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Mariners break hearts, cede ground

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losing ground in the wild card race and the race for seattle sports fans attention

MLB: Arizona Diamondbacks at Seattle Mariners Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

With seemingly everything on the line, with the ever-present threat of the city’s perennially-winning football team overshadowing this scrappy little club looming large, and with a heavy advantage on their side, the Mariners found a way to lose.

There’s still time to be wrong—this team has been declared dead more times than it’s been called alive—but the feeling that this game’s slow, painful unraveling spelled a death rattle is hard to shake.

Between a short, iffy outing from Yusei, a scuffling offense, and a middle relief implosion, everyone on the team contributed to this rubber match tire-fire. Call it dysynergy if you like, the inverse of the fun differential alchemy that has kept this team in contention for as long as it has been.

Despite roughing up Tyler Gilbert’s pitch count early and keeping his outing down to 5.1 IP, the M’s were only able to tag him for two hits, both solo homers that defied fans to ask for less run:hit ratio efficiency and more hits, period. Admittedly, Ketel Marte was fed a diet of scorching line drives and nigh-on bloop hits that he gobbled up repeatedly to hold that hit total down. Where I’m from, though, we call those “excuses”.

Kikuchi was pulled from the game similarly early, giving up one run fewer than the D-Backs’ rookie, but his outing was fraught with traffic, wildly variable velocity, and a haphazard approach that inspired no confidence for fans or Scott Servais.

It was Anthony Misiewicz, however, whose performance turned the tides in Arizona’s favor, as he came out of the bullpen allowing four consecutive rockets around the field (the first three on three straight pitches) and three runs. Puzzlingly, as Kikuchi endured pitching from the stretch in the fifth, both Misiewicz and Sadler, the latter of whom would eventually come in to clean up after the former, had been warming in the bullpen.

The easy route in any baseball discussion is to question the manager’s decision. Why, if Sadler was warm, would Tony Sandwiches enter a tie game in the sixth to face just one lefty? It’s an understandable frustration, though his (now much higher) second-half 2.65 ERA and 2.34 FIP suggest that his performance was by no means one that Servais anticipated.

My own frustrations stem from the Mariners’ inability to put up more than two runs for 8.1 innings against a terrible team with an even worse bullpen, and it’s perhaps useful to remember that the game’s deciding run, a solo blast from Ketel Marte, came off Erik Swanson. All that is to say this was decidedly a team effort of a loss: one that cannot be pinned solely on Kikuchi, Misiewicz, Swanson, Servais, or any of the six batters who didn’t reach base even once.

I haven’t, personally, decided if this is my own nail in the proverbial hope-coffin, especially given that the M’s playoff odds peaked yesterday prior to the game. If it was yours, more power to you. If you scoff at the resigned tone of this recap and believe in your heart that a win streak is imminent, you have my whole heart.

What this served as, indisputably, was an embarrassing waste of a chance gifted by MLB’s scheduling officials to at the very least hold steady in the Wild Card chase. Anyone who tells you the Mariners never had a legitimate opportunity to make the playoffs this season is lying through their teeth. The issue is they may have just blown it.

All the while, as this game unfolded, “Mad” Max Scherzer flirted with a perfecto (final line: 8.1 IP, 1 H, 0 BB, 9 K), hurling an immaculate inning and picking up his 3,000th strikeout on the way. In reflecting on the past nine years, through all of which King Félix has remained the face of perfect games, it became apparent that it’s gripped so tightly by Mariners fans (myself included) because it’s the one thing in (now semi-) recent history we have to hold at all.

Had Scherzer taken the torch, I couldn’t have been justifiably upset. Any anger on that front belongs directed squarely at the Mariners, who have given fans nothing else to cling to in a decade, not to mention the decade prior. Like this loss, like a perfect game, like all hopes dashed or fulfilled, it takes a whole team.

If this was the final nail, you won’t know it for a while: enjoy these last vestiges of summer as fall comes on with a bluster. Turn your eyes to the gridiron if you must. Baseball is, as Angelo Giamatti put it, designed to break your heart. Let it.