You have to really love baseball to watch Colorado and Seattle play in front of a small crowd on a Friday night in September. Nobody was tuning in for a tilt between pennant contenders. This was not a night for towel waving or face paint. There was no reason for anyone to lament the failures of the 2015 Mariners or cling to a fading hope that one extended winning streak could push this club back towards contention. Playoff hopes all but extinguished, tonight was just about baseball for baseball's sake.
Those that watched were treated to an entertaining game. Hisashi Iwakuma got the nod for the M's and, for the better part of his evening, he looked as good as ever. For six innings, he mixed pitches, changed speeds, painted the corners, and made Colorado's talented hitters uncomfortable. He struck out six, allowed only four base runners, and limited Carlos Gonzalez and Nolan Arenado to a measly single.
Iwakuma nearly cruised through the seventh too. After retiring the first hitter, Justin Morneau singled off of Iwakuma's glove. Ben Paulsen followed with the excuse-me hit of the year, a soft line drive single off the end of his bat, on a slow curve that caught him leaning on his front foot. A half inch here and there, and the Mariners would have been out of the inning. Instead, Colorado had runners on the corners. It was an inauspicious time for Iwakuma to make his one big mistake of the game, but make it he did, leaving a cement-mixer of a slider over the middle of the plate: rookie catcher and fringe-prospect team member Dustin Garneau whacked it off the manual scoreboard, giving Colorado a 3-0 lead.
For his part, Colorado starter Chad Bettis held the Mariners down in one of his finest professional outings. While Bettis's numbers are nothing special, the right-hander has good stuff -- he sat in the mid-90's with a barrel missing cutter and a changeup that embarrassed lefties and righties alike -- and on nights when he has his command, he's tough to hit. The M's couldn't get anything going until Christian Friedrich relieved him in the eighth. A Shawn O'Malley walk and Kyle Seager homer nearly spoiled Bettis's outing, but manager Walt Weiss called upon three more relievers to escape the frame with the lead.
Colorado's insurance tally in the ninth was the final run of the ball game. Brad Miller singled with one out in the ninth and O'Malley walked to keep the rally alive, but Seager couldn't replicate his two-homer heroics from Tampa Bay, and struck out to end the game.
The Mariners have been out of the race for awhile now. The writing was on the wall after Arizona swept through town in July, and arguably dating all the way back to that miserable homestand in May. Tonight though, for me at least, it finally felt real. A sweep of the Rangers would have given the Mariners a prayer, but with Texas out of town and a series split in the bag, even that dream has faded. The 2015 Mariners, seven games back with a half dozen teams ahead of them, are not going to the playoffs. (Sorry David.) Our flirtation with national relevance over, tonight was a definitive opportunity to settle into the old routine of watching baseball for the sake of baseball.
When I was ten, my parents gave me Space Station Seventh Grade, a Jerry Spinelli young-adult novel. It's a decent enough read, and one part in particular resonates strongly. As Jason narrates his summer after seventh grade, he makes a theme of the kids on the corner. As summer begins, Jason is happy to see them in their familiar haunt; together, they're a symbol that school is out and summer is here. Over the next few weeks, they fade into the background, only emerging now and again as a mild annoyance. But as the summer winds to a close, the kids on the corner once again become a welcoming symbol. School hasn't started yet. The summer is still going.
At Edgar and Dave, the Mariners are our kids on the corner. We've had our ups and downs with this edition of the club, but all else being equal, a day with a Mariners game is better than a day without. The M's lost tonight, but their presence provided a satisfying comfort nonetheless. Summer isn't over yet. There is still baseball to be played.