Baseball

Postseason Hope Weighs Heavily on Seattle Mariners Fans

SEATTLE — The acquainted sinking feeling returned rapidly, within the first inning of the primary recreation of probably the most anticipated Mariners homestand in a protracted, lengthy whereas.

The group had entered Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game bathing within the glow of a 14-game successful streak, an expectation-less squad instantly turned bully. Coming out of the break, final weekend’s three-game sequence in opposition to the AL West-leading Houston Astros was to be a litmus take a look at.

Was it lastly OK to hold actual hope on the Seattle Mariners?

Whack. With one clear swing, an Astros residence run confirmed the reply.

In Friday’s opener, the Mariners’ starter, the left-hander Marco Gonzales, had thrown a four-seam fastball that Jose Altuve couldn’t resist: too gradual, too close to the center of the strike zone.

It felt like an omen. Like the Mariners’ marvelous and sudden successful streak was about to finish, quickly to get replaced by well-founded doubt.

This is baseball. It breaks your coronary heart. In the twenty first century, no group, and no metropolis, understands this greater than Seattle.

Twenty seasons with no postseason look, the longest such drought in big-time American skilled sports activities. The solely MLB franchise to by no means make the World Series.

Seattle baseball followers possess two traits in abundance: dogged, unrewarded loyalty for the Mariners and the sports activities model of post-traumatic stress syndrome. As a local Seattleite and longtime Mariners fan who spent too many afternoons watching shedding baseball in the dead of night dankness of the long-gone Kingdome, I can attest to it. In the Pacific Northwest, defeat tends to be endured politely. And in relation to the Mariners, with profound resignation.

Things solely obtained extra ominous Friday after Altuve’s homer when the Mariners went to bat, decided to even this tense affair — a house recreation performed earlier than a uncommon midseason sellout crowd — with a run of their very own.

The Mariners’ magnetic leadoff hitter, the participant virtually everybody within the stands needed to see, was a no-show. Julio Rodríguez, the 21-year-old phenom heart fielder who had simply blasted 81 balls over the outfield fence on the Home Run Derby in Los Angeles, had been scratched from the lineup due to a sore wrist.

Walking by means of the stands at T-Mobile Park, I may hear a collective sigh of deflation emanating from the group.

“This is so on model,” Evan Riggs, a longtime fan, informed me. “Of course, they’d go down early. Of course, their finest participant would not play as a result of he simply obtained harm, in all probability within the All-Star Game.”

“This is the Mariners.”

I could not have put it any higher.

Through June 20 the Mariners struggled to handle a document 10 video games underneath .500. But then they instantly grew to become baseball’s hottest group — victorious in 22 of 25 video games — and got here inside 10 video games of Houston within the chase for the AL West crown.

Out of nowhere, the Mariners instantly dangled on the precipice of hope.

So it harm, deeply but in addition unsurprisingly, when the Astros took a simple, wire-to-wire win, 5-2, Friday. The ache deepened Saturday, when the 39-year-old right-hander Justin Verlander propelled the Astros to a second victory, 3-1.

On Sunday, with Rodríguez nonetheless injured and out of the beginning lineup, Seattle fell behind 6-0 after three innings and succumbed, 8-5. The massive sequence turned out to be an agonizing sweep. Same because it ever was.

A fast overview for individuals who don’t perceive the extent of this group’s struggling.

In its 46 years of existence, no group in baseball has been worse. Some of the sport’s most iconic stars have worn a Seattle uniform whereas of their prime — Ken Griffey Jr. on the high of the record — however the Mariners have been to the playoffs solely 4 occasions, and all in a brief window from 1995 to 2001.

But these, supposedly, are the brand new Mariners. A group making an attempt to interrupt floor and slough off a previous most present gamers had no a part of. Fans in Seattle wish to dare to dream massive. But we won’t fairly let go. We count on the shoe to drop — or a bum wrist to begin one other shedding spiral.

Fans on the sequence final weekend echoed my apprehension:

“Cautious optimism is one of the best I can do.”

“It’s like we have been right here earlier than, however each time we get burned.”

“It looks like they’ll lastly make the playoffs. It additionally looks like they are going to in all probability go on a shedding binge.”

Then there was this from Dusty Baker, the Astros’ supervisor, as he stood by the batting cage earlier than Friday’s recreation, asking me what the temper of town is. They’re able to win massive, I informed him, however I’m fairly certain your group can have one thing to say about that.

Baker smiled. “Yes, we’ll.”

He is not a lot a soothsayer, as he’s used to main an actual contender. His Astros are 5-2 in opposition to the MLB-leading Yankees this season after sweeping a doubleheader in Houston final week. Against the Mariners, their indefatigable precision was harking back to an excellent champion I watched at Wimbledon two weeks in the past. Like Novak Djokovic, when Houston places the clamps down, they do not let go.

I’m virtually scared to dream that the Mariners are near turning into that sort of group. Funny how sports activities can flip “the factor with feathers,” as Emily Dickinson known as hope, right into a weight to be shouldered.

In April, I used to be warily sure that Seattle, having constructed this group with good low season strikes and by creating top-of-the-line minor league methods in baseball, may eke additional than 2021’s consequence, once they have been eradicated within the closing recreation of the season.

Then got here that win streak through which they zoomed previous the gradual and regular progress befitting charming underdogs.

Now I’m occupied with what it’s going to take to fully shred Seattle’s popularity as well mannered losers wearing aqua jerseys. Guts. Daring. Words nobody was utilizing a month and a half in the past.

Management ought to be emboldened by how shut the Mariners appear to breaking the lengthy cycle of despairing defeat. Lay down the chips and go all-in. The main league commerce deadline is Aug. 2. Washington’s Juan Soto is on the buying and selling block — an excessive rarity as a result of 23-year-old superstars are probably the most coveted asset a group in any sport can have.

Do one thing massive, one thing akin to the early 2000s reeling-in of then 27-year-old Ichiro Suzuki. Now is the time to interrupt what looks like a curse. All these gifted gamers within the minor leagues characterize nothing greater than potential. Wrap up a bunch of them in a bushel, add a high quality starter from the most important league group, and make the Nationals a proposal they’d be fools to refuse.

Mariners General Manager Jerry Dipoto has talked for weeks about making a pointy, stirring transfer earlier than the looming commerce deadline. He will not say what, sustaining a secrecy that solely tightens followers’ grip on the doubt that defines us.

“We have not been to the playoffs in 20 years,” Dipoto underlined to me this weekend. “We are the franchise that hasn’t been to the World Series.”

“Fans should not belief us till we get there,” he stated, within the subsequent breath extolling his group’s fastidiously calculated journey of enchancment.

But one of many stunning traits of a sports activities fan is the way in which the video games enable us to hope for the inconceivable, even the irrational. An outfield of Rodríguez and Soto is simply that, however I’m dreaming it anyway, and I’m hardly alone.

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