"I’m wearing this for you," my coworker stopped to tell me Friday morning, apprehensively showing off his early 2000s Mariners jersey. It was the day the Mariners would start the critical series against the Angels for a playoff push that had been dormant for twenty some years. Explaining that he broke a promise he had made not to wear a Mariners jersey until they made the playoffs, he figured this was the closest thing to it. I had called on everyone Thursday evening to back the Ms during the weekend series and show their support. A great number rolled in the door the next morning with jerseys, shirts, and sweatshirts. If not Mariners-specific swag, there was a lot of teal, blue, yellow, and navy threads. The Astros shirt that snuck through the door was quickly rectified with the delivery of a dress code infraction notice drafted up by a colleague and a spare t-shirt. And yes, he did indeed change his shirt.
Come Monday morning though, I considered hiding under my desk. I felt partially responsible for the subsequent heartbreak that some opted to endure at my behest. The events that led to emotional instability across the northwest over the course of the weekend could be studied as a form of torture, aimed to drive one to the brink of insanity. Plotted on a graph over time, the mental expedition of spectators would look like a series of pulses on an abnormal EKG. Eventually the whole weekend flatlined when the Red Sox locked the second wild card spot on Sunday with just a few outs to go. All hope lost, Seager was pulled from his post at third in the top of the ninth for his farewell. The amount of tears wept on the field could have filled one of the Gatorade coolers in the dugout, and the amount being held back behind red and puffy eyes could have filled another. Although fans were already as dead inside as they could be, when Seager was presented with third base as a parting gift this salute to the long-time Mariner managed to yield another pang.
It could be said that it was over for the Mariners long before the ninth inning on Sunday. Ohtani’s sobering home run after just three pitches from Anderson to start the game was a bitter dose of reality. The starting rotation the Mariners had been struggling to keep consistent and healthy was an issue all season long. If they made it through the wild card, it was highly unlikely they could have gone toe-to-toe with another team. Starting pitching is invaluable in the postseason, and the Mariners had no solution to one of this season’s greatest liabilities. The fact that they handed the start to Anderson on Sunday bristled even the optimists. The Angels had his number only a week earlier when he let off nine runs over two innings. Up and down the batting order they clearly could still read him like a book during this second showing. To start Kukuchi would have been a gamble as well, and even a last minute call up from triple-A was considered in Matt Brash. At that point Seattle showed all their cards, or lack thereof, with starting pitching.
And maybe it was over before Sunday’s game started. We all knew it was a long shot. When the Mariners lost on Friday they surrendered so much of their control in the whole four-team circus. In the end, regardless of whether or not they absolutely destroyed the Angels on Sunday (like the Blue Jays did to the Orioles) - or got destroyed by them - it was irrelevant. Both Boston and New York won and thus ran away with the wild card spots.
As fans we could have remained indifferent to the whole situation, assuming the outcome would be no different than in the past. To protect our hearts from the highly probable downfall after the rush of excitement would be as simple as placing money on the don’t pass bar in craps, banking on misfortune instead of wishes to come true. Everybody scoffs at the person who makes that bet though. Because what fun is that? It’s much more thrilling to believe in the unlikely, the underrated, and the unusual. If that means cheering on an underdog Mariners club until the very end no matter how badly they botch their chance rather than refusing to support them for fear of being let down, then so be it. It may be some time before we recover from this season’s sudden fizzle after being drawn into a fire that was starting to burn bright. Good thing we have all winter. April will come around and our bruised hearts will be activated from the injured list, ready to take another beating. Our home team will feed us that hope again, and we will eat it right up just like we always have and always will. It may have been another "maybe next year" kind of year. However, that rote phrase can now be followed with "because this year was one hell of a surprise". Don’t go boxing up Mariners gear to bury away in a closet for another couple decades just yet - things sure are looking up.