On the anniversary of the Mariners ending their 21-year playoff drought, they begin a new one. We imagine this one will be shorter, but the counter has begun. The manner in which the final nail was struck hardly matters, although it was an odd one. After heading into the final couple weeks as a Cy Young contender, the Rock split open. Luis Castillo made every one of his 33 starts this year, and for the first 32, he pitched at least five innings every time. Only tonight could he not even make it out of the third, pitching cautiously to avoid getting killed by the Rangers’ potent offense. So instead of a hammer blow, it was death by a thousand cuts, as the Rangers refused to chase and fouled off the pitches that were close to the zone. In the third inning, they strung together a bunch of unimpressive singles and hard-earned walks. After giving up four and reloading the bases, Castillo’s night, and his season, were done.
That brought in Matt Brash to try to leave the bases loaded. On the fourth pitch, Dylan Moore made one of the best plays of his career, hauling in this low-liner that Statcast assigned a catch probability of just 10%.
sick catch alert ... Dylan Moore with a potentially game-saving grab to prevent the floodgates from opening in this one.— Daniel Kramer (@DKramer_) October 1, 2023
Distance covered: 40 ft.
Opportunity time: 3.0 seconds
Catch probability: 10%
Expected batting average: .930 pic.twitter.com/L9kQ8V5bOU
But I’m afraid that’s the only highlight you get. After escaping the inning with a win still in reach, the top of the lineup went down in order, and all felt lost. The damage didn’t get much worse, but they never recovered. Eugenio Suárez spared us all the indignity of a shutout with an eighth-inning home run, but no one looked like they were buying that hit as the start of a comeback. So the Mariners lost 6-1, and an hour later, Seattle’s own Corbin Carroll struck out in Phoenix to hand the Astros the final playoff spot.
At this point, a friend texted me, “Well at least it was fun along the way.” To which I reflexively replied, “Was it though?”
And while that’s a hilarious joke, the more I think about it, the more I think that yes, there was actually fun along the way. Scripture reminds us that falling feels like flying till the bone crush. Despite tonight’s splat, there were, truly, moments where we soared.
Don’t forget that we began the year with the T-Mobile faithful taunting the eminently hateable James Karinchak into a series of pitch-clock violations that ended with a game-winning Ty France bomb.
There was the Cade Marlowe grand slam that kicked off the Mickey Mop four-game sweep in Anaheim, effectively ending the Angels’ would-be dynasty. Julio became the 44th player to join the 30-30 club, and Cal became the 29th catcher with a 30-homer season. There was the time Bryce Miller announced that there was a new sheriff in town, effortlessly striking out 10 in his MLB debut. After getting their lunches eaten by Houston for the better part of a decade, the Mariners won the season series against them, including a sweep in Houston.
Logan Gilbert and George Kirby threw their first complete games. The Mariners won more games in August than the franchise ever had in a single month. And Julio broke his own record at the Home Run Derby, doing so in his home park in front of 45,000 of you.
What I’m saying is that you’ll have some legitimate choices for the Lookies next week.
Was this team a drag to write about at times? Absolutely. But overall, I can’t say it was un-fun. In just my corner of the site, we believed in Jarred Kelenic together and appreciated J.P. Crawford together. We started a new Play of the Week feature, which not that many of you seemed to enjoy. Which isn’t a complaint! Trying new things is how we grow; it’s how Logan Gilbert found a devastating splitter. We’ll try more new things next year. On the recap front, we compared Eugenio Suarez to Princess Leia and Bryan Woo to Teri Hatcher. And we got ChatGPT and DALL-E’s takes on a loss to the Brewers, which gave us one of my favorite images.
Mariners players won 19 more Sun Hat Awards. And just as I couldn’t believe that Gabe Speier got the year’s first two, he’s somehow getting tonight’s too, for retiring all four batters he faced with three strikeouts. According to the record book, that ties him with Geno for the most in 2023. What a world. (Though Cal still leads all-time with six.)
Now, before you start yelling at me, let me be clear that I agree with you: the fun wasn’t enough. It’s hard to imagine anything topping what happened one year ago. The amount of tension, and the epic fashion in which it was all released with one pinch-hit, full-count, walk-off swing. We’ll probably never get that again. But we deserve better than this. I’m trying to hold both ideas in my head at the same time: I’m angry about the organization’s failings and do not excuse them, but also, this was fun anyway.
To briefly elaborate on the former point, this past offseason was the organization’s biggest failure of the Dipoto Era. Ownership wouldn’t spend, and the front office missed on just about every attempt to improve the offense through the Cash For Clunkers program. The hitters put up endless uncompetitive at-bats, and, after carrying the team through the first five months of the season, the pitching fell apart at just the wrong time.
It adds to, rather than detracts from, the frustration that we were right about all this. Coming into the year with our hair on fire about not having gotten one more legitimate hitter only made their failings harder to watch. Even the players think so.
More Cal: “We've done a great job of growing some players here and within the farm system, but sometimes you’ve got to go out and you have to buy. That's just the name of the game.We'll see what happens this offseason. Hopefully we can add some players and become a better team.” https://t.co/KNwEZg4Wc2— Ryan Divish (@RyanDivish) October 1, 2023
This is true, and I think it has to be acknowledged. But just for tonight, I’m leaving it at that. Because the thing about us having been right about the team’s problems is that we’ve been over this already. And I’m sure we’ll go over it again. And again.
If you have no interest in looking at the bright side, that’s fine by me. This recap is just how I’m feeling, and you should feel free to grieve however you want. (Though the one recommendation I do have is not to snark at each other—whoever and whatever is to blame, it’s not the fault of anyone who comments at Lookout Landing, and the comments on the game chart were getting a little spicy.) I do understand the temptation to ignore the season’s good moments and wallow in tonight’s slap in the face. But leaning into the recriminations is the easy thing to do, and I’ve never found anger or self-righteousness to actually make me feel any better.
But joy does. Loving a sport with a 162-game season means you have to enjoy the journey or you’ll go crazy. So just for tonight, I’m thinking about all the things I did enjoy this year.
Maybe the team will change things, and maybe they won’t. The Mariners might wow us with their offseason and we’ll come to the first games of 2024 hyped like we’ve never been. Or they’ll underwhelm us—again—but even then, we’ll be able to squint and think, “You know, it’s not that hard to imagine how this will work.” Their offseason is unknowable, but one thing I do know is that by March, we’ll be desperate for the season to start. And we’ll smile like idiots all day long on Opening Day. Yes, even you. Even you who doesn’t believe that this organization has what it takes to get the job done. You’ll be there too. And you’ll crack a smile at J.P. Crawford’s first at-bat, at Luis Castillo’s first strikeout. If you’re reading a Lookout Landing recap at this point in the season, at this point in this season, then I regret to inform you that you’re in too deep. There’s no backing out now.
So brace yourselves. Without baseball, and starved of the extra month of it that we all wanted, we’re in store for yet another long, cold, lonely winter. But the smiles will return to the faces. The sun will come out again.