There’s been an invasion of Canadian baseball fans at Safeco Field in this week’s series, making for a poor home advantage. The Mariners have nobody to blame but themselves.
TORONTO, ER, SEATTLE — It’s the most important series the Mariners have played all year, and the Safeco Field fans knew it.
They flooded the park and unleashed their larynxes in hopes of willing their team to the playoffs.
Only problem is, that raucous, relentless crowd was in overwhelming support of the Blue Jays.
And the Mariners? The Mariners have nobody to blame but themselves.
For the second straight night at Safeco, at least 60 percent of the 34,000 fans were rooting for Toronto. From the moment “O Canada” played over the sound system, it was clear the home team would be batting in the top half of each inning.
Chants of “Let’s go Blue Jays!” blared throughout the evening, and boos followed Hisashi Iwakuma’s every attempt to pick a Blue Jay off at first. In their last-ditch effort to sneak into the postseason, the Mariners found themselves strangers in a familiar land.
“I doubt any other park has something like this,” said Seattle reliever Tom Wilhelmsen, referencing the number of fans supporting the visiting team. “I think every baseball fan should come check out a Blue Jays series against the Mariners in Seattle just as much as I think they should go to Fenway Park.”
If this series were taking place in mid-June, or after the Mariners’ playoff fate had been decided, then this invasion wouldn’t be so concerning. Our neighbors to the north have just one baseball team, and British Columbia fans mark these dates on their calendars every year.
But the Mariners began this mid-September series two games behind Toronto for the final wild-card spot. And yet, the cheers for Russell Martin were far greater than those for Leonys Martin.
“You don’t expect that. When you’re home, you expect the crowd to root for you,” Mariners slugger Nelson Cruz said. “But I guess that’s the way it is.”
It would be easy, in this situation, to place the blame on M’s fans for showing indifference when so much is at stake. You’d never see such a disproportionate crowd in Boston, the Bronx, or the north side of Chicago amid a playoff push.
But seriously, how often do the Mariners reward their fans for rushing the turnstiles in an important series? Not even Charlie Brown falls for this act again.
As Lookout Landing noted Monday, the first-place Mariners were swept by the Angels in mid-May when the average attendance was 39,000. In a late-May series vs. the Twins, when the average attendance was 34,000, the first-place M’s got swept again. And in a late-June series vs. the Rangers, when the average attendance was 37,000, the M’s lost two out of three when they had the chance to surge back into first place.
Sure, there have been a few series in which Seattle fared better in front of large home crowds — namely against the Cardinals in June, the Orioles in July and the Angels in August. But those all came after the Mariners had seemingly dipped out of playoff contention.
In other words, the M’s have been OK this season when the fans want a win, but when they need one, their team hasn’t come through.
The bigger issue goes well beyond this season, though. Seattle hasn’t reached the playoffs in 14 years and is on the brink of extending that MLB-leading drought to 15. More painful yet, they’ve had this recent tendency to tease fans in early September before crushing them at the end of the month. Remember 2014, when the M’s missed out on the postseason by one game? Well, a five-game losing streak from Sept. 20-24 didn’t help.
So don’t blame Mariners fans for choosing to stay home Monday and Tuesday night. And don’t blame season-ticket holders for assuming the M’s would be out of contention when they sold their seats to Blue Jays fans weeks in advance.
If you want guaranteed home-fan support, you need to win and win again. But in the season’s crucial series, the Mariners have done the opposite.
“I would certainly hope that when we do get to the playoffs and make a deep run, then (the fan support) would flip,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said Tuesday. “But we gotta get there first, and we haven’t done it yet.”
Toronto Sun reporter Ken Fidlin, who has been covering baseball for three decades, pays witness to the Canadian invasion at Safeco year after year. But he said there were more Blue Jays fans in Seattle for this series than ever before. That can’t be easy for locals to hear.
Unfortunately, as Cruz said, that’s just the way it is. The Mariners may not want to hear opposing fans hijack their home park, but they can’t figure out a way to silence them.