There was a period of time on April 14th when the captain of the RMS Titanic could have slowed the ship, turned the wheel and averted disaster. A period of time before that, too, when the notorious iceberg wasn’t fully formed and floating, when it wasn’t clear how solid it was under the water, how big and how deep; a time when the collision was plausibly deniable. We’re past that now.
There was a time when the ship had splintered, rescue crews out, passengers clinging to wreckage, the iceberg victorious and standing taller than the erstwhile ship. That time is yet to come.
Where we are today is the between time, when the mighty ship’s course is decided, the catastrophic next chapter foretold. Where the power below the surface has become clear and clear exactly what that power portends. The Great Ship Houston is headed for disaster, and the Seattle Mariners are that disaster.
In reality, of course, the moment when you know a tragedy is coming and you can’t stop it is the stuff of nightmares, horror movies, and panic attacks. But speaking to you now, from the metaphorical iceberg, I tell you: this is a time to savor.
When I say it all went right, I know that lurking underneath that phrase is the painful awareness that the Big Thing has not yet gone right. What went right in this 2023 season, however, is everything else, and that everything else is a clue to what’s below the surface, a clue that the Big Thing is next.
Sure, it sucks to lose in game 4 of the ALCS. I mean, it really sucks, especially when all four games felt winnable, and surely would have been if Julio Rodríguez didn’t have a freaking jammed finger. But y’all, we beat Houston last week. Not by chance or by a hair, but in four games, decisively, and the tide has turned.
Our season may be over today, as Bichette and Gausman’s Blue Jays go on to face Soto’s Padres next week. I suppose, then, that it did not all go right, but given what we have to look forward to next year, and looking back on the ride this season has been, it also kind of all did.
Regardless of our standing in relation to other teams, two things had to go right this year for it to be a success: Julio playing most of the season and multiple starting pitchers showing both health and dominance. We knew we couldn’t beat our uncanny 2022 pitcher health, but boy, it turns out you can afford for Logan Gilbert to miss two months when you’ve got pocket aces in Castillo and Kirby as well as a bounceback year for Ray. The WBC taught us not to count our player health chickens before they’re well and fully hatched, so it’s a relief to have arrived at today and be able to say: Julio, 148 games. Castillo, Kirby, Ray and Muñoz all unscathed and all likely to get Cy Young votes.
It’s what didn’t have to go right, though, what we didn’t think would go right, weren’t tracking, weren’t looking for, that made the season not just a success but a joy. Remember back to March, when hopes were so high, but anxiety was higher? When general consensus was that the M’s hadn’t done enough in the offseason, especially offensively, especially at 2B, and PECOTA projected them for just 82 wins? We rightly thought that was low, but the suggestion stoked some fears. What if the Moore/Wong platoon falls through? What’s our backup plan? What if Kelenic’s spring was just a tease? What if we see Keon Wong or Tommy La Stella play more than just a novelty game or two? We M’s fans are practiced at turning novelty into fandom, but after last year we were ready not to have to.
Thank god we needn’t have worried, about any of those things. The novelty sightings were fun, and we got to enjoy them as such. Best of all, it turned out okay that Jerry held back in the offseason, given what was on the table come July. But I get ahead of myself.
It’s easy in hindsight to forget how big a deal it was that the story of the first half of the season was Jarred Kelenic. In April, the question was “Is this real?” (yes). In May, “Have big league pitchers figured him out?” (for now). In June, “Could he…really hit 30 home runs by the time this is over?” (alas, three shy). Finally, the discourse didn’t have to pit Julio and Jarred’s successes against one another as week after week they were both the story, in a good way. With all eyes on those two, we at LL tried to ensure that appropriate credit got paid to the supporting cast: John wrote about Kolten Wong’s defensive value in the absence of the shift, Bee praised the veteran leadership in the clubhouse during the unfortunate week in late May when Servais, Acta, and Perry Hill were all out with COVID, Kate analyzed Cal Raleigh’s swing adjustments as he pulled himself out of a mighty early-season slump, and Nick chronicled Bryce Miller’s meteoric rise as he perfected the slider that would pay such dividends come the trade deadline.
Despite these individual successes, the Mariners still found themselves in third place in the division come the All Star Break, two games back of Texas and six behind Houston. I’d like to say it was a comfort that this was due to their strengths and not our weaknesses… but it wasn’t. Luckily, the break served as a reset for the team and a baseball party for the rest of us! Somehow with everything that’s happened since, I had literally forgotten when I sat down to write this that Julio won the Home Run Derby. Wild.
I know the week after the break was rough; certainly that was the low point of the season for the team, with Gilbert’s injury and the bats slow to rewarm. But then things started to click: Suárez kicked off his 13-game hit streak with the grand slam against the Twins, Ray spun his gem of a 2-hitter against the Blue Jays, and then Jerry pulled off the trade that seemed to come out of nowhere. Who would have thought back in March that Bryce Miller and Matt Brash could centerpiece a trade to bring Jazz Chisholm to Seattle? But here we are, with Miami trying to make Brash into a starter again, Miller skyrocketing in value when his slider started to really dazzle in early summer, and Chisholm’s first half slump lowering his value just enough to come within reach. Finally, we finish a season not needing to make a big move in the offseason, with every position feeling solid as, well, a big block of ice.
August was full of high highs, from Castillo’s dominance on Felix day, to Texas falling apart at the seams when three members of their starting rotation went down in a week, to Cade Marlowe’s walk off against the Astros (and this piece getting 70 comments nine months after it was published).
And then the playoffs, almost like a 2022 redux: clinching Wild Card #3 a week before the season ended, beating the Yankees in two in New York, facing the Astros in the ALDS and bringing the playoffs back to Seattle. And yet this time, somehow, we won. If the Astros didn’t despise Julio and fear George Kirby before now, well, they certainly do now. I’ll never forget the celebration on the field after game four. To see that ebullience, that triumph, that unadulterated joy in our city, in our house, that is the high we started chasing a year ago when Cal clinched it, and which we will keep chasing, maybe forever.
Sure, the chase goes on. But this time, instead of a ship of impenetrable steel blocking the way, it’s clear waters ahead. The Astros may have won the West this year, but when you beat the reigning champ in a duel, you’re the new champ. After this year, we no longer need to say that our time is coming. Our time has come.