Bulletin: This Mariners’ start has just been certified “officially insane” by the Federation of Unconscious Nines (FUN).
At first, it was a lark. Then a curiosity. Then an oddity. Then a marvel.
But now? After the Mariners pulled another victory out of the ether on Thursday in Kansas City? After they moved their record to 13-2 with the latest two-out miracle?
Now it’s untethered lunacy. Now it’s a national talking point. Now it’s getting historic.
Now it’s getting hysterical — not in the “laughing your head off” sense, though you’d be excused for doing that, too. Especially after Mitch Haniger, down to his last strike with the Mariners trailing by two, delivered a game-tying triple off Billy Hamilton’s glove to send the game into extra innings. And after Daniel Vogelbach launched a home run in the 10th to win it for the Mariners, as you knew they would, somehow, someway.
But, no, I mean this is getting hysterical in the dictionary sense of, “relating to, associated with, or suffering from hysteria.” Because that reaction by Mariners fans — unfettered emotional outpouring, right from one’s core – is completely justified by this topsy-turvy stretch of wins.
The Mariners are 13-2? Yeah, right – the next thing you’re going to tell me is you’ve got a picture of a black hole.
As Bobby Jones once said of Jack Nicklaus, they are playing a game with which we are not familiar. It’s a world turned upside down – the Mariners over-achieving, the Mariners defying expectations, the Mariners making baseball fun and magical, not dark and cynical.
They are absolutely crushing the ball, to the point of absurdity. But beyond that, new hitting coach Tim Laker and his cadre of quant-savvy assistants, have been provided a new batch of hitters far more malleable to Scott Servais’ “Control the Zone” mantra than the ones Edgar Martinez had to work with.
The Mariners are putting out one textbook at-bat after another, demanding that the opposing pitcher throw a strike. And when he does, Laker’s Rakers are raking the ball all over, and out of, the yard, the most productive team, by far, in the major leagues. And the first in history to score at least six runs in 13 of the first 15 games.
Hey, you could easily conjure up a scenario whereby the Mariners are 15-0, having blown a 6-4 lead in the ninth inning for one of their losses, and an 8-6 lead in the seventh inning for another.
Of course, you could also conjure up a scenario whereby they’re 11-4, having needed Haniger-oics in the ninth inning two days in a row and pulling a couple of other victories out of thin air. So why don’t we just take it at face value – the best stretch to start the season in Mariners history, one of the best stretches in recent American League history, all propelled by a slugging output that is unprecedented in major-league history – a home run (or two, or five) in every single game.
That it’s all happening in the year of the step-back, the re-imagination, is what makes this season, to date, so staggering and so incomprehensible. Mirage or not, false alarm or not, tease or not, the Mariners have provided two weeks of enjoyment that was not in any script or blueprint.
For so many years, the Mariners doggedly tried to win and botched it. They spent money on free agents like Carlos Silva and Chone Figgins, traded for would-be saviors like Erik Bedard and Cliff Lee, drafted future stars who weren’t, emptied the bank on Robinson Cano, always pushing ahead in the hope that this was the year, this latest formula was the right one.
But it was so futile for so long – 17 seasons without a postseason berth, many of them confined in or near the cellar — that Jerry Dipoto decided to take a new approach. Off went Nelson Cruz, Jean Segura and Edwin Diaz, three of their four All-Stars from last year. Gone was Cano, their best overall player. Gone was James Paxton, their No. 1 pitcher. Gone was Mike Zunino, their starting catcher, and almost all their veteran relievers.
It seemed like a near-total cleansing after an 89-win season that managed to satisfy no one. And if it wasn’t “down to the studs,” it was close enough to warrant very little hope for this year, even if you believed fully in the long-range plan.
But so far, the Mariners have had the best of all worlds. With new-wave talent percolating in the minor leagues and a payroll that will soon provide room to plug holes, the future looks far better. And it appears that while no one was really paying attention, Dipoto has plugged the lineup with dynamic, professional hitters.
This is the point where it is obligatory to note it might all be a house of cards. The reckoning could be just around the corner – maybe even with the homestand that starts Friday and brings Houston and Cleveland to town.
It’s where I point out the sieve-like defense and leaky bullpen. It’s when I provide the cautionary tale of the 2018 Mets, who started out 12-2 and finished 77-85, or the 2018 Angels, who started out 13-3 and ended up 80-82. Baseball history is riddled with meteors that streaked across the sky and burnt out.
Or maybe, in the spirit of the moment, it’s where I point to the 2018 Red Sox, who also started out 13-2 (which was eventually extended to 17-2) and won the World Series. Yeah, the same Red Sox who recently lost three out of four to the Mariners – the first true sign that something was askew in rebuild land.
Really, it’s been surreal from the very beginning, when the Mariners went to Japan and swept Oakland while carrying a ceremonial outfielder. Remember Ichiro and his emotional farewell? Yeah, that was this year. It could have all backfired, but somehow the Mariners made it into something heartwarming, rather than tawdry, and won games to boot.
Since then, the Mariners have surged past surreal and moved straight into the land of Looney Tunes.
Yeah, it’s insane. But, man, has it been fun.