One of the biggest struggles in baseball, for players, coaches, and fans alike, is avoiding the demoralizing lows that are inevitable in a 162-game season. Three or four-game losing streaks are part of the job. Even the best teams ever assembled get swept, or endure stretches of bad, uninspiring baseball. It’s just, when that team is the one you love, and it has a crushing history of failure, a month as terrible as the Mariners’ July can really sink you back to the odd comfort of misfortune.
After the utterly disappointing Blue Jays “home series”, I went on a self-imposed Mariner break. Knowing how the team made me feel over those four days, in addition their crummy play all of July, I thought it would be healthy to step away for a while. I watched zero innings of the Ranger series, chose to ignore the Thursday night fixture against the Astros, then sought refuge in Everett on Friday to watch some incredibly low-stakes baseball. Upon entering Park Pub in Saturday for a delightful LL watch party, I was treated to my first live Mariner broadcast since Marco Estrada’s near no-hitter on August 4.
Had the M’s dropped the first two or three games at Minute Maid, I likely would have continued casting a blind eye toward the only group of 25 strangers that possess the ability to control my emotions like the Mariners. But after crawling out of bed mere minutes before the first pitch on Sunday morning, three wins already in tow, I decided that would be the day to fire up the ol’ Reddit stream and welcome the team into my living room once again.
And boy was that a good decision.
I have a weird superstition when it comes to watching the Mariners. If I start watching from the very beginning, and the Mariners take the lead, I generally try my absolute hardest to continue watching the entire game. Too many times I’ve seen Seattle go ahead by four or five runs, leave the house, then come home later to find an L in the results column.
If I’m not able to watch, I’ll check the score around what I imagine to be the middle of the game. Should the Mariners be winning, I like to stay away. Better not to mess with the ju ju. If, let’s say, I leave work and see that the Mariners are losing in the fifth inning, my stupid, naive brain tells me to get in front of a television screen as soon as possible. For some unknown reason I truly believe that my eyeballs on their game will reverse the Mariners’ fortune and will them to victory.
Does it work? Sometimes. Does it make any sense at all? Not even a little bit.
The reason I tell you this is because on Sunday afternoon I had plans to meet up with a friend. She told me about an appointment she had which was scheduled to end around 2:00 p.m. Fantastic, I thought, this should give me enough time to catch the Mariners game. When they went up 1-0 in the second inning, not only did my return to viewership feel slightly validated, it also made the timing of our social interaction a bit dodgy, due to my insane desire to see every pitch if the Mariners so much as grab a half-run advantage.
At 1:02 p.m., with the Astros still scoreless, my friend texted me the following nine words:
We finished early! Can we pick you up now?
Oh no, my hopelessly superstitious brain thought. I can’t leave now, what if the Mariners sense the absence of their 26th-man and blow it? Unsure of how to explain this to a rational human being, I nervously left my apartment a few seconds after James Pazos completed a 1-3 putout to end the seventh inning.
Mariners: 1, Astros: 0, Matthew’s anxiety: 47 trillion.
Leaving when I did was made worse by the looming specter of Félix Hernández’s first big-league relief appearance. The thought of missing that, coupled with, sure enough, the Mariners falling behind when I stopped watching, made for a peculiar Sunday afternoon.
But then, as I would find out via a peeking-through-fingers box score check, the Mariners came back. They scored in the late innings like the Mariners of early 2018 used to. It was hard to see at certain points, and even tougher to believe, but these are the same dudes who rattled off eight straight wins to go 24 games above .500 just over a month ago.
Fighting back on Sunday to secure a sweep of the Astros was both refreshing and a necessary reminder of many things. It reminded me why I sorta kinda think they can hang with Houston. It reminded me that baseball can be fun, especially when played at a high level by a fun-loving group of sportsmen. But most importantly, it reminded me why I trust the Mariners enough to invest my daily happiness in them, why they force me into ridiculous habits, and why I choose to live and die with the outcome of grown man stick ball.