I’ve recently begun volunteering as a teaching assistant for a science class at my old high school. Though most of the kids that I work with are (for lack of a better word) tiny, they are surprisingly sharp for 15-and-16-year-olds. They may be a little underdeveloped when it comes to having a coherent worldview (I remember thinking as a freshman that I was the world’s first nihilist), but they are starting to resemble actual human beings.
Tonight, while watching this game, a thought struck me. Not a single one of those near-adults has taken a breath since the Mariners last made the playoffs. They have collectively accumulated an overwhelming amount of memories and experiences, and not a single one has occurred since 2001. That realization makes the overwhelming collective rage and pessimism of the fan-base a bit more understandable. Many of the readers and commenters here are willing to be patient and give this team the benefit of the doubt. That attitude is not indicative nor representative of that of the wider fan-base.
When George Springer took the first pitch of this game and deposited it over the left-center field fence, that fan-base collectively took a deep breath. “Here we go,” we thought. Though just one pitch isn’t enough to determine the game, it was all too easy to let that reinforce all of the negative expectations and associations this season has furthered. Sure, Ariel Miranda settled down after that. He even retired the next seven Astros in a row. And then he gave up another run in the third. I can’t speak for everyone, but a lot of us must have had the same thought: “Of course.”
Even when the Mariners finally started something in the third, it felt ill-fated. Jarrod Dyson almost had his head taken off running to first after hitting a nubber to Joe Musgrove.
Mitch Haniger followed that up with a rocket off the left field wall, but we’ll be darned if Dyson didn’t nearly injure his head after losing his helmet two plays in a row.
Robinson Cano managed to knock in Mitch, and the Mariners were tied back up. Ariel Miranda was dealing, and things looked up. It wasn’t hard to see things going right. This team is still talented. It still feels like they could score in any given inning (those including Danny Valencia notwithstanding). Two innings later, the first of three Taylor Motter doubles led to another run, and the Mariners were up 3-2.
It didn’t last long. Miranda easily retired Carlos Correa and Carlos Beltran in the top of the sixth, requiring just four pitches. At that moment, I remember thinking that he had a legitimate shot to go eight innings deep. He was at around 70 pitches at that point, and looked great. He immediately lost any semblance of command. 15 pitches and two walks later, James Pazos was in the game.
If you knew that James Pazos would induce a ground ball that barely even made it back to the mound, you’d probably be stoked to go to the bottom of the sixth inning up a run. After a chopper that went about 30 feet in the air, the bases were loaded. If you knew that Pazos would then jam Evan Gattis and force a weak flare to right field, you’d probably run to the bathroom so you’d be back in time to watch Nelson Cruz lead off the bottom of the inning. After said flare, this happened.
I know I blamed Haniger for this in the chart. It was a play that he had to make, and it ended up costing the team the game. That being said, it’s hard for me to call this anything other than unlucky. Pazos ended up being charged with -0.55 WPA, and why? Because he induced a weak ground ball and a flare to right field. In that moment, we were all Ariel Miranda.
And yet, as much as I’d like to blame luck for this loss, we have the bottom of the sixth inning standing in stark contrast. Nelson Cruz led off the frame with a line drive single to center, and Kyle Seager followed that up with a laser beam off of the right field wall. Kyle then got himself thrown out after not even making it halfway to second base on the play. It’s plays like these that make it seem like this team feels the pressure to win. The pressure that comes from a fan-base that is fed up. I’m not blaming the fans for mistakes like this, but it seemed like Kyle was pressing. He wanted so badly to make a play that he briefly lost his freaking mind. If this team is going to turn things around, it’s going to have to start with the things they can control. Like this.
Nick Vincent and Casey Fien made it through the seventh and eighth innings unscathed. Unfortunately, Danny Valencia had to bat during at least one of those innings (it ended up being the eighth), so that was one guaranteed doughnut. The Mariners threatened during the seventh, but ultimately couldn’t do much aside from the second Taylor Motter double.
Lest anybody was tempted to give up, the ninth inning happened. The third Taylor Motter double, coupled with walks from Mike Freeman and Mitch Haniger, brought Robinson Cano to the plate as the tying run with just one out.
The game lasted another five minutes, maybe. You know what happened. Cano grounded into a fielder’s choice. Nelson Cruz ended the game on a flyout. The Mariners didn’t win. And it played into the defeatist mindset that seems so ubiquitous in this particular fandom.
The team is 2-7. Fangraphs has their playoff odds at 16.9%. No, it’s not a lot. It’s all too easy (and tempting) to mail it in and call it good. But you know what? That’s anybody’s choice. The team isn’t making anybody do that. The ninth inning didn’t end like we wanted it to, but it didn’t let us give up until the end. It was fun, dang it. If this season is destined to stop being fun, it doesn’t have to happen for a long time.