Some people swear off of love after one bad breakup too many. Self-sufficiency becomes a point of pride, perhaps rightfully so. After all, self-sufficiency breeds a sense of security within an ocean of solitude.
Some people swear off of pets after a lifelong companion passes away. After spending each day with a creature so willing to devote its uncomplicated, unconditional love to them, that creature’s absence from the world creates a pit of such despair that it feels that nothing will ever be able to fill it.
Some people swear off of trying altogether. Amidst constant comparison to others, they hold themselves to standards so high as to be impossible to live up to. Minor setbacks feel like abject failures. The failure breeds hopelessness. Without hope, why try?
There are many Mariners fans who, at one point or another, have sworn off of the team. Who could blame them? Mariners fandom begets one contradiction after another, fostering cognitive dissonance in the soundest minds. We weigh how much our dollars mean to us against how much John Stanton’s dollars seem to mean to him. We try to dismiss the emotional toll of 20 years of failure, forgetting the evenings spend in irritable despondency after another 10-3 loss.
We try to dismiss the emotional toll, but we can’t forget it. Every season is played under the specter of a team that holds the longest playoff drought in American sports. Every failed year adds to the streak. The cold anguish from each loss is lessened by a vest of apathy, but at a cost. The joy of each win becomes slightly dulled, for each win comes with the learned expectation that the joy is temporary, that there is no pot of gold awaiting the Mariners in October.
I’ve watched as I’ve wrapped myself in apathy in years past, aware of the terrible cost, aware that I’ve distanced myself from that which has brought me more joy than most things in this world. Yet, as I’ve become conscious that I’m cutting myself off from the pure fandom of childhood, I’ve been unable to stop the process, unable to stop myself from snarkily dismissing the Mariners’ chances.
Even two days ago, with the Mariners fresh off a massive win in a must-win game, I couldn’t stop myself from saying: “Oh don’t, worry, they’ll sweep the A’s, get everyone invested, and then get swept by the Angels”. It’s a learned helplessness that has so thoroughly permeated this fandom that “because Mariners” has become synonymous with “because of course they lost”.
And yet, I can’t be too far gone, for I spent all of today counting the hours until tonight’s first pitch. My commute home was punctuated by checking the Red Sox and Blue Jays scores at red lights. Once the game finally started, the weight of each pitch became almost too much to bear. Tyler Anderson’s 1-0 cutter to Chad Pinder in the first inning? I held my breath. Anderson emerging from the first inning having thrown just eight pitches and retiring the Athletics in order? I exhaled with jubilation.
For as improbable as the Mariners’ recent run has been, however, their Achilles heel has seemingly been their inability to bring runners home. J.P. Crawford’s first inning leadoff double was followed by a pair of Ty France and Mitch Haniger walks, bringing Abraham Toro to the plate with just one out and the bases loaded. Toro got under a 1-1 curveball, lifting it to shallow center, far too shallow to score the runner. Nonetheless, J.P. tried to score, getting easily thrown out at the plate. I gritted my teeth.
The next two innings went back and forth without much ado, aside from this excellent Mitch Haniger defensive assist in the second inning to nail Mark Canha at second base. J.P. screamed with excitement after the tag, as did Tyler Anderson, the weight of the moment apparent in each of their reactions.
The fourth inning brought with it Tyler Anderson’s only real mistake: a changeup to Chad Pinder missed its spot, ending up a little too high in the zone. Pinder deposited the ball over the fence to make it a 1-0 game. Anderson, who reportedly all but demanded that he pitch tonight on short rest after a disappointing start on Saturday, easily retired the next three Athletics to get out of the inning and end his start with a line of 4.0 innings pitched, one run, zero walks, and just two hits.
The Mariners answered right away. Jarred Kelenic worked a one-out walk in the bottom of the fourth, chasing Bassit, who is still working his way back from his scary head injury. Luis Torrens and Jake Fraley each immediately jumped on A’s reliever Yusmeiro Petit: a hard-hit grounder from Torrens set the stage for a Fraley line drive into the right field corner. The ball died at the bottom of the wall, giving Torrens enough time to score all the way from first and put the Mariners up 2-1.
The Mariners, unfortunately, couldn’t score Fraley from third. Each teams’ bullpen traded blank fifth innings, with Casey Sadler getting out of a jam before pitching a totally clean sixth. It was after that that the Mariners were able to add another run: an Abraham Toro weak grounder just found a gap, before a Luis Torrens weak pop fly dropped between three Athletics in right-center field. With two outs, Tom Murphy ripped a grounder to the right of A’s shortstop Josh Harrison, who made a spectacular diving stop. Harrison popped up and hucked the ball to first, but Matt Olson couldn’t make the pick, allowing Fraley to score.
With the score 3-1 Mariners, they ran into what ended up being the most tense moment of the game in the seventh inning. Diego Castillo managed to induce a weak grounder from Mark Canha. The ball dribbled its way to the right of the mound. Castillo easily made it to the ball, lowered his glove to pick it up, and just… missed the ball, allowing Canha to make it to first.
Matt Chapman flew out to center field for out number one, before Castillo seemingly found himself unable to locate his slider against Seth Brown. Aiming slider after slider low and inside, Castillo left two of them too high. Brown ripped each one of them down the first base line at about 100 MPH, but just foul. Finally, Tom Murphy called for a fastball outside. The fastball fooled Brown badly, and he struck out for the second out.
Even with two outs, though, Castillo’s lack of command was evident. He immediately plunked Sean Murphy to put another runner on, and left a sinker directly down the middle, which Matt Kemp smashed into right field for an RBI single.
Mercifully, Scott Servais agreed with every single person watching the game and decided that he’d seen enough of Castillo. In came Paul Sewald, who threw a high fastball to Josh Harrison. Harrison jumped on it, cracking it into center field. The ball hung up in the sky as Jarred Kelenic drifted back, back, and still further back. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, Jarred stopped backpedaling, settled under the ball, and caught it to end the inning.
The Mariners found themselves still up 3-2, but the lead certainly didn’t feel secure. Still, after they recorded two quick outs in the seventh, it seemed like they might have to make the best of their small lead. Mitch Haniger had other ideas. He had just watched Jake Diekman throw three straight sliders to Kyle Seager. When Diekman opened Haniger’s at bat with another slider, he was ready. He swung, making perfect contact and sending the ball whistling over the left-center field fence for his 100th career home run.
For all of the tension of the seventh, the eighth and ninth innings felt positively breezy. Paul Sewald stayed in for the eighth. He did allow a one-out single, but a strikeout and two instances of soft contact were easily enough to end the inning.
Drew Steckenrider came in to face the bottom half of the A’s order in the ninth inning. A Matt Chapman leadoff single made things somewhat interesting, but two straight strikeouts and a lazy fly ball to center field quickly doused the fire, sending T-Mobile park into a frenzy and bringing the Mariners to just half a game out of the playoffs.
One half of a game out of the playoffs. The Mariners aren’t even in playoff position, but I don’t care. They’re playing baseball games that really matter, and it’s September 29th. Sure, they’ve been in similar situations over the past decade, but this one feels different, somehow. Maybe it’s the future, which feels so much more hopeful with a healthy farm system. Maybe it’s the lack of expectation going into the year, allowing each win to feel like gravy.
Some people swear off of love after a bad breakup, and then the right person smiles at the them at the right time.
Some people swear off of pets after a beloved companion passes, before they find themselves smiling at strangers’ dogs on walks despite themselves.
Some people swear off of trying altogether, until they realize how capable they truly are.
Some people find themselves distancing themselves from the Mariners, until they hear the alluring roar of a crowd that can smell October. Until they catch themselves scoreboard watching in early September. Until the first inning feels like the ninth and a dreary Tuesday night game feels like a game seven.
Life is too short to do anything besides live. I don’t know how many Mariners seasons I’ll see. I want to live every moment of this one.