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Hopes smote: Mariners end season with a whimper, then sobs

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Mariners cannot come back from the dead one last time no matter how hard we clap

Los Angeles Angels v Seattle Mariners Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

This team has been declared dead many times—by me, in fact, in multiple recaps after playoff chance-destroying series—and every time they have come back, rising from the ashes, making me think of the lyrics to one of my favorite John Darnielle songs, “Going to Marrakesh”:

The fog is lifting from the water
The bells are sounding on the boats
And our love is a monster, plain and simple
Though you weigh it down with stones to try to drown it
It floats
It floats

Today the Mariners did not float. Instead it was the Angels rising up with their lineup of patched-together Triple-A players stitched carelessly onto the generational talent of Ohtani, and the pitching staff, the thing that has so often been the saving grace of these 2021 Mariners, the thing that ultimately sunk the team today.

Tyler Anderson got the start for the Mariners in their biggest game in the past 20-plus years and, well, it didn’t go great. If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results, then there is no way to describe the choice to pitch Anderson against the team that blew his doors off just a week ago—on short rest, even—as anything other than certifiable. It’s a tough position, though; Kikuchi obviously has been a disaster, and the Mariners pitching depth took such a hit early on that not only were Plans A and B off the table, Plans C-Q had been run through as well.

But that didn’t make it any easier to watch Anderson struggle against the Angels, who again attacked him early in counts—leadoff batter Shohei Ohtani (grr) crushed his 46th home run of the year on the third pitch of the game, two-hole hitter Phil Gosselin (cursed phrase) ambushed a first-pitch fastball for a single, and then Anderson allowed him to get to third on a boneheaded pickoff error that would somehow not be the Mariners’ only costly pickoff error on the day. Just a sloppy showing all around. I didn’t take great notes and honestly the first two innings just passed in a haze of pain until suddenly Yohan Ramírez was in trying to get the final out of the second inning with the Angels up 4-0.

But! After blowing a two-on, one-out opportunity in the first against rookie Reid Detmers, the Mariners clawed back some in the second on a Luis Torrens leadoff double with Jarred Kelenic knocking him in. That story again: Jarred Kelenic handled a plus curveball from a lefty and drove in a run. It just cannot be emphasized enough how much he has improved lately, and how quickly. I’m sad about lots of things today, but a huge one is not getting to see any more Jarred Kelenic at-bats this season.

Detmers had struck out J.P. Crawford in the first, utterly undressing him on four pitches, but J.P. came up ready to make an adjustment, and he did.

At that point, things started feeling possible again. Detmers was lifted for Oliver Ortega, a Triple-A arm with big stuff but poor command, and Yohan Ramírez managed a scoreless inning. The flutterings of hope started up again, tiny little butterflies with blue and gold wings.

The day of reckoning is coming
Faster than anyone here realizes
And our love is like Jesus but worse
Though you seal the cave up where you’ve lain its body
It rises
It rises

With both teams in their bullpens, all Anthony Misiewicz had to do was maintain the two-run gap and let his offense catch up. He failed to do so. Despite being gifted a called strikeout against Ohtani on a pitch well off the plate for the second out of the inning, Misiewicz grooved a curveball middle-middle to Jared Walsh, one of three batters in this lineup who will destroy such a pitch, who hit it out for a two-run home run. Suddenly the deficit was 6-2 and feeling insurmountable. The tiny butterflies of hope began to droop.

But again! Joe Maddon went to his bullpen for yet another lefty to face Jarred Kelenic, who rewarded him by hitting an infield single. Dylan Moore decided it was time to do something for once this series and doubled down the line to put runners at second and third with just one out. Maybe this would be it? An infield single felt properly chaotic.

I keep waiting for our love to die
The machines by its bed
Dim and flicker but it won’t stay dead
And it perks up when the nurses bring its medication by

J.P. strikeout. Ty France flyout. Inning over. Hopes crushed.

The game continued on in that manner; the Angels would get another run after David Fletcher’s second lucky hit of the day, a “triple” that fell into no-man’s land scoring Juan Lagares, who had advanced to second on the Mariners’ second pickoff error of the day, this time by Erik Swanson. The Mariners needed to play their best and crispest ball, and instead the pitching staff threw away pickoffs and walked seven batters (even while striking out 11!), and the offense failed again and again to get anything going against the Angels’ parade of Triple-A arms, until Raisel Iglesias came out to shut them down in the 9th.

Not that it would have mattered, anyway: the Yankees and Red Sox both won, eliminating the Mariners from contention before this game was even over. At that point Scott Servais opted to lift Kyle Seager from the game, for an on-field tribute that couldn’t help but call to mind another third baseman’s farewell when Adrián Beltré, the one-time Mariner now a Ranger, was removed from the final game in 2018. There was a swell of emotion that day that ran through the park for a player who wasn’t even a Mariner anymore; today, I’m surprised T-Mobile isn’t flooded in tears. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house, and that goes for on the field, as well.

It’s hard to feel good after a loss like today’s, the disappointment of coming so close and then falling short. It’s hard to remember the Mariners weren’t projected to be anywhere near sniffing the rarefied air of the post-season; that should have been the Angels, with their trio of worldbeaters in Ohtani-Trout-Rendon. Instead it was the Mariners, the scrappy band of misfits, giving this fanbase hope again and again, peeling themselves up off the operating table over and over again.

And honestly, it is just and right for it to feel bad, for things to hurt right now. It’s good to feel sad, because that means it meant something. Something was lost today, other than the normal slow plodding towards an inevitable end that we’ve endured over past seasons; a thing has to exist before it can be crushed, and for Mariners fans, that thing today was hope. The thinnest of hopes, spindly and white from lack of sunlight, springing up unexpectedly like a wildflower finding a crack of sidewalk, but a hope that hasn’t existed in previous seasons. And Mariners fans proved all too ready and willing to be up for the task of caring for and nurturing this tiny seedling, prepared to pack the park to the rafters on a moment’s notice, to take this small wild hope and run with it.

The end of baseball season always brings endings, and today we mourned not just the end of the Mariners’ season but also likely the end of Kyle Seager’s tenure as a Mariner. But it brings beginnings, too. A Gold Glove shortstop who lives on base who has blossomed from a might-bust prospect into someone who is prepared to take up the mantle of team leader. A trio of misfit, castoff relievers in Steckenrider, Sewald, and Sadler, breathing new life into their careers and leading one of the top bullpen units in baseball. A rookie outfielder who went from being mired in a historically bad stretch to begin his MLB career to being a team leader offensively during the most important games of the season. These were all things the 2021 Mariners brought us. A group of pitchers rising through the system and the top outfield prospect in baseball await us in 2022, along with untold surprises in the off-season. These Mariners have not yet begun to rise.