It's been 17 years, man. Seventeen years of angst, anger and agony. Seventeen years of dashed hopes and deferred dreams. The Mariners and Athletics could be headed for a September to remember.
You don’t see many crowds erupt when the buzzer sounds after a 21-point win. Just like you don’t see double fist pumps on the final out of a 16-3 shellacking.
Monstrous leads are usually desired in the present, but monstrous victories are usually forgotten in the future. That’s why the A’s creeping up in the standings is actually good for Mariners fans.
It was just two weeks ago that the M’s looked like locks to end their American sports-leading 17-year playoff drought. As of July 5, Fangraphs gave them an 88 percent chance to slip into the postseason.
Then the A’s started winning like the basketball team in Oakland, the Mariners developed a seasonal victory allergy, and just like that, Seattle’s eight-game lead in the wild-card standings dwindled to three.
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This is the sort of thing that will spike Lipitor sales among long-suffering Mariners fans. The narrowing of that gap shot the city’s collective heart rate up five beats per minute.
I would tell you not to worry, but that would deprive you of all the fun. In a playoff race, worrying is the best part.
First, can we all agree that the Mariners, despite their recent skid, are in a more-than-favorable spot? A team not projected to finish above .500 is now 58-39 with a three-game wild-card lead.
There is no fan in this town who wouldn’t have taken that deal before the season began. Shoot, most Mariners fans would have taken the A’s current record and position if they were offered on opening day.
Can we also agree that MLB typically has the most thrilling playoff races in professional American sports? Only 10 teams make the postseason, which is two fewer than the NFL and MLS and six fewer than the NBA and NHL — and unlike those other leagues, we get a result virtually every night.
Exhilarating as a December game on the gridiron can be, most of a football week is hype and podium talk. And besides the fact that their teams play half as often, the number of teams that reach the playoffs in hockey and hoops mitigates the suspense.
In baseball, though, the standings change every time you draw an X on the calendar. If the race is tight in September, it’s a given that fans are “busy” for three hours each night.
Every achievement will be highlighted, as will every blunder — and really, there’s no better way to have it.
It’s impossible to say how this race is going to turn out at this point. The A’s have won 21 of their past 27 while the M’s have lost eight of their past 11, but that doesn’t forecast much. The laws of probability told us that someone in the American League was going to surge, just like they told us the Mariners — the kings of comebacks and one-run wins — would hit a lull.
It’s also remarkable how similarly these teams are statistically. The A’s have the 16th-best ERA in MLB at 4.01. The Mariners have the 17th-best at 4.05. The A’s have the 10th best OPS in MLB at .738. The Mariners have the 11th best at .733. They also have two of top closers in baseball, with Seattle’s Edwin Diaz leading the league with the 36 saves while Oakland’s Blake Treinen has 24. Interestingly enough, according to FanGraphs’ Win Probability Added metric, Treinen has been the second most valuable player in baseball this year and Diaz the sixth.
In other words — this should be fun. There was a time when it seemed as though Seattle would coast into the postseason, but that wouldn’t be as rewarding.
It’s been 17 years, man. Seventeen years of angst, anger and agony. Seventeen years of dashed hopes and deferred dreams. Shaking that stigma will mean so much more if it comes after a few gnawed fingernails.
Over the past few weeks, we’ve been reminded of how energetic Safeco Field feels when it’s filled to the brim. We would experience a similar feeling across the city in a back-and-forth battle with Oakland or a run at Houston.
So for now, embrace the panic. Enjoy the fear. It will make the present that much harder, but the future that much better.