Time will tell if manager Lloyd McClendon will be returning under new GM Jerry Dipoto.
On a day marking the end of a season of unmet expectations, the sun was still shining bright at Safeco Field and the Mariners won a game — something they didn’t do quite enough in 2015.
As they shook hands on the field for the final time this season following Sunday’s 3-2 victory over the Oakland A’s, the smallish crowd of 22,402 stood and applauded for one last time.
It was applause for the effort given throughout the marathon that is the baseball season. It was applause for one more good day of baseball before a four-month, rain-soaked hibernation.
A win is still a win. And when you are on the outside looking in on the postseason, it’s a reminder that wins cannot be taken for granted despite the number of games played in a season, even if it has no meaning beyond that one game.
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“It makes you want to come back,” manager Lloyd McClendon said with a smile.
But will he back for 2016?
New general manager Jerry Dipoto will make the decision to retain McClendon for the final year of his contract or go in a different direction decision in the coming days.
“There are no regrets,” McClendon said. “You come out and give it everything you got every day. I’m very proud of this club. They’re resilient. They gave me everything they had every day. Some days were better than others. I can’t fault the effort. It was there each and every day.”
The wins just weren’t there to go with the daily effort.
“This journey this year was disappointing,” McClendon said. “There’s no question about it. Each and every season has a different journey to it. Like I told my players, we’ll be better because of this. You learn from your past. Sometimes you when you are on the verge of winning, most clubs take a step back. And it’s unfortunate, but I think this club is in a position to win going forward.”
For the fans, players and members Mariners’ organization, the goal is not courtesy applause for a nice effort on a long season, but roaring approval for what is immediately ahead — the postseason.
“You wish the scenario was a little different on the last day of the season,” said Seth Smith. “You’d like to be packing up to get ready for the playoffs.”
Instead they are packing up and saying goodbyes. The 2015 season is over. The goal of the postseason will carry over to next season for the 14th time since 2001.
This team was expected to end that drought, to build off last year’s unexpected run with the addition of Nelson Cruz and others. Instead, the Mariners never really seemed close to being in true contention from about June on when a 2-9 homestand put them under .500 for good.
“It was disappointing,” Cruz said. “When we left spring training, we thought we had what we needed to go all the way.”
But the sum of those pieces never reached any sort of consistency. The Mariners offense struggled early in the season with runners in scoring position, injuries to Hisashi Iwakuma and James Paxton crippled the starting rotation and the bullpen — a strength of 2014 — was a seasonlong disappointment.
“I try no to think about what ifs, but obviously the struggles with our bullpen,” McClendon said. “The fact is, when you blow as many saves as we’ve blown, you can’t help but wonder what could have been. You look at teams now that are in the playoffs that have won 86-87 wins. It’s a little frustrating from that standpoint.”
The Mariners had 24 blown saves and 36 bullpen losses this season while going through three closers. Four stalwarts from 2014’s record-setting bullpen were also sent to the minor leagues.
On Sunday, the third of those closers, and one of those four sent to the minors, Tom Wilhelmsen, did what seemed like an impossible task for the Mariners in 2015 — close out a game with ease.
Smith gave Wilhelmsen and the Mariners a 3-2 lead in the bottom of the eighth, crushing a 3-2 fastball from reliever Ryan Dull over the center field fence for a solo homer, breaking a 2-2 tie.
“I knew it had a chance,” Smith said of his 12th homer of the season. “Once it gets up in the air, you just kind of wait to see what happens.”
Wilhelmsen was brought on to close out the game with the one-run lead in the top of the ninth. He was in the same position on Saturday night and failed, allowing the tying run to score in the Mariners’ eventual 7-5 loss in the 13 innings.
But on Sunday, he was sharp, striking out the side for his 13th save of the season.
Making his 10th start of the season for Seattle, about 10 more than expected, Vidal Nuno gave Seattle a solid outing, pitching six innings and giving up two runs on six hits with a walk and four strikeouts.
The two runs allowed came in the third inning. Nuno gave up a leadoff triple to Craig Gentry and a sac fly to Bryan Anderson for the first run. Mark Canha later hammered a solo homer into the ‘Pen beyond the center field wall to make it 2-0.
“They were getting deep in the count, but I just kept on battling and pounding the zone,” Nuno said. “I started getting some quick outs.”
The Mariners rallied with runs in the fourth and sixth inning. A single from Robinson Cano and a double from Mark Trumbo with one out in the fourth inning set up Logan Morrison’s bases-loaded sac fly to right field to make it 2-1.
Smith drew a one-out walk the sixth, moved to third on Morrison’s single to right and scored on Jesus Sucre’s ground fielder’s choice to tie the game at 2.
Lloyd McClendon postgame video