O’Neil: After 2 years of retooling, the Mariners just had their ‘good enough to sit at that table’ moment
The Mariners are good enough to sit at that table.
That was my takeaway from their two games against the Dodgers at T-Mobile Park.
For two days, the Mariners stood toe-to-toe with the defending World Series champions. For two games, they stared eye-to-eye with a team that’s only on pace to win 120-something games this season. And in those two games played in a single span of 20 hours, the Mariners didn’t give an inch nor bat an eye.
Now, I don’t think that means the Mariners are as good as the Dodgers. They’re not. I don’t think it means Seattle will necessarily make the playoffs, either. But I know that this team as currently composed is capable of competing with the very best teams that baseball has to offer, and that is significantly different from anything we’ve seen in the first two years of the retooling process that began in earnest in 2019.
Heck, it’s different from how I felt two weeks ago when the Mariners left Seattle after their first homestand, having lost two of three games to the Chicago White Sox. It wasn’t just the fact that Seattle lost two games and needed a remarkable rally to avoid being swept, but how they lost, getting largely overpowered by the hard-throwing White Sox.
Seattle struck out 15 times in the first two games of that series in which they were outscored 16-4. It felt like a reality check, the Mariners flailing when facing a team that is actually expecting to compete for a championship this season.
Well, the Mariners haven’t exactly stopped striking out, but those two games against the Dodgers felt very different. Seattle’s defense and its pitching made the Mariners more than competitive as Seattle was every bit Los Angeles’ equal for at least those two games.
“Both games, I thought we really stepped up and played great against these guys,” said Marco Gonzales, who allowed just one run in seven innings pitched Tuesday in a 1-0 loss to the Dodgers. “Competitive team, great lineup, top to bottom those guys can really swing it so it was a good test.”
This wasn’t a pass-fail examination. There’s no grading on a curve, either, and the big leagues are no place for moral victories. But watching those two games, you felt that this Mariners team, which has spent two years building for the future, is capable of competing with the best in the present tense as well.
Warning: What follows is a tortured cinematic reference. We tried to talk the author out of this, pointing out that “Rounders” might not be as universally beloved outside Danny’s specific demographic category of men aged 40 to 59, but he insisted.
The Mariners were like Matt Damon’s character in the poker film “Rounders” when he discovers that he was good enough to sit at the same table with the best players in the world. Now there are lots of reasons to love this movie, from the sweat-suited John Malkovich playing a Russian gangster named Teddy KGB to Edward Norton’s unrepentant drive to work every angle. But what I love most is that the film captures the moment in which someone – in this case a poker-playing law student named Mike McDermott – goes from thinking he’s competent at a particular activity, maybe even pretty good, to believing that he can be absolutely great.
That moment is revealed when McDermott – played by Damon – shows up at a steambath, his face battered and bruised. He’s there to ask for financial help from Joey Knish, his cardshark mentor played by John Turturro. Knish is in a white terrycloth rob, and Mikey McD is desperate. You can see the scene here, though be forewarned there are a couple of naughty words in there. It concludes with Damon’s character, Mikey McD, telling the story of a head-to-head showdown with one of the very best poker players in the world late one night in Atlantic City and how a bluff won him a hand.
“I just decided, ‘You know, I don’t care about the money,’” Damon’s character says. “I’m just going to outplay the guy. I’m just going to outplay this guy this hand.”
That’s how I hope the Mariners are feeling as they head to Boston to start an eight-game road trip with a four-game series against the AL East-leading Red Sox. Because earlier this week the best team in baseball, the defending World Series champions, came to T-Mobile Park, and the Mariners faced off with them. They didn’t have the big-budget bat of a former MVP like Mookie Betts or a payroll so flush that David Price is making more than $30 million and pitching out of the bullpen.
Seattle had Justus Sheffield and Marco Gonazles on the mound, and José Marmolejos hitting a two-run homer that didn’t get much more than 30 feet off the ground. They had Dylan Moore making a diving stop at third base to save a one-run lead on Monday night and making an equally improbable diving grab at second the next day to save another run.
For two days, Seattle stood toe to toe with the best team in baseball and didn’t give an inch. They held on to win a game 4-3 and then were shut out 1-0 less than 24 hours later. And while splitting a two-game series in April may not mean all that much in the final result of this season, it should boost Seattle’s confidence that it’s ready to compete heads-up with the top teams in the league.
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