How deep is your fandom
Mariner infielder Adam Frazier exuding the team's current level of energy and enthusiasm for life
I went to the ballgame tonight with my friends K & E, who are relatively new converts to the roller coaster ride that is the Seattle Mariners. Well, K is, anyway, E was half in the bag beforehand. But they're into it, and this year has been especially fun for them as well as lots of other longer-suffering fans as the team has been contending for the playoffs for most of the season. If the season ended today, they'd be in. (Sure, only because of Rob Manfred's BS expansion of the playoffs, but still, they'd be in.)
But as I've said a few times to various people over the past few weeks, there's still time for them to screw it up. The Mariners have psyched us out before, so it's easy to be jaded. And in the last two weeks, they've reminded us of why jaded is the default emotion for Seattle baseball fans.
From September 15th onward, the Mariners' schedule featured 20 more games, none against even remotely intimidating opponents, and on paper it looked like an easy cruise to a Wild Card berth—the top of those three positions, even. But what did they do? First the went to Anaheim to play the pathetic, perpetually snakebit and geographically confused Los Angeles Angels for four games. The M's lost three of them. Then they hopped up the coast to the East Bay and played the last-place Oakland Athletics. The M's lost two of three. Then a jaunt to Kansas City to play the 28-games-under-.500 Royals. The M's not only dropped two of three to KC, in the finale they blew a nine-run lead, allowing the Royals—who had topped ten runs in a game only five times all year—to score eleven runs in a single inning on the way to beating them 13-12.
Which brings us to tonight. I had by flukey happenstance gotten my pals and myself outstanding seats for tonight's game, right below the pressbox on the club level. The teams that the M's are competing with for playoff spots had already lost or were losing (though Tampa Bay came back and won in extras). The Mariners' big offseason free-agent star, defending Cy young winner Robbie Ray, was pitching against the visiting Texas Rangers, who were 22 games under break-even and ranked near the bottom of the league in most pitching categories. Time to right the ship and stake a claim to that postseason berth.
Naturally, they got shut out.
It would be one thing if the Mariners lost 5-0 to a pitcher having a brilliant game, or a team that made astounding defensive plays to keep them off the scoreboard. But no. This was still the Texas Rangers. And to rub salt in the wound, they even used the stupid "opener" strategy of starting a relief pitcher for the first inning or two before going to the guy that they expect to pitch the bulk of the game, a tactic that has so much going against it that it tends to backfire spectacularly. Nothing-special Triple-A callups pitched the first 52⁄3 innings and nothing-special veteran relievers pitched the rest, a total of six guys, all of whom looked rather "meh" on the mound. This is the crack staff that held the ostensibly playoff-bound Mariners to just two hits over the first six innings.
The M's would get three more hits before it was done, but one was immediately erased on a double-play and the others came with two outs (in the 7th and 9th) down 5-0 and were inconsequential nuisances akin to a single gnat buzzing one's hairline as far as the Rangers were concerned.
I get it, it's a long season. The guys have been playing hard for six months and they're tired. They're a little banged up (Eugenio Suárez was even batting with a broken finger). But tonight it looked like they weren't even trying. Like they didn't care anymore. And that includes their manager.
Sure, Scott Servais often appears not to care about his team winning games when he "strategizes," so that's not new. But here's what he did today. First, he made out a lineup card featuring a middle three that are all all-or-nothing guys: .200 hitters, more or less, that will bop a home run if they make good contact but strike out a lot more. (You could add a fourth consecutive guy if you count No. 7-batting Jarred Kelenic as all-or-nothing, but really he's still just an underachieving mystery surprise.) This is in keeping with the Servais (and Mariners in general) history of living and dying by the home run while giving no more than lip service to other methods of baseball offense and it annoys me. I'm not saying you don't use those guys in your order, I'm just saying don't bunch them all up together. So, of course, the first time the M's had an offensive threat it fizzled—Ty France and Mitch Haniger led off the home 4th with hits, the first of Seattle's night. Two on, none out, middle of the order due up. Home-run threats all, but incapable of much else. Predictable result: strikeout, fly ball, strikeout.
It's a crap photo, but the dude can play the sax.
At that point it's still just 1-0, not that bad. We get to the 8th at just 2-0 and Servais goes to the bullpen for his only lefty reliever, Matt Boyd—who strangely got the sirens and the light-show "Los Bamberos" introduction despite not being (a) a particularly hard thrower or (b) in to put out a fire of some kind or (c) in a position to hold a lead or even a tie—to face the left-handed-batting Corey Seager and Nathaniel Lowe. Not the worst move, but still a bit of a head-scratcher given the circumstance. Boyd promptly hits Seager on the wrist and gets Lowe on a foul out. Then the inexplicable: Servais has Boyd intentionally walk Adolis García to get rookie Josh Jung to the plate with two aboard, but not trusting Boyd to continue he goes to the ’pen again for Diego Castillo. Jung had already homered in the game and driven in the second Texas run with a hard single, but that's the guy Servais wanted to face and what do you know, Jung crushed another one deep into the night for a three-run bomb. Jung had all five RBI for his team.
Not done yet, Servais also made us channel Professor Farnsworth in the 9th, when the M's were trying to keep hope alive with two runners aboard and one out he went to his bench to send up pinch-hitter…Abraham Toro. Eh, whaa? Toro popped up, which was surprising in that he managed to actually make contact with a pitch. Last man up Adam Frazier tried to make it mildly interesting with a deep liner, but it was caught on the warning track to end things with a whimper.
But really, no matter what the manager chose to do or not do wasn't going to matter tonight. These guys didn't have it in them. They're dragging. Listless. Playing as if they are all feeling as I do in the midst of a black-hole episode that has all my senses seemingly encased in a thick layer of gauze.
As we were making our way out of the stadium, we went by a guy playing the saxophone near the parking garage. He was belting out a pretty fine rendition of "How Deep is Your Love" by the Bee Gees and I wondered if he was making a comment on the Mariners and their late-season crash-and-maybe-burn. As in, hey, what a crap couple of weeks for these guys! They look like toast! But we'll love them no matter what. I think. Wait, will we? 'Cause we're living in a world of fools, breaking us down...
My friends and I still had a nice evening. It was a warm night out at the ballyard in good company with a terrific view from seats that are generally well beyond my price range, and I feel like I need to get at least one game per season in with these particular pals or things just go off-kilter, so totally worth it.
I just wish the team we came to see play had been up to the task.