Tomorrow, the Seattle Mariners will tuck their sunscreen and walking sticks and pool floats back into their respective containers and return to playing baseball. They may go on a tear and force themselves into the post-season conversation; they may just as easily fall on their faces, Three-Stooges style. It’s hard to predict with this team, who seem to use their Pythagorean expectancy as a dunce cap as often as they use it as a megaphone. But, winning or losing or TOOTBLANing aside, the team has already offered us some indelible moments this season. Let’s count them down, Top-Ten Style.
10. Christopher Dominic Iannetta: The Special of the Day is Catcheriatore
Of all of Jerry’s pre-season acquisitions, there’s an argument to be made that Chris Iannetta was the best of them (and also an argument that Nathan is Very Smart). There’s not much that’s exciting about Chris Iannetta (unless you count his eyes, which are the color of a baby snow leopard’s playing in a mountain stream that’s never been seen by human eyes). He isn’t a great pitch framer, although he’s good at blocking pitches. His strikeout rate is slightly higher than MLB average, but so is his walk rate. He has not, as so many players seem to when donning the Northwest Green, fallen off a cliff. Mike Zunino’s brief, incendiary return to the team was fun, but Chris would remind you that he can also be fun: remember
Maybe Zunino comes back and lights the world on fire. But if that doesn’t happen, the team has a perfectly capable backstop, and that’s a sentence that still has the new car smell on it for Mariners fans.
9. The Bartender’s Back In Town
Guess who just got back today
Them wild-eyed boys who had been away
Haven’t changed that much to say
But man, I still think them cats are crazy
Wilhelmsen might pitch terribly this next half and I won’t care at all. I am incapable of being objective about him. He is funny, and humble, and honest, and true to himself, and he does really funny voices on the radio. Tom is the actual, living embodiment of #HaveABeer, and I’m so glad he’s back.
8. Diazzling Debut
When the team moved Edwin Díaz to a bullpen role and then fast-tracked him to the bigs, some questioned ransoming what was widely regarded as the best pitching prospect in the system in order to prop up a bullpen besieged by injuries and worn thin by starters who couldn’t go deep into games. Then Díaz made his debut, sending a charge into the crowd on a sleepy Monday night home loss to the Indians.
So far, the 22-year-old has given us glimpses of the dominant reliever he will eventually become, posting a 5.67 SO/W ratio and a nutso 17.32 K/9 in his first 17 innings. He still takes a while to settle in during each pitching performance—possibly he’s still adjusting his internal clock from that of a starter to a reliever—and the command can be spotty at times, but Díaz is the real deal. My mom doesn’t follow the team especially closely, but I have seen her stop in her tracks to watch when Díaz is on the mound. It turns out anyone with a telescope can see the birth of a star.
7. James Paxton: Not Dead Yet!
Yesterday, a Facebook friend of mine who is very into Clean Eating posted a picture of strips of yellow bell peppers captioned “my French Fries! :)))))”. At the start of the season, James Paxton was those bell pepper strips: a sad imitation of what should be. Then, through a process I can only assume has to do with dark magic or horcruxes or a portrait in some far-off attic, somehow James Paxton cast off his Dadgut shell and emerged a lean, mean, fire-breathing machine with a new arm slot. He still fields his position poorly; he still gives up a lot of hits; he is still an imperfect pitcher. But he has also, Lazarus-like, crawled out from the wreckage of his career. He has worn the Happy Swelmet. He almost had a Maddux. Keep it up, James, King of SKYPOINT.
6. Leonys Walks It Off, He Walks It Off
Center field has traditionally been a rough patch for the Mariners until Jerry addressed that this off-season by trading a Mystery Bag to the Rangers in exchange for Leonys Martín (update: the Mystery Bag contained James Jones). Leonys was meant to bring strong defense along with some offensive production. Fast forward to May 24th—a month that had been strong for the Mariners, but this night was roughhhhh. In his recap, Peter described Nate Karns as “sharp as a Goodwill knife covered in scotch tape,” which was devastatingly accurate. MiMo gave up an RBI double to Coco Crisp, a sentence that pains me to type, despite pitching 3.1 strong innings. In all ways, it looked like the Mariners were doomed to lose another game at home against the lowly Athletics. But Leonys had other ideas.
I was playing trivia at a bar when this happened and everyone stood up and screamed. It was amazing, illuminating, transcendent, and just a glimmer of things to come.
5. THE COMEBACK
As torrid as May was, June was a terrible month for the Mariners. But it could have been worse. In a game on June 2nd, the Mariners trailed the Padres 12-2 in the fifth, after an uninspiring performance from Wade Miley, but the Mariners would go on to plate NINE runs in the seventh to create the first ten-run comeback in MLB since 2009 and the largest comeback in franchise history. The comeback was largely spurred from the bottom part of the Mariners’ order, including local boy made good Shawn O’Malley, in something that felt like a Disney movie shimmied into reality. It was impossible and beautiful and it blew Kyle Seager’s mind into tiny bits and made him say words Grandma Seager would box his ears for:
What else is there to say about Dae-Ho? He has leg-kicked himself into every fan’s heart. He’s charming. He called Robinson Canó his best friend. He gives presents. He hits dingers, and singles, and doubles, and doesn’t let his size stop him from running hard. He has been the biggest, best surprise of the season and if you haven’t made it to Safeco yet to sing Daaaaeeee-Hooooo, make it happen.
ACKKK these line drawings by @hyorin_kawaii of Dae Ho Lee are the CUTEST THINGS pic.twitter.com/Doq6Rcfwxq— All-Star Break Kate (@1nceagain2zelda) May 2, 2016
3. Here’s To You, Mr. Robinson
When the Mariners signed Robinson Canó to a very long, very expensive contract, they didn’t just link together the franchise and the superstar; they also sentenced legions of fans to read endless, insufferable articles titled things like Ca-No More or RobinSonken Ship or Robinson Peter to Pay Paul. No one who isn’t Robinson Canó likes Robinson Canó’s contract. After a disappointing 2015 in which Canó competed at the highest level despite having God’s bratty younger sister playing Operation with his insides, Robi has rebounded in a big way this year to carry the team. His 149 wRC+ ties a career high. He has already been worth 3.7 WAR, vs 2.1 for last year. And he is having so much fun doing it:
It’s not just that he’s great, and we get to watch him be great; we get to watch him have fun with it, be generous with his greatness. Fans of other teams boo Canó because he is a superstar, but not their superstar, and they make up legions of reasons to justify this, while ignoring his production on the field and the stewardship he shows younger platers. Robi is ours, you can’t have him, etc.
2. Lind Walk-Off
“But Kate, why is the Lind home run walk-off higher than the Leonys walk-off? BECAUSE IT’S MY ARTICLE, OK? No, seriously, I’m ranking the Lind home run higher because: 1) the Cardinals are a better team; 2) this made the win feel more improbable; 3) said win put us back to .500 and snapped a six-game losing streak; 4) did any of you think we had any prayer to win this game when Lind stepped into the box? Because I will freely admit I didn’t. And then suddenly there he was, JJ the Jet Plane-ing around the bases before shooting his batting helmet into an invisible pull-up jumper that still somehow missed. Oh Adam. Please get better.
1. One Swelmet to Bind Them
Larry Anderson (@nVIDIASLirig) is the man behind the Swelmet. A fan of the Mariners and Star Wars and currently based in the Bay Area, Larry re-did a Darth Vader helmet as a way to connect with his hometown team when they came to visit the Coliseum on May 4th (be with you, and also with you). The players noticed his cool gear, brokered a trade, and history was made:
@MannyActa14 Thanks for sharing #Swelmet picture to all @Mariners fans, looking forward to see more after AS break! pic.twitter.com/ylLLF0qtkU— Larry Andersen (@nVIDIASLiRig) July 11, 2016
Although Swelmet was originally a portmanteau for “sweeping helmet,” now it is awarded after every victory as a kind of trophy for the player who has contributed the most in a game. Now it doesn’t feel like any win is complete without the Manny Acta Swelmet tweet. The Swelmet is my number one favorite thing about the season so far because it’s a clear, tangible link between the players and the fanbase; something that was made by hand, out of love and an expression of fandom, is now an integral part of team culture. That is really freaking cool. The Cubs might be historically great, but they don’t have a Swelmet. Here’s to many more Swelmet pics in the future.