BRENT STECKER

How did Mariners make it this far? Same reason they could keep going

Oct 10, 2022, 12:03 AM | Updated: 6:10 pm
Mariners Cal Raleigh Julio Rodríguez...
Cal Raleigh celebrates with Julio Rodríguez after the Mariners take the lead over Toronto on Oct. 8, 2022. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
(Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)

It’s safe to say the phrase “same old Mariners” can officially be retired.

How could anyone say it with a straight face ever again?

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Not after the M’s won 90 games in consecutive years, marking the first instance of back-to-back winning seasons for the franchise since 2003.

Not with the influx of homegrown and acquired young talent the M’s have built a winner around.

And certainly not after they looked a seven-run, sixth inning deficit straight in the eye – and with a massive, rowdy crowd of proud Canadians firmly cheering on their opponents in Toronto – then rallied for the biggest postseason comeback win on the road in major league history, finishing off a shocking playoff sweep in the process.

There’s nothing “same old” about a team that makes history like that.

And that’s why after hearing manager Scott Servais reiterate to his team after Saturday’s amazing American League Wild Card win that they’re still just getting started, I’m inclined to believe him.

Believe’s got a lot to do with this, too. For a team to pull off what the Mariners did on Saturday – and frankly a lot of what they’ve done these last two years – the players have to have a different kind of ability to believe in themselves. This team’s shown that plenty because it has been slaying dragons left and right for a while now.

In really all started on opening day 2021. Remember that game? The M’s fell behind 6-1 to the San Francisco Giants, then rallied for six runs in the eighth inning and won 8-7, kick-starting what would be Seattle’s first 90-win season in 18 years.

A big reason for their success that year was a 33-19 record (.635 winning percentage) in one-run games, a positive statistic generally thought to be impossible to repeat year after year (this is called foreshadowing).

While the M’s fell a few games short of ending their postseason drought in 2021, they only built on it to finish that job this season. And along the way, they slayed a few more dragons.

So they fell 10 games under .500 by mid-June? Boom, 14-game win streak. Haven’t won a series in Houston since 2018? Now they have. Chasing Toronto for a wild card with the Blue Jays and their fans ready to take over T-Mobile Park in early July? Sweep City. Six games against the league-leading Yankees in a 10-day stretch? Sounds like two Mariners series wins, one for each coast.

Oh, and that whole thing about winning one-run games being supposedly unrepeatable? Yeah, they went ahead and finished 34-22 (.607) to lead the majors in total one-run wins for the second straight year.

The cap on all of that came Saturday, and in a way it all came full circle. That 2021 opening day comeback had something very much in common with Saturday, which is that the Mariners faced ace pitcher Kevin Gausman in both of them, and they never really figured him out – not when he was a Giant, and not when he was a Blue Jay.

How they won those two Gausman-pitched games 18 months apart exemplifies why the Mariners’ first postseason trip in 21 years has made it to the second week of October. Even if the opposing team’s starter is on his game, and even if Seattle’s starter can’t prevent the M’s from falling in a hole, they know how to beat a bullpen with their patience at the plate and ability to seize on mistakes, and their own bullpen is as good as any at locking things down in the late innings to give the offense a chance to come back.

That’s why the Mariners win so many one-run ballgames. And that’s why they believe in their chances of winning when there’s hardly any sense to do so.

You don’t slay dragons without believing.

They’re going to need a whole lot of believing over these next five to seven days, too, when they try to slay their biggest dragon yet. Even with that one series win at Minute Maid Park this year (and a couple more in Seattle) in their back pocket, the Mariners have not looked like the Astros’ equal since rebuilding after the 2018 season, and especially not recently. The Astros won the full 2022 season series with the Mariners 12-7, including a pair of sweeps (Seattle didn’t sweep any of its series wins), and Houston is on a run of six wins in their last seven games against the M’s.

There’s no way for the Mariners to win this ALDS matchup without shocking the baseball world. The Astros cruised to the AL West title, beating second-place Seattle by 16 games. They have a better lineup. More stars. Both of the top two AL Cy Young Award candidates. Home-field advantage.

The Mariners, well… they have some momentum. They’ll get to pitch Luis Castillo against Houston for the first time ever. And they get to play the underdog, something they’re clearly comfortable with.

So yeah, they have a chance, and that might just be enough. They’re not the “same old Mariners,” after all. Because if they can do what they’ve done already, you can certainly believe in them now.

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How did Mariners make it this far? Same reason they could keep going