O’Neil: Mariners aren’t handing the spotlight over to Seahawks just yet
It was time for the starter to hand over the ball on Saturday night.
You know that moment in most baseball games when the manager comes to the mound to tell the starting pitcher he would be replaced. The manager may signal for one of the relievers before he reaches the mound. He may wait until talking to the starter first. But almost always, the scene plays out with him reaching out and accepting the baseball from his player. Only this time, the starter wasn’t ready to go.
Oh, I should make it clear that I’m speaking in a strictly metaphorical sense here. This wasn’t an actual event from the Mariners’ victory against Toronto, but a broader reality in Seattle sports. See, the Seahawks played their first (meaningless) game on Saturday night, and this is the time of year that our city shifts its attention squarely onto the gridiron. At least that has been the case for the past 15 years or so.
Only this time, the Mariners weren’t quite ready to leave. Not in Saturday’s game against the Toronto Blue Jays when Seattle scored seven runs in their final two turns at the plate. Luis Torrens drove in five of those runs with a three-run home run in the seventh and a double that drove in two in the eighth. Jarred Kelenic checked in with an opposite-field home run that was way stronger than anything a 22-year-old rookie should be capable of doing, and Seattle took a break from its nail-biters and notched a surprisingly comfortable 9-3 comeback win, showing that they’re not conceding anything in this playoff chase.
As for the Seahawks? Well, they lost 20-7 to the Raiders in Las Vegas in a game most notable for who did not play, namely any of Seattle’s offensive starters. But we don’t have to spend this week parsing the performance of Seattle’s second-string offensive line, because the Mariners breathed some air onto the embers of their playoff hopes. And while they’re not quite on fire, they’re making it interesting, and that’s something they’ve struggled to do so often in the 20 years that have passed since the last playoff berth.
Now, they’ve come close. In 2014, Seattle’s playoff hopes were still alive in the regular-season finale, getting extinguished only when the A’s beat the Rangers in Texas to clinch the wild-card berth. Two years later, the Mariners were eliminated after they suffered an extra-innings loss to those same A’s in the second-to-last game of their schedule.
It’s caused us to develop a bit of gallows humor here in Seattle: Just get us to Seahawks season, and the Mariners certainly did that this year with a season in which they have shown absolute and unequivocal progress. This was a team that most people in baseball projected would lose 90 to 95 games. This is a team that was been racked by injuries among its starting pitchers from losing James Paxton before he finished a single start to missing ace Marco Gonzales for a month to the fact that both Justus Sheffield and Justin Dunn are out with injuries now, neither having pitched in more than a month.
Yet in spite of all that – and with one of the youngest lineups in the league – the Mariners have not just kept their head above water but nosed their way into a playoff chase in an American League where more than half the teams have winning records.
When Seattle lost six of 10 games on their most recent road trip – each one of those losses coming either by one or two runs – I thought that was probably the end of the postseason chatter. When they were beaten at home by Texas upon their return in an utterly miserable offensive showing in which they had the bases loaded with no outs in the ninth inning – trailing by one run – and managed just a single run despite having the top of the order get a chance, I was pretty certain of it.
And then this Seattle team picked itself up off the mat once again, winning four consecutive games. The first two were against Texas, which has given up on the season. The next two were against the Blue Jays, who have one of the best lineups in baseball and are one of the teams Seattle will have to catch if it is going to reach the playoffs. Seattle won the series opener 3-2 on a walk-off … errrrr … walk by Kelenic, and then came Saturday’s rally to give the Mariners a series victory. And while the Blue Jays won Sunday’s series finale 8-3, the Mariners commanded our attention over the weekend.
It’s (still) going to be an uphill climb to reach the playoffs, and the Mariners are off on an eight-game road trip that will see them play at the division-leading Astros and two games against the wild card-leading A’s, but this weekend shows the Mariners aren’t ready to leave centerstage in Seattle. Not just yet.
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