Some days, for whatever reason, you wake up feeling lethargic. You restrained yourself to one drink, you turned off the screens an hour before bed, and you even drank some tea to wind down. You don’t remember having a particularly hard time sleeping, and yet, you wake up at 8:30 in the morning feeling like you got maybe 30 total minutes of rest. Sometimes it just happens.
I think that that was probably the Mariners today. They groggily stumbled into the stadium, still picking the sand out of the corners of their eyes. They sipped coffee before getting dressed, played loud music in an effort to get stimulated, and jogged a bit to get the blood flowing.
And then they saw the lineup. The lineup that included Andrew Romine, Gordon Beckham, and David Freitas. With Wade LeBlanc starting. Don’t get me wrong, each of those players has done their part to contribute to winning games this year. At this point, though, we’re a bit spoiled. Seeing Gordon Beckham instead of Robinson Canó, or David Freitas in place of Mike Zunino isn’t the most hope-inducing thing for fans, and it felt like the players were leaning in to some self-fulfilling defeatist vibes.
It was just one of those games. Francisco Liriano hasn’t been good since 2015, but the Mariners made him look like a superstar today. It’s equal parts exhilarating and frustrating to watch a team that can shell Carlos Carrasco one night and almost get no-hit by Francisco Liriano another. But here we are. The Mariners struggled to make much decent contact off of Liriano. They were visibly frustrated by the sixth inning, swinging early in the count and only making it harder on themselves.
Finally, in the seventh inning, Mitch Haniger broke through.
With Robinson Canó out, Mitch has been his replacement in the three-hole in the lineup. And while he hasn’t exactly cooled off from his torrid April, he’s had a hard time hitting for much power. Nearly all of his hits this month have been singles. It was nice that he got this one, but it was never going to be enough. The Mariners would need more.
Finally, in the ninth inning, more came. Jean Segura managed to reach on a single and an error, bringing Mitch up one more time. Ryon Healy was in the on-deck circle, and even though I love Ryon Healy, it felt like this was it. Mitch had to do something to break out of his mini-slump. It’s only May, but it’s truly started to feel like every game viscerally matters. It was now or never.
The whole stadium knew where that was going the second it came off the bat. Including Jean Segura.
I’d like to say that it felt like the Mariners couldn’t lose at that point, but that would be patently untrue. The bullpen has been anything but relaible. Edwin Díaz pitched a strong tenth inning, but when the Mariners couldn’t capitalize in the bottom of the frame and we saw Nick Vincent coming in for the eleventh, I think most of us were pretty frightened. Vincent came through when the Mariners needed him, pitching a lights-out, two-strikeout inning.
Which brought up Dee Gordon. A Dee Gordon that had, as the announcers reminded viewers, a sore foot that he’d been favoring for a couple of days. Dee poked the first pitch into right field and immediately stole second, easing himself up slowly. He was clearly playing through a little pain, and even if someone could single, would he be able to beat the throw home?
Jean Segura didn’t even make it a question.
Can you tell how badly he wanted this one?
If the Mariners are going to stay in the playoff race without Canó, it will have to be on the backs of Mitch Haniger and Jean Segura. Though each has exceeded expectations, each has also looked fallible at times this season. Mitch looks like an All-Star, and Jean is playing angry. A dismissal of the team with Canó gone means a dismissal of Segura. Segura isn’t letting himself be dismissed.
As dark and grim as things looked after Thursday’s game, they look just as rosy now. The Angels look decidedly average, and the next-best team in the AL is Oakland, whose success probably isn’t sustainable. The Mariners’ hold on the playoff spot might not be iron, but it’s concrete for now. And even though Canó couldn’t play in the playoffs if they made it, the playoffs are a notorious crapshoot.
Sundays are for letting yourself believe.