I have to admit to something. I feel guilty, dirty even. The Seattle Mariners just beat the Tampa Bay Rays 6-4 to win yet another series, bumped their record to 20-13, and kept a 1.5 game lead of first place in the AL West. The team is on all accounts, rolling. The bullpen is lights-out, the bats just keep producing, and the starting rotation is continually finding its way into the seventh inning. Since the infamous Dae-Ho Lee walkoff bomb weeks ago, the M's are 18-7. That early, dark homestand has been washed away with the hope of something entirely new. Forget "playoffs", this team is winning the AL West.
Yet, I still feel guilty as hell. I'm worried, honestly, that I'm not appreciating this enough. There is a common sentiment that you never realize you're currently living the "Good Ol' Days" of years yet to come. Every single game I'm worried that it won't taste as sweet as it has the night before. I'm mentally preparing for what it feels like to come back to Earth, tied again to gravity, taxes, and the 24-hour news cycle. Imagine the freedom of Outer Space, the serenity. Do those who make it there also lament the inevitable return? Is it possible that we get so caught up in the current winning, in the high-leverage of every single at bat, that we're missing the fun? I'm consciously trying not to forget the joy. Yet, every single morning, I'm checking playoff odds, looking at splits, checking rival trends. At the end of the day, I just want to see some bombs.
And that's what we had tonight. The Mariners lead the whole way thanks to Franklin Gutierrez, after Ketel Marte opened the game right where he left off with a lead-off single into left, stepping to the plate. Yes, Guti, that lone, bright spot amidst the dark months of the late season in 2015, the forgotten bat on Servais' bench, stood in the box, the count 3-1 in his favor, and saw an off-speed pitch from Drew Smyly diving off the outer edge. Just as he did all Spring long, Guti swung. Showing that opposite field power as if it were a tool that all possessed with great ease, keeping his hips in, and whipping his wrists through the zone, Guti dished the ball 390 feet out to right center field. Two batters up, two runs across the plate for the M's.
Following suit, The Robinson Cano would step to the plate and promptly single into right, followed by Nelson Cruz lining into the corner in left for a double. Runners on second and third with no outs, two runs already across, and the Mariners were absolutely mashing Smyly on a quintessential Seattle summer evening. The Mariners would exit the first with three runs, thanks to a Kyle Seager sacrifice fly deep to the wall in right, and everything seemed, well, wonderful. And that might be the first time I've said that on here.
It was never a runaway success though, thanks to a peculiar outing from Wade Miley. Wade would give up four earned runs in six-plus innings. Three of those runs came on solo home runs. The first came in the second, by Steve Pearce, followed by another from Pearce in the fourth, inching the Rays within a run. The final solo home run came off the bat of Steven Souza to lead off the seventh, ending Miley's night. On top of the three bombs, Wade also allowed a run in the sixth when Evan Longoria plated Curt Casali on a fielder's choice by Ketel Marte. Miley's final line spread four hits (three of them solo homers) and one walk over six innings while tossing six strike outs. It was a quality start, make no mistake, he just had many of his mistakes taken over the fence. He did, however, do this to Brad Miller in a high leverage spot:
Yet, the story from this game, and maybe of the recent week or so, was a Korean first baseman named Dae-Ho Lee. Yes, with the M's leading 3-2 in the bottom of the fourth, Chris Iannetta lead the inning off with a single flicked into right field. Following him was Kyle Seager, who, in turn, roped a single into center, extending his hitting streak to eleven games. Up stepped Dae-Ho Lee, runners on first and second, no outs, and a one run lead.
It's funny how simple good hitters make hitting look. Robbie Cano never seems to actually work at anything when he's in the box. Ichiro was the same way, Edgar and Griffey, too. An expert bat, wielded with control and power in equal measure, really has no aesthetic match. Hitting a baseball is so primal, so abrupt in nature, that few make it look seamless. Here is an orb the size of your palm, flying at you, spinning any given direction, and the task is to smash the living shit out of it with a dressed-up tree limb. Dae-Ho Lee flicked his wrists at an outside pitch and hit it over the right field wall. Maybe that's all we need to know.
The Mariners wouldn't score another run, but they wouldn't have to, either. Scoreless frames from a combination of Nick Vincent, Vidal Nuno, Joel Peralta, and a four-out save from Steve Cishek made sure that the Mariners made it yet another series victory, with an afternoon game to nail a sweep tomorrow. Taijuan Walker will toe the rubber against Chris Archer, and the Seattle Mariners will look for their 21st victory on May 11th. They haven't won twenty games by May 10th since 2003. Something is happening here that we haven't seen in a very long time.
I challenge you to enjoy it. Sure, see the seams in the squad. Acknowledge that this roster isn't yet optimized, but maybe also allow that fact to astound you. In the past, the rosters, too, weren't optimized, but the difference was between a losing season and a less-losing season. Now, the margins are thinner, but maybe more prominent and meaningful. What if the utility role catches fire and the 25th Man becomes a late-inning menace. What if Dae-Ho Lee hits twenty five bombs. What if Miley-Tai-Karns is the three pitchers nobody wants to face, and THEN they have to face Felix. What if Nelson starts running into some pitches alongside Robbie and Kyle and Ketel. What if.
Well, then, there is no ceiling.