MIKE SALK

Salk: The 4 biggest things the Mariners accomplished

Oct 18, 2022, 12:22 AM
Mariners Cal Raleigh Eugenio Suárez...
Cal Raleigh celebrates with Eugenio Suárez after hitting a home run on Oct. 7, 2022 in Toronto. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
(Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)

The team was exhausted. Worn out physically, but maybe even more tired mentally. They had been locked in for more than six hours, playing an elimination game against an opponent that had virtually no weaknesses to exploit. It was like a chess match against a computer and a boxing match against a giant all at once.

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So you could excuse players for taking a moment to sit and stare before rising from the bench and heading inside. To stand up meant it was over. To go inside meant the ride had ended and the next one would be necessarily different. For a group that had accomplished more than any Seattle baseball team in decades and had fallen in love with each other in the process, that had to be difficult. But eventually they stood, walked inside, and admitted that they had fallen short of their ultimate goal.

The World Series would have to wait another year. Heck, taking down the hated Astros would have to wait as well. It’s easy to let that disappointment last.

It’s OK to accept the frustration. Hopefully, it is motivating. Hopefully, it gives this team (everyone from the players to the coaching staff to the management to the ownership) a taste of success that they definitively want to experience again. Hopefully, Scott Servais was right when he said this team was just getting started.

Because while this season ended in tears, it was not a true failure. If handled correctly, it can be a starting point and not an ending.

This season was important. It accomplished four big things:

Seattle rediscovered its love of baseball.

It started at the end of last year when the Mariners arrived just a little ahead of schedule and nearly pulled off something special. It continued through the offseason when Mitch Haniger declared the team’s intention to win. It took off over the course of this season when Julio Rodríguez introduced himself to the league and the dormant baseball fans in the northwest, picking up steam when he went off at the Home Run Derby in July.

It grew roots and took hold when Cal Raleigh sent them to their first playoff appearance since 2001. And it was cemented when they came roaring back to beat Toronto and legitimize their playoff appearance.

This city is invested.

I was blown away not only seeing the Mariners gear return to the streets but hearing some real baseball conversations around me.

“So if Gilbert goes in Game 4, can they bring Castillo back on short rest in Houston?”

The team called upon the fans to bring the energy and help them out. The fans responded. And now you have a relationship that can truly grow over the next few years. I’ve heard people call Seattle a bandwagon town, but I don’t think that’s accurate. Seattle is an event town – everyone wants to be where the big event is. And the Mariners took some huge strides towards being that event.

The rebuild is over.

This started in the offseason where they declared themselves in contention mode by signing Robbie Ray and trading prospects for Jesse Winker and Eugenio Suárez. But when they traded two of their top prospects for Luis Castillo before the trade deadline, that declaration became a full-throated yell. That move made them legitimate contenders because they now had a true ace to match up with the others that dominate in October. But it also was the signal that they won’t be sitting around waiting anymore. They are all-in.

For the duration of the rebuild, a sign hung in the baseball operations office that read “Patience is the shortcut.” It was a good reminder to trust the process and not to get frustrated or impatient as it played out.

I respectfully submit that sign be shredded in favor of a new one. My suggestion? “Good to great.” The famous Jim Collins book about companies that succeed has the perfect slogan for the Mariners’ new roadmap. They have proven they are good (as Servais repeatedly told fans and media this season). It’s time to figure out how to be great.

That means acquiring more top players that can put this team over the top. And hopefully, the success of 2022 and the tremendous environment created in this clubhouse can help them lure free agents more successfully than last year.

The Mariners created a family.

When the team clinched their playoff birth, I wrote about their culture and how they had made it mean something to be a Seattle Mariner. That model should carry forward.

But being a 2022 Seattle Mariner had its own meaning. It was a family environment filled with players that played for each other. You could see it in the postgame clubhouse after the season came to an end Saturday night with multiple players welling up with tears, not over the loss but over the end. Being on a professional team can feel like you are in a bubble. Some teams can’t wait for that to pop. This one thrived off its insulation from the rest of the world. I have never seen hugs and tears like that in a losing clubhouse. It felt like family.

But you could also see it on the field. Like when Paul Sewald had a tough night in Toronto and his teammates battled back not just for the win but to get him off the hook for the loss. They recognized what he had done for them and wanted to repay the favor. And when they got to the epic Game 3 at home against Houston, there was Sewald throwing 38 pitches (his highest total of the year) and gritting his way through some tough outs.

Each year has its own feel and an individual personality. There is no guarantee that this will carry into the future. But the hard work they did to make it mean something to play in this town has paid off. They now have a baseline and an environment that should make it easier to get through the inevitable rough patches that lie ahead.

The Mariners have a young core.

For the first time in decades, the Mariners have some legit dudes who got the experience they need. Rodríguez, George Kirby and Logan Gilbert look to be stars, and all of them are under 26. Matt Brash and Andrés Muñoz are weapons with the raw stuff to dominate, and now the high-leverage experience to make life miserable for opposing hitters. Cal Raleigh is a heart and soul with a toughness factor that is off the charts. What he did, playing through a thumb injury, will endear him to his teammates and allow him to lead.

Those six players are young and they won’t be going anywhere for a while. But they aren’t alone. They have support from Suárez, Sewald, Ty France and J.P. Crawford. They are joined by a true ace in Castillo. That is 11 players that got valuable playoff experience and should be hungry for more. The Mariners have had a few good young players over the years, but they haven’t put together a group like this in forever. This is the type of nucleus that can accomplish even more if they stay healthy, continue to grow and get the support they need from above.

Add it all up, and you have a season that ended in disappointment but truly had value. And if handled correctly, it should be the beginning and not the end of an era.

More on the Mariners from Seattle Sports

• Mariners Breakdown: ALDS reaction, what’s next, message to Astros
• M’s believe snapping playoff drought only the beginning
• Fann: Mariners are closing gap with Astros with pivotal offseason ahead
• Sweep or not, Astros now know M’s are coming for them
• ‘Just the start’: After tough loss ends season, Mariners excited for future

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