BY Art Thiel 07:31PM 06/17/2018

Thiel: A loss, but Mariners gaining credibility

Usually a 9-3 loss to powerhouse team is cause for lamentations and cursing among Mariners fans. But at 46-26, this is not your father’s Mariners, even if it was his day.

The seventh-largest crowd in Safeco Field history showed up for Father’s Day and the Red Sox Sunday. / Alan Chitlik, Sportspress Northwest

One of the less-appreciated virtues of being 20 games over .500 is a greater tolerance for the spit-up. Such as Sunday, when the Red Sox played a game in line with their pre-season expectations, and so did the Mariners.

On a near-perfect afternoon at Safeco Field to celebrate Father’s Day along with the renaissance of baseball in Seattle, Seattle baseball didn’t cooperate. But unlike past seasons, when a 9-3 loss would usher in the same-old-Mariners litany, there is a 72-game sample size large enough to suggest a break from tradition remains underway.

Looking beyond a game that was nearly out of reach by the third inning, 3B Kyle Seager could see a homestand that included a three-game sweep of the Angels and a four-game split with Boston and appreciate the 46-26 rarity more than most.

“Since I’ve been here, uncharted waters,” he said. “We’ve never been close to this. It’s been awesome. Playing lots of good baseball, winning a lot of games. Absolutely a blast.”

Since becoming a regular in 2012, Seager has never played fewer than 154 games in a season nor had fewer than 578 at-bats. He has participated in much mediocre baseball.

In that time, the Mariners have had two winning seasons, 87 wins in 2014 and 86 in 2016. But this season is different. The Mariners could go 42-48 the rest of the way and still reach 88 victories.

But 88 may not be enough for the Mariners to crash the playoffs for the first time since what seems like Lou Piniella was a kid outfielder for the Yankees.

Right now, it looks good — the Mariners hold the fifth and final playoff spot, and the gap grows between them and No. 6, the 38-34 Angels. The Angels have an incredible 15 players on the disabled list. Presuming a return to health for at least some of them, Anaheim has the time and the capacity to rally.

But if the mid-June form holds for another three months, Seattle will face the American League’s second-place team, either the Red Sox or Yankees, in the loser-out wild-card game. More immediately, they face both teams in the first six games of a 10-day trip that begins Tuesday at Yankee Stadium.

The biggest outcome of the Safeco series — other than the fact that 165,541 showed up for the four games, including 46,462 Sunday, the seventh-largest crowd in stadium history — is that the split suggests the Mariners are credible contenders.

That suggestion could unravel by going oh-for-six on the trip. But there were no indications over the weekend that traveling to the East’s small ballparks (including four at Baltimore) would be anything but a benefit.

“Playing in some smaller parks, maybe a couple of these balls that reached the warning track (Sunday) get into the seats,” manager Scott Servais said, smiling. “We’ll have games like this once in a while, and maybe we’ll blow people out once in a while.

“Well, maybe not. We like to play those one-run games. So I won’t go there.”

He was still smiling. After a 2-1 loss to Boston Thursday, the Mariners won 7-6 Friday and 1-0 Saturday, the latter featuring a two-hit shutout over 7.2 innings by Wade LeBlanc in which he retired 22 consecutive hitters.

The Mariners are 23-10 in one-run games, which leads the majors in wins and games played. How rare are those numbers? According to baseball-reference.com, the 23 wins are the most through 71 games, dating to 1908. The 1938 Pittsburgh Pirates had 22. Since May 18, the Mariners are 14-3 in one-run games.

The precarious outcomes can indicate that the success so far is fragile. But winning so often builds an attitude that all is possible.

As Seager put it: “It’s a different feel this season. It’s a much more resilient group. So a bad stretch or losing streak wouldn’t affect this group.”

Servais echoed the sentiment.

“The effort level is there, the confidence is peaking at the right time,” he said. “The (Red Sox) are a really good team, we’re a good team. Overall,  a very good homestand.”

The finale wasn’t good for starter Mike Leake, who came into the game having pitched at least six innings in his previous five starts and allowed two or fewer runs in each. This time he gave up five runs in one inning, the third, when he lost command of his curve ball. A walk and five hits, including a three-run homer by 3B Rafael Devers, produced a 5-0 lead that was easy for Red Sox starter Eduardo Rodriguez (9-1, 3.54 ERA)  to protect.

The bad inning put a chill on a warm day for a hot team and a sellout crowd. But a bad inning is nothing compared to a bad day, week, month or season. And in case of the Mariners, several decades.

It will take fans some getting used to, this notion of avoiding the presumption of doom at every spit-up. It is possible for this team to wipe chins and carry on. Hurray for hygiene and a summer of relevant ball.


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YourThoughts

  • Bruce McDermott

    “According to baseball-reference.com, the 23 wins are the most through 71 games since the 1908 Pittsburgh Pirates, who had 22.”

    Is it just me, or does this sentence sound funny? Does it mean that the M’s have the most one-run wins through 71 games in the history of baseball, but Pittsburgh in 1908 was close? Or was there some other team with 23 wins or more through 71 games?

    • art thiel

      You got me, boss. I repaired my mess-up. Most ever, dating back to 08. Pirates had 22 in 1938.

      Haste makes fools of us all.

  • Husky73

    I went into the season as The Mariner Optimist, and I remain so.

    • art thiel

      You’re sticking to this, aren’t you?

      What’s the 2018 mid-term elections looking like, Nostradamus?

      • Husky73

        The 2018 midterms…..pretty simple….if the Republicans win (defined as keeping both the House and Senate), President David Dennison will take all the credit, and claim it is the greatest midterm election victory in the history of the nation. If the Republicans lose, President John Barron will claim that the system was rigged and that illegals and the crooked Democrats (with the help of the FBI, especially if the Mueller report is issued before November) stole the election. Where things will reach critical mass is in 2020. If Drumpf loses, he will claim the election was fraudulent (“very unfair”), will not accept the results (popular and electoral) and will refuse to leave office.

  • Theyfinallyfiredcable

    I have to admit , I wasn’t a big fan of Marco Gonzales to start the year , but he’s won me over , as has the team . If Dipoto ads another starter and Segura and Hanniger stay healthy , a playoff game might actually happen for Mariners fans for the first time since God invented dirt . The next 7 are brutal , but Baltimore looks terrible ..

    .. nice warm sunshine this week , a steak on the BBQ , a cold beer , and Mariners vs. Sox and Yankees on the TV . I think summer is finally here .

    • art thiel

      Look at you, Mr. Sunshine, Lollipops and Rainbows.

      • dingle

        Unicorns, Art. Don’t forget the unicorns. Especially since they’re almost as rare as the Mariners’ current won-loss record.

        • art thiel

          So you’re saying the Mariners aren’t for real?

          • dingle

            Like Fox Mulder, I Want to Believe.

            But I’ve been a Mariner fan for a long, long time.

  • coug73

    I was ready to jump on the band wagon until Sunday’s blow out and now I have to wait for Mariner’s redemption. One game at a time and all that jolly rot. : )

    • art thiel

      C’mon. Take a risk. Allow them a bad game.

  • woofer

    A split with the Red Sox juggernaut is certainly a hopeful outcome. The three one-run games could have gone either way, and the M’s nabbed two of them. Nice work.

    Two impressive moments stand out. The 3rd inning of the second game could have been totally demoralizing for the local heroes. In past years a defensive meltdown behind their ace Paxton after losing a tight first game with Felix would have signaled total collapse. At the stroke of midnight the golden carriage predictably turns back into a pumpkin. But our guys didn’t toss in the towel, fought back and won the game at the end. It’s been awhile since we have seen that level of mental toughness against a good team.

    Second, hats off to the Amazing Wade LeBlanc, anonymous career journeyman pitcher, who in the third contest went out and threw the game of his life. How sweet was that! But can he keep it up? The season will ultimately depend on guys like LeBlanc exceeding expectations. It can happen, but it’s a long, long summer. It will be great fun to watch.

    • art thiel

      The rally after Paxton blew up might have been the feat of the season.

      LeBlanc was am emergency afterthought March for long relief. Now he’s the new Jamie Moyer. The Red Sox, however, will know him better next meeting.

  • Effzee

    I’ve got PTSD from the Howard Lincoln era, so while I’m totally optimistic and enjoying the hell out of watching real baseball, I’m also slightly on edge waiting for that streak of losing 10 out of 12. We definitely need another starting pitcher. Playoff baseball is all about pitching, and each one of our starters has the ability to lay a freakin’ egg. There is still no true ace on this staff.

    • art thiel

      All Mariners fans are entitled to yips, twitches and anxiety. You’ve earned your honorable scars; they shall not count against.

  • Alan Harrison

    Boy, this is fun. Yeah, we need another starting pitcher (We might maybe could if the other GM has a bad cold be able to land someone like Tyson Ross of the Padres or Francisco Liriano of the Tigers – we can’t offer a better package than the Yankees to acquire Mr. Happ unless the Jays refuse to trade within their division, can we?). And yeah, it’d be nice to see if Zunino will ever bat .247 instead of .207. But man, it’s great to be at the ballpark surrounded by Mariner fans, for a change. What will all those Vancouver fans do when they can’t buy tickets to the next Jays series?

    • art thiel

      The presence of Jays fans has a lot to do with your fellow fans, and their willingness to sell good seats over face value to the desperate Canucks of the western provinces. Short of building a wall for which Trudeau must pay, the Canadians appear each year to have scored seats where normally sit Mariners fans.

      As has been said in other matters: United we stand, divided we fall.