The easy thing to do when a season ends and the rest of the sport keeps on playing into the postseason is to ask what went wrong. With the 2015 edition of the Mariners, that question is even more pertinent considering pre-season expectations, Pythagorean win/loss expectations, and the all-around excitement on this team that hadn't been seen in a decade.
But things did go wrong. We all saw things go wrong. There will be plenty of offseason to talk about what went wrong. And that is why I like to focus on what went right this year -- because believe or not, some things did. The Mariners still managed to play some entertaining baseball and form some storylines worth following.
Here are some of our favorite moments of the year.
I cannot tell you which game of the one-hundred and sixty two played that my favorite moment is from. What I can tell you is how it feels.
The pitcher moves towards home. A sudden crack of wood on leather. Flying. Faster. Higher. Coming back down. It is the ball. Could it be? Hit at me? It is in my glove. I cannot die. I am riding the wings of a phoenix born from ash and fire. My name is strength. And power. And Lust. I am Beowulf.
Mark Trumbo went yard and a young man and his gaggle of friends were, by some cosmic luck, placed directly in the bath (THIS WAS A TYPO BUT I LIKE THE IMAGERY) of that beautiful arc. Even better, a fan of a team from a different country is next to them, I am sure shouting loudly about fried bacon and maple syrup, reaching (ever reaching) for the ball, and coming up short. This was a season that eluded most of us in terms of the emotions that these fans find. I applaud them so much for their enthusiasm, exuberance, and ability to see the pretty parts of the fallen trees across the road.
Be like these fans. Go to the game. Ignore the narrative. Go bat shit crazy if you snag a home run.
In honor of our
soon to be departed skipper dearly departed skipper, I'd say my favorite moment of the year, much like my least favorite moment of the year, came on Kyle Seager Bobblehead Night. The Mariners really faced two teams that night: the Yankees (boo) and the officiating crew (boooooooooooooo). Home plate ump Mike DiMuro missed a number of calls in Brett Gardner's at bat, and then with Alex Rodriguez drew a walk on a some shaky strikes as balls calls (that's hard to say) and a questionable check swing call (boooooooooooooo). All of this would just be normal baseball for an ump crew that features Tony Randazzo. But what happened next was magnificent. First, Famously Polite and Nice Young Man/Pitch Presenter Mike Zunino got mad as hell and decided he wasn't going to take it anymore. Mike started squaking at the first base ump, got tossed, and then got MAD. You really see the Florida come out here. But that's nothing compared to Lloyd. Good ol' Lloyd. Lloyd came out to argue for his young catcher, and his young pitcher. And justice. And puppies. And rainbows. And good coffee. Fiery Lloyd is always fun, but as soon as he got tossed, he decided to give the good people of Safeco a show, going to each ump in turn. The dialogue presumably when something like this: CHECKED SWING?! (swears swears swears) THAT'S (swear) NOT (swear) A (swear fuckin' swear) BALL EITHER.
It was delight. Fare thee well, Lloyd. Your bullpen decisions were often silly, and you loved sitting batters with favorable splits in favor of Logan Morrison having seen a batter four times and gotten a home run. But you were at times great fun to watch, and your passion was always appreciated. Because that at bat was (swears).
A no-hitter is a slow opening flower. For the first five innings it's just a baseball game. You're sitting there in your seat, talking, occasionally running to the bathroom, maybe having a beer, normal baseball stuff. After five innings you start, ever so slightly, considering the pitch count.
Six innings in you text a friend or two; "Hey turn on the game, you never know." Bathroom breaks are now saved for the bottom halves of innings, and you'll pay for beer from the vendor even though all he has is Coors and Bud.
Seven innings and you're done talking. Your posture becomes chiropractor approved, every pitch is watched closely, and you start tracking all the defenders, watching them focus in a way you could have sworn they weren't 3-4 innings ago.
Eight innings and this is the tough one. The ninth is the capital "m" Moment. The eighth is the only one thing that stands in the way. It feels like the most likely place for it to fail. With still another inning to go the pitcher has to continue to conserve resources, and going through the lineup the 3rd time with an escalating pitch count well; the incline is increasing and the road condition worsening. We're all just desperately holding on.
The Ninth - Among all our games baseball is the one that can randomly pluck immortality from daily drudgery. The game bores us to sleep, its daily contests, slower pace, regular pauses, it always feel just comfortable and familiar enough for us to skate over it.
The ninth won't allow that. It grabs you, shakes you, shoves your face at the field and pries open your eyes. Watching baseball with thumping adrenaline and aching focus is nothing like the way you do the dishes with the game on the radio. There's a whole world within the game we so regularly see.
It ends, the flower opens, it's beauty and radiance catches you off guard, even though you watched the whole thing. You scream. Your boy cries. Immortality conjured from nothingness. Baseball is magic.
For me, it was the no-hitter as well. Working downtown, I always hoped a time would come when I'd find myself sprinting over from the office to the ballpark to catch the tail end of something special—and then it happened. And it didn't just happen, but it happened with my brother and dad there as well, one of hundreds of games we've watched together over the years. Something else.
But for the sake of avoiding redundancy, the only other moment that stands out to me on a similar level, almost sadly, is Opening Day. It was the only day they were ever .500, the only day during the baseball season where we got to experience this team and 100 percent of the hope we had through the winter and spring.
I remember talking the day off work for that game and, the whole way in thinking "I can't believe this. It's here. This season is here." It was all so surreal. And it was surreal through all afternoon. Felix dazzled in fanning 10 over seven innings, Seth Smith got two big knocks in his first game in an M's uni and the bullpen, Fernando included, locked it down.
It was the 2015 Mariners, for one day, as they were supposed to be. They were good, they were unblemished.
It was April 19th. A lovely spring afternoon, early in the 2015 MLB season. The Mariners had gotten off to a slow start, owners of a disappointing 4-7 record, but the season still felt brand new. More than 150 games remained in the beautiful, horrible, grueling slog that is Major League Baseball.
On this sunny Sunday in Seattle, James Paxton struggled early. He turned an early 2-0 lead into a 7-2 deficit. At the end of the seventh inning, the M's were in a four-run hole. Their win expectancy was a teeny tiny 2.3%. But the team did not quit. They battled back, eventually tying the game. And then Nelson Cruz stepped up to the plate in the bottom of the ninth inning. The bases were loaded. There were two outs. With the count sitting even at 2-2 Neftali Feliz looked in, checked the runner at third, and offered Cruz a 96 mph fastball. The pitch caught a lot of the plate. Nelson swung. And he swung hard.
According to Baseball Savant, this single was the hardest ball that Cruz hit all season. It left the bat at a scorching 119 mph! In fact, among all of the recorded balls in play in 2015 (all ~90,000 of them!), only three were hit harder than this one (each coming off the bat of Mr. Giancarlo Stanton). Nelson Cruz did an incredibly good and impressive thing. And he knew it.
I remember looking into the exuberant faces of our beloved Mariners, as the formed a solid mass of celebrating bodies in the infield, and thinking that maybe all of the pre-season hype was true. Maybe this team really was a good team. Maybe they really were in every game, regardless of the score. Maybe this would really (finally) be our season. Of course, things didn't end up going the Mariners way in 2015... but for one afternoon, this team felt invincible.
(Another reason that this moment is my favorite moment of 2015 is that it helped inspire the very best recap of the season. The entirety of RANGER BLOOD should be engraved on a brass plaque and hung in the LLHoF. Thank you, Matt. You are a marvel and a wonder.)
I really want the "moment" to be the resurgence of Franklin Gutierrez, because there wasn't a finer story in all of baseball then the man that we all loved finally back in the game. And boy did Guti come back with a vengeance.
He hit dingers, at a higher rate than basically all of MLB. He had the third-highest fWAR out of all position players and he did it in a fraction of the games.
But, if there was any game that was the big moment, it has to be that spectacular game on July 26, 2015. The Mariners won that game, but more specifically, Gutierrez won that game. No one remembers anything about that game except for Guti's outstretched arms as he rounded the bases. No one remembers the triple play that was turned, only the fact that Guti crushed an 0-2 pitch in the bottom of the 10th to give the Mariners the win.
All we remember is Franklin Gutierrez, the person everyone wants to see succeed, finally succeeding with what little strength remains in those legs to carry him around the bases. If the Mariners did what they were supposed to this year (be good), there is a good chance Guti never would've made the team -- or at least made much impact on it.
So that is the silver lining for me. And to see that beautiful man flash that beautiful smile, despite all the floating turds that was much of the Mariners' season, for that one brief moment, I was rounding the bases with Gutierrez and the rest of the Mariners' fandom, and the season was finally going right.
Those were some of our moments. There is no doubt that we missed some of them. Let us know in the comments.