A day after seeing their postseason dreams shattered, the drained Mariners can’t muster much offense in a 3-2 loss to the Athletics to close out the season 86-76. Felix Hernandez was lifted after three innings.
For the first time in the 2016 season, the Mariners took the field with nothing at stake other than pride and their win-loss record. Their postseason dream was shattered less than 24 hours earlier and the remnants of that disappointment were evident early on Sunday afternoon in the season finale at Safeco Field.
The letdown of Saturday night’s heartbreaking 9-8 extra-inning loss that officially eliminated them from postseason contention was to be expected.
And yet, during the time it took for a line drive to rocket off the bat of Kyle Seager to deep right field in the ninth inning, it looked as though the Mariners might make their season go on a few innings longer.
Tuesday -- Orioles at Blue Jays
Wednesday -- Giants at Mets
Thursday -- AL wild-card winner at Rangers, Game 1
Thursday -- Red Sox at Indians, Game 1
Friday -- NL wild-card winner at Cubs, Game 1
Friday -- Dodgers at Nationals, Game 1
But his homer attempt, like Seattle’s goal of making the postseason, fell short. Right fielder Matt Olson made a brilliant leaping catch to rob the potential homer/extra-base hit. One batter later, the Mariners season officially ended with a 3-2 loss to the Oakland A’s.
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“We didn’t have a lot of wind in our sails,” Seattle manager Scott Servais said. “I guess that would be the best way to put it. But last night and the run that we’ve been on, it took a lot of out of everybody both physically and emotionally.”
Even after Oakland scored three runs in the first three innings against Seattle starter Felix Hernandez, the Mariners found a way to get back into the game on a two-run double from Guillermo Heredia in the fifth inning and seemed poised to end the season with a win.
Down a run, Seager’s shot to right had the dugout and crowd of 24,856 rising in anticipation followed by groans of disappointment.
“I would have really loved to see that ball go over the fence for Kyle Seager,” Servais said. “It was kind of a microcosm of our season: so close.”
Seager didn’t know if it was a homer, but he thought it was a hit.
“It seemed pretty close,” Seager said. “(Olson) is probably not going to get a Christmas card.”
Seattle finished the season with an 86-76 record. It’s a 10-win improvement from the 2015 season that brought on a complete regime change. It’s an accomplishment. This was the 11th team to finish a season over .500 in franchise history, but Servais took no solace in it.
“I’m not in it to finish above .500,” he said. “I’m really not. There’s no doubt that the Mariners in their history have not had a lot of seasons over .500. I get it. But we are in it to get to the playoffs, to get deep and get to the World Series.”
The last time the Mariners finished with a winning record came in 2014 when the team was in a similar situation, fighting for a wild-card spot until the end of the season. The following season arrived with plenty of preseason hype and expectations. But the team underachieved, leading to a front office change that brought in general manager Jerry Dipoto, who hired Servais.
To Seager, the organization is in a better spot for repeat success compared to 2014.
“Without question,” he said. “If you look at everything here, there’s stuff to build with, which is nice. We got close in ’14, but it didn’t have the same feel. This is a group that especially down the stretch where we felt like we were going to win every game and that’s a really special thing.”
Perhaps no player felt that more than Hernandez, who had hoped that his start on Sunday would have been for a spot in the wild-card game or for a play-in game. Instead, it had little meaning like many of his late-season starts in past seasons.
With the earlier start time on Sunday, the plan was for him to leave midgame on Saturday night to rest for a potentially critical start. He’d already put on his regular clothes and was preparing to leave when Nelson Cruz hit the game-tying homer in the seventh inning.
“I changed and went back out to the dugout,” he said.
But when the Mariners came up short, he sat on the benches of the top row of the dugout, leaning on the rail, clearly dejected.
A few teammates comforted him, but they all exited. With the dugout empty, he sat there alone. In his 12 big-league seasons, he has yet to reach the postseason.
“It hurt,” he said. “It just hurt. It was tough. I couldn’t listen to anybody. I was in my own world.”
With the Mariners eliminated, Hernandez was only going to pitch a handful of innings on Sunday.
“They asked me if I wanted to pitch today,” Hernandez said. “But I told them, you know I’m going to go out there for the fans, but I wasn’t going to be out there for too long.”
He pitched three innings, giving up the three runs to fall to 11-8 on the season, finishing with 3.82 ERA and missing two months on the disabled list. By any measure, it was his worst season since 2008.
“It was disappointing for sure,” he said. “I’m the guy that always like to throw 200 innings, win the most games that I can, but it happens. I have to forget about this and get ready for next year.”