For the Seattle Mariners, every team in the American League West bears at least a few, if not plentiful, reasons for fans of the Pacific Northwest team to have bitter feelings towards, if not outright vitriol. Look no further than the Houston Astros, defending World Series champions, known cheaters with a chip on their shoulder about it, and annoyingly able to pull talented hitters seemingly out of thin air. There of course are the Oakland Athletics, toothless now, but with a long history of spoiling potential Mariners runs, and a kind of annoying inverse that has given the Mariners a look over the years of what a team not quite given the budget of other markets can do to grind their way to success with competent leadership. They won the World Series last in 1989.
The Rangers have not only seen investment from their ownership in amounts Seattle fans could only dream of, and they may not have a World Series win yet, but they did make back-to-back appearances as recent as 2010 and 2011. Petty? Perhaps. But rivalries are borne of raw, guttural emotion more than they are of logic. Last, we have The Supposedly In Los Angeles But Actually In Anaheim California Angels. The Mariners and Angels have never faced each other in the playoffs, but they have often found themselves in similar situations when vying for them. Arguably two of each franchise’s most successful teams came in back to back seasons. For Seattle, it was the record-tying 116 win 2001 squad, for the Angels it was the 2002 World Series winners the year after. Since then, their competition has extended on, and off, the field. I speak of course of the arrival of one Shohei Ohtani to the Major Leagues, and possibly the largest looming reason to dislike the Angels.
Just look at that photo above. That is the possibly, nay, likely, the greatest player to ever play the game. Someone that talented, that dedicated, does not deserve to be put in that position. Full stop. But for Mariners fans, it runs deeper. It is multi-faceted. We hate the Angels because of Ohtani, not because we hate Ohtani, but because we envy, empathize, and love the sport to our core. Why else would Mariners fans stick around, and remain this loyal, with so few reasons to cheer for most of their history? Mariners fans love baseball, and Ohtani is one of the best things to happen to the sport.
We envy because when he came to Major League Baseball, the Mariners were a known finalist. More than that, we were led to believe it was a done deal. The fact that the rug was not only pulled out from under us, but by a division foe, was a twisted dagger. But we also empathize. We have gone on to see that organization fail to build around him much as we witnessed a team that failed to coalesce around Félix Hernández. More than anything though, again, Mariners fans love baseball. The baseball world at large mourns Ohtani playing for the Angels. It even birthed perhaps the greatest baseball meme of all time, the Tungsten Arm O’Doyle tweet. In short, it’s the phenomena where the contrast between Ohtani’s play and the rest of the team is separated by such a gulf that we will often cite some way that Ohtani has somehow managed to make history and defy the previously known limits of the sport, coupled with an Angels loss.
What does this have to do with last night, or even the Mariners season? By all accounts, this season is leaning more and more likely to be Ohtani’s last on the Angels. That would mean the last chance for them to utilize two generational talents, arguably two of if not the best to ever play the game, to make an impact in the division and break into the postseason. The same year the Mariners are coming off of breaking their seemingly-eternal playoff drought, hoping to repeat and exceed that campaign. The Rangers who started red hot, have since begun to fall to Earth. The Astros, certainly a strong team and playing much better than earlier points in the season, are perhaps still the team to beat, but no longer unreachable in the stratosphere. The Athletics... never mind. This is the most winnable the division has been for the Mariners in a long time.
Seattle’s play to start the season, the entire first half of it, did nothing to support this narrative. Their play in July specifically, however, tied the Orioles for the best in the American League for that month in terms of win-loss. Much like last year, they are seeing a second half resurgence, a long awaited symmetry from the offense and pitching. Much like last year, that momentum is swelling around the same time at what looks to be a pivotal Angels series. In 2022, a major factor was the infamous brawl. Will what happened last night be what does it this year?
Despite the good baseball the team has been playing lately, the tension was fraught going into last night’s game. The series has a must-win feel to it, but the first game had the worst odds for them to claim victory, with the aforementioned Shohei Ohtani himself on the mound. A chance to gain ground on a division and wild card rival, even if much of us shifted those hopes to games two through four. After eight innings, the narrative unfolded as expected. A young Seattle pitcher pitched well and the offense failed to adequately show up to support them, and after eight innings the Angels led with a score of 3-1. This was expected. Outs remained, but this was how the script was pre-ordained, and those that called the game early in their hearts were not wrong to, even if they ultimately were wrong. Too many games this year either had late rallies spoiled by strikeouts or double plays, or no rallies mustered at all.
Seattle was down to their last chance. It was the top of the ninth inning, and the Angels had home field advantage. Their dazzling closer Carlos Estévez was on the mound. Cal Raleigh led off with a four pitch walk. Ty France walked, with five pitches. Dominic Canzone, recent acquisition with some question marks attached, only needed to see two before singling sharply into left field to load them up. Then, Teoscar Hernández struck out swinging. The bases were loaded with one out, which is a double edged sword that for the Mariners traditionally only cuts one way, back at them. Moments like this call for a hero. They had a rookie.
A rookie named Cade Marlowe, recalled to the big league team for the first time this season on July 20th, in his regular season debut, after The Tragedy of Cooler Kelenic. He’s been playing great, but this moment was huge. The opponent was tough. Nobody would blame him if he followed Mariners tradition and gave us a familiar, deflating “ground into double play”. That’s not what he did.
Instead, he swatted an 100 mph heater at the top of the zone over the left field wall, his first career grand slam, and a big one. Turns out he is a Mariner, because clutch home runs are also a tradition, sometimes. Much needs to be said, looked into, and patiently waited upon to determine fairly what and who Cade Marlowe is for this team in the long term picture. Last night, he was the giver of our very own Tungsten Arm O’schadenfreude.
Shohei Ohtani pitched 4 scoreless innings and struck out 4 batters and singled and walked twice and stole a base and scored a game-tying run from second on a single and hit a home run to put his team up by two runs as the Los Angeles Angels lost to the Seattle Mariners, 5-3. pic.twitter.com/TTJdGDAyUj— Codify (@CodifyBaseball) August 4, 2023
Marlowe gave us a hero moment not just because of that, but because he gave us a leg up that nobody saw coming on this important series, a vital push to continue the momentum they have been building. He reminded Mariners fans why they still root for this team, even when they match up against one that has the best player to ever live. But, perhaps most importantly, they reminded the Mariners fans, and perhaps the team itself, why we hang onto hope.