Yesterday's game sucked. There's no way around it. It took the Mariners three batters to take a 3-0 lead, thanks to the incredible mixture of suave and baseball skill that is Robinson Cano, and then it took about one inning for all of that to implode.
But that notwithstanding, this last weekend perfectly illustrated why this team could be something special and why, against all the evidence that has stacked up over a decade-and-a-half of frustration, this season has some real potential.
I flew back from college just over a week ago, landing at Sea-Tac at the same time as the M's were finishing up a 13-3 romp over the A's. Naturally, one of the first things I did was to make arrangements to see King Felix go to work at Safeco.
Friday's game, of course, did not go as planned. It typified the Mariners of old, with some early excitement over a first-inning homer from Franklin Gutierrez quickly squandered. One big inning, and everyone at home surely switched over to re-runs of The Big Bang Theory (or maybe that was just my dad?). But I had paid for those tickets, dang it, so I was going to stick it out.
Needless to say...it was painful.
Yet I still had free time later this weekend, and lo and behold, the weather cleared up and I rounded up some friends to see Monday's game with. And the same old routine happened, with an early Padres run and anemic Mariner offense.
But then a funny thing happened: The team didn't roll over and turn into a pumpkin. Instead...
From my spot in the center field bleachers, I couldn't tell if this was out or not (n.b. thanks Matt Kemp for being a bad corner OF and mis-judging your leap), but the crowd roar settled that. All in all, the boys in white and camo scored nine runs in their last three turns at the plate en route to a comeback 9-3 victory.
These two games were emblematic of where the Mariners have been as well as where they could be. Comeback games have not treated this team kindly over the past few years:
|Year||Comeback W||Comeback L|
2014 notwithstanding, that's pretty bad! Sure, we've had some bad teams in that time frame, but those 2012 Mariners finished just 12 games under .500, and an impressively awful 16 games below .500 in comeback games. And lest you think this is solely dependent on a team's win-loss record, the '09 Mariners, the ones built on good defense and strong pitching - attributes that one might think would help in comebacks - finished just 36-41 in comeback games.
Things appear to be different this season. And let's look at the ultimate way to end a game, with walkoff hits. This statistic really hasn't favored the M's over the years.
|Year||Walkoff W||Walkoff L|
That's...impressively awful. When I started looking into the numbers, I really didn't expect to see such a bad record. Entering this season, the Mariners were 25-68 in games that ended with walkoffs. That's a .269 winning percentage, and prorated to a 162-game season, that comes to a putrid record of 44-118. Yikes.
So until this year, the Mariners have been really bad in close games and in walkoffs. But now that we have the Swelmet and we are Controlling the Zone, things are a little different. Sure, it's a small sample size. Sure, things can change in a hurry. And sure, yesterday's game was a come-down from the previous two games.
Yet I still believe that the M's have turned a corner in 2016.
With a new regime comes new messaging, new ways of analyzing the game, new ways to attempt to get the best out of twenty-five baseball players. We've seen that not just from the Control the Zone mantra that permeates the organization, but from other things as well.
If you get a team to believe in itself, to trust each other, you can instill that quality to never give up. They're starting to get me to buy in, so I can only imagine how the players - many of whom are new to the team or are at least less acclimated with the tortured recent past than I - react. It's likely easier to get them to ignore the "same old Mariners" epithet.
I'm not going to be in Seattle much longer this summer, but I know I'll go to at least one more game at Safeco before I head back east. Going to a game is a big investment, of money and time and emotions. With the Mariners of old, I'd be lying if I didn't say I'd mentally check out or not pay much attention to the game if we were losing by four runs in the 8th. It just made it easier for the eventual loss that so often seemed to follow.
But these aren't the same old Mariners. I believe in this group. And I believe they won't let me down.