Two months ago feels so long ago. It still wasn’t very warm out. School was still in session in some districts. The world was two more months away from inevitably ending than it is now. And it seemed like the Mariners couldn’t lose.
On June 15th, the Mariners hosted the Boston Red Sox. They quickly went up 3-0, and then a few errors sent them tumbling to a 6-3 deficit. But these were the Mariners that, even if they didn’t win every game, made it seem like they had a chance to win every game. The offense ignited, again. Denard Span hit a double that got a reinvigorated Safeco Field on its feet, and the Mariners won again.
I remember how joyful I was to have the privilege to write about that game. I remember having a conversation with some family the next day, family that didn’t know much about baseball.
“How about those Mariners?” They said. Even they’d heard about this season, and even they cared. It’s like they’d just been waiting to care.
“I know,” I replied enthusiastically. “It’s amazing.”
“Is this normal? It seems like they’re winning so much. Do they usually win this often?”
“Well,” I said, my grin fading a little. “No. But they are now.”
What could go right, did go right. All those one-run wins. The offense, consistently roaring to life in the clutch. The pitching, somehow mostly pitching like aces. The Mariners had a 7-game lead on the Angels for the Wild Card spot. An 11-game lead on Oakland.
And now, two months later, it all seems like a poorly written episode of The Twilight Zone or something, where everything that happens for two months happens exactly the same way, but in reverse. A bevy of one-run losses. A pitching staff that seems to fade at all of the worst possible times. And an offense that couldn’t seem to find itself if it were standing in front of a giant wall mirror. And during it all, the A’s have been able to do no wrong.
As painful as the team’s recent skid has been, it’s been reasonably easy to rationalize. With Robinson Canó’s impending return, and three whole remaining series against the A’s, the team had both a clear improvement on the way and a chance to make up their deficit. And in those first two games against Oakland, they had Marco Gonzales and James Paxton starting. You couldn’t ask for better.
You saw what happened yesterday. What happened today was like having your fingernails pulled out.
Seeing James Paxton give up a lead-off home run to Marcus Semien, while not ideal, was fine. Seeing Jed Lowrie nearly kill Paxton with a line drive up the middle was not fine. Seeing Paxton immediately come out of the game was not fine. Fortunately, Félix Hernández was ready to come in, and fortunately, he pitched as well as you could’ve asked.
But I couldn’t help but think back to last year, when the Mariners had a series against the Angels that essentially knocked them out, and James Paxton got injured. It would be so cosmically lazy to have the exact same narrative play out. And yet.
The offense couldn’t do anything. Félix would give up one dinger, and it would prove fatal. Even when Fernando Rodney came in, and the team had a chance, it seemed like it gave it away almost willingly.
Dee Gordon worked a great at-bat, hit a single, and promptly got thrown out stealing. With nobody out. And the top three of the Mariners order coming up. Maybe, process-wise, it was a decent call. In my opinion, it wasn’t. The Mariners gave away their base-runner, they were summarily retired, and they lost the game.
Now they’re 3.5 games behind the Athletics. It’s not insurmountable, but it feels really bad. Baseball, this thing that has brought us so much joy, is a source of strife, dissatisfaction, and sadness. Maybe all of this sadness will make it that much sweeter whenever the Mariners finally win. But it’s times like these that I catch myself wondering if that will ever really happen.
I love this team so much, all of these guys, so much. I love Safeco Field, and I love just watching or listening. I love having conversations about this team, and I love it when other people get excited about the Mariners. When people actually care about the Mariners. I love just imagining it.
Really, I just love baseball so much. I just wish, for once, I could pretend that it loved me back.