The Seattle Mariners flip the script over Wild Card weekend | Sports | Spokane | The Pacific Northwest Inlander
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Via @Mariners on Twitter
JP Crawford jumps for joy after the Mariners’ improbable comeback victory.
This isn’t supposed to be happening.
Not to us.
This never happens for us.
For two decades, Mariners fans have been conditioned to expect the worst.
Hype going into a season? They’ll find a way to be irrelevant by June.
One of our position players is underperforming? As soon as we trade him away, he’ll be great.
A big free agent might come to Seattle? He’ll probably be way worse than he was on his last team.
A high draft pick? We’ll pick the one non-All-Star in the bunch.
A young prospect is on the rise? He’ll probably be a bust.
A late season push for a wild card spot? They’ll find a way to just miss it in the most heartbreaking fashion.
Mariners fandom has not even been agonizing heartbreak for the most part. Like Seattle rain, it was seldom ever downpours of sorrow, just a constant drizzle of misery. After a while, you just accept it. You don’t even carry an umbrella. Why would you carry an umbrella? The uncomfortable damp feeling was an accepted fact of our existence in this remote Northwest corner of the states.
But — boil it down to the completely cliched sportswriter go-to — this team is different. The 2022 Seattle Mariners don’t feel as weighed down by the franchise’s incompetent past. And the proof of that was crystal clear last weekend when the M’s traveled to Toronto and won both games of the American League Wild Card series in two wildly different games.
The Mariners played their first playoff game in 21 years on Friday afternoon. And really? It couldn’t have gone any better. Baseball inherently has the most stressful postseason in sports. The whole game can swing on any pitch, so most playoff games are three-hour tests of fans’ nerves.
Friday’s game might be one of the least stressful playoff games I’ve ever experienced. It was Gonzaga playing a 16-seed in the NCAA Tournament level of stress. The Mariners jumped out to a 3-0 lead before the Blue Jays even recorded two outs, thanks to an RBI double by third baseman Eugenio Suárez and a two-run home run by catcher Cal Raleigh.
That was more than enough run support for the team’s big midseason acquisition, starting pitcher Luis Castillo. The ace threw 7.1 innings of shutout ball on the way to a 4-0 victory. While Castillo wasn’t unhittable (giving up six hits), he felt even more dominant than the box score might suggest. It never felt like he was in serious trouble. It’s exactly the type of start the Mariners dreamed he might be capable of when trading a hefty package of top prospects for him in July. It’s the type of start Mariners fans always imagined Felix Hernandez would’ve had if the teams around him could’ve ever been good enough to get the King a postseason start.
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Via @Mariners on Twitter
Mariners fans watching Saturday’s Wild Card game from T-Mobile Park put “rally shoes” on their heads in an attempt to change the Mariners’ luck. (It worked?)
While the opening contest may have lacked that typical tense drama that defines baseball’s postseason, the Mariners’ Saturday tilt more than made up for it.
It was the polar opposite of the prior game’s thrilling start. Robbie Ray took the mound for the Mariners despite clearly not being one of the team’s top three starters for well over a month (there’s basically no case for him starting any games over Logan Gilbert or George Kirby at this point). To no-one-who’s-been-paying-any-attention’s surprise, Ray stunk up the joint against his former team, allowing four runs in just three innings. Things got worse when manager Scott Servias confusingly brought in the team’s typical closer, Paul Sewald, into the game to pitch the 5th inning, only to get rocked — allowing four runs and only getting two outs. It was a pitching disaster, exacerbated by the fact that the Mariners didn’t notch a single hit until the fifth inning.
Down 8-1 with only four innings left to play, things looked bleaker than bleak. Statistically the Blue Jays had a 99 percent chance to win. A must-win Game 3 on Sunday looked inevitable.
But this Mariners team has bucked the inevitable.
Slowly but surely the Mariners chipped away. A Carlos Santana homer cut the lead to 5-8. Even after the Mariners bullpen allowed another run, the bats kept fighting. Eventually, shortstop JP Crawford looped a floater into shallow centerfield with the bases loaded and two outs in the eighth. A collision of Blue Jay defenders meant everybody on base scored, shockingly tying the game at 9-9. The M’s didn’t even need extra innings to steal the game, thanks to a go-ahead double in the top of the ninth by second baseman Adam Frazier. Three outs by starter Kirby (coming out of the bullpen), and the Mariners had made history.
10-9 The score had been 8-1 Blue Jays, and the Mariners won 10-9.
It was the largest road comeback in Major League Baseball playoff history. It was the most thrilling moment for Mariners fans since Edgar Martinez’s series-winning double in the 1995 AL Division Series. To dust off another cliche — it felt like a sports movie.
It was magic.
We Mariners fans aren’t used to magic.
THose thrilling two days of baseball were somehow only the appetizer for the Mariners. The team now heads to Houston to play everyone’s least favorite team, the Houston Astros. Since the AL West division rival Astros are known to have cheated their way to a World Series title in 2017 (and received essentially no punishment for cheating, thanks to MLB’s joke of a commissioner, Rob Manfred), the entire sports world will likely be rooting for the M’s.
To all those joining the Mariners bandwagon: Welcome aboard.
Because MLB often loathes making things easy on their fans, the first two games of the best-of-five series will be afternoon tilts on Tuesday (Oct. 11) and Thursday (Oct. 13), both starting at 12:37 pm PDT . (So figure out how to work from home or take a super long lunch break, M’s fans.) All games in the series will be televised on TBS.
But as crucial as Game 1 and 2 are for the Mariners’ World Series hopes, the focus for Mariners fans is really Saturday’s Game 3. For the first time in 21 years, the Seattle Mariners will host a playoff game. The atmosphere will be beyond bonkers. The cheapest nosebleed ticket currently on StubHub’s resale market is $301, which makes sense considering there are young adults who can drink and have never been able to go to a Mariners playoff game.
Obviously, I hope to be reporting back this time next week about how the Mariners are now headed to the AL Championship Series — a mere four wins from their first World Series trip. But regardless of how the next week plays out, this has been a truly unforgettable season for the M’s. Nothing can ever take away the highs last weekend provided for long-suffering Mariners fans.
This isn’t supposed to happen for us.
But it did.