away dawn. They have 2 months to make days like today the exception, and make us forget when they were the rule.