For so many people, the Mariners’ divine first half brought a much-needed feeling of validation. Cheering for this moribund franchise for most of this decade was a confusing exercise. Knowing that the Mariners were weaker than almost all of their opponents, and continuing to watch, never made a whole lot of sense. The proverbial light at the end of the tunnel was always far off in the distance. Conversations of better days were often rooted in hypotheticals.
“Wait until these prospects come up”
“A couple trades could put us over the top”
“What if [insert infielder from 2011-2016] actually pans out?”
Dreaming of brighter days during those dark years, I felt like the Mariners’ eventual breakthrough would provide some completion. A fun, talented, inspiring squad would be the reward for each Blake Beavan start or Nick Franklin at-bat we all collectively endured. That would be the end of the despair; the final piece to an agonizingly incomplete puzzle.
The first half of 2018 looked like the season that would finally bring completion. Seeing a likable team, put together and managed by likable people, was the realization of a long-lasting goal. But when the team went 3-7 in the final 10 games before the All-Star break, that feeling of completion began to slip away. When they made Dylan Covey look like Roger Clemens on Saturday night, my fatalistic thoughts stormed back in like the Kool-Aid Man.
Of course, the next game is always a potential lighthouse to bring the ship back to safer ground. Having Marco Gonzales captain the ship is also encouraging. While today’s performance wasn’t perfect, it’s a step in the right direction toward completion. 20 games over .500 doesn’t fill the playoff-sized void yet, but it’s a damn good place to be.
If there are nits to pick with this game, they’re all with the non-Healy hitters. Five runs in the first inning is fantastic. Falling silent over the next six is less so. I’ll take Ryon Healy taters any day of the week, and twice on Sunday, but I’d also like the offense to sustain production over multiple innings. Entering today’s game, the Mariners had scored 64 runs in the first inning. Their second-most destructive inning is the seventh, where they’ve scored 54 times. Staking an early lead is great, it’s adding to it over the course of the game that makes a team (and it’s run differential, sorry) truly elite. If not for a Hector Santiago meatball, we’d be talking about an offense that again scuffled beyond the first inning.
Speaking of elite, I don’t know if Marco Gonzales is in that conversation yet, but it’s time to start asking questions. The lefty continues to pitch like one of the American League’s best, making expert use of all four of his pitches today to keep a young lineup off-balance. 5.2 innings of no-hit ball was a perfect remedy for uneasiness, and another huge step toward completion. Knowing now what Marco is capable of, and how long he’s under team control, feels super fulfilling. Getting that sort of player in a trade for one of Jack Z’s draft picks helps validate those years spent watching Zduriencik’s players fall flat.
Along with Marco, several other Jerry Dipoto acquisitions were on full display today. Jean Segura sparked the team’s early rally with a full-count single after spitting on a 2-2 fastball that was a mere eyelash off the plate.
Jean would trot home three batters later on a Kyle Seager RBI walk. Dipoto pickup Denard Span widened the lead on a sac fly, leaving two runners on and two outs for Ryon Healy. The same Ryon Healy, mind you, that walloped a three-run home run two weeks ago against the Rockies. It’s good to have a routine, you know? I think that’s especially true of three-run dingers on Sundays, courtesy of the man Jerry got for Emilio Pagán and Alexander Campos.
Trade validated. Healy’s 19th yard job of the season gave the M’s five runs in the first inning. A total they – frustratingly – wouldn’t add to against the motley crew of Reynaldo López, Luis Avilán, and Jeanmar Gómez. Again, that may be picking nits. A win is still a win. It doesn’t quite sate my appetite for a full-lineup field day, but a win nevertheless.
When the manager and general manager both receive contract extensions like Scott Servais and Jerry Dipoto recently did, it’s nice to seem validated for their effots. The Dipoto-assembled middle infield teamed up for a sparkling defensive play in the top of the sixth.
When Servais lifted Marco later that inning after Tim Anderson parked a homer on top of the hand-operated scoreboard, his managerial tactics were validated by shutdown relief pitching. James Pazos (pilfered in a Jerry trade with the Yankees) got Yoán Moncada on four pitches, and made way for three more pitchers Dipoto scooped up. Juan Nicasio vanquished his only hitter of the afternoon, and Alex Colomé did the same with his three assignments. Following Healy’s insurance-run bomb, Nick Vincent drew ninth inning duties and answered the call admirably. Today’s version of the Mariners pitching staff resembled a complete unit needed to stay atop the Wild Card standings.
Beating the lowly White Sox to clinch the series and secure a tidy 60-40 record is an excellent completion to the first 100 games. Rolling along at this pace brings the Mariners to about 97 wins for the season, which equates to a phenomenal year by any standard. We’re all looking for closure after being strung along for the past decade and change. Today was a micro-version of that. The Mariners closed out the White Sox, won the series, and did so by a margin indicative of their superiority. Beating trash teams like Chicago is nothing to write home about, but if you were to do so, you should devote a few words Jerry Dipoto and how his roster came together.
I call him Jerry “Maguire” Dipoto, because I think he’s the one to bring Mariner fans completion.