In the end, it didn’t matter that their performance was so unlike the baseball they played this past week. Even if they had been brilliant or even better than they were Sunday afternoon, the Mariners season would’ve ended with the 162nd game of the year.
With the Yankees defeating the Rays, 1-0, on a walk-off ground ball from Aaron Judge at Yankee Stadium and the Red Sox rallying from a 5-1 deficit for a 7-5 win over the Nationals in D.C., the outcome of the game at a sold-out T-Mobile Park wouldn’t have mattered.
Obviously, the 7-3 loss to the Angels, where they trailed from the start, was disheartening, maddening and frustrating right up until the top of the ninth inning at 3:52 p.m. when Seattle was officially eliminated from the postseason.
“What a season for the Mariners and our group really taking a huge step forward, organizationally and where we’re at,” manager Scott Servais said. “Our future is very, very bright here. I say all that and we’re still very disappointed to get that close and to not kind of cross the finish line and break through into the playoffs.”
And then it became nostalgic.
With nothing left to play for and the outcome meaningless, Servais stopped the game with one out in the top of the ninth to remove Kyle Seager and allow the crowd of 44,229, who had spent the last five minutes chanting his name, to thank him for 11 seasons and 1,480 games played in a Mariners uniform.
The quiet kid from North Carolina, who possesses the dual disposition of doting family man off the field and “a total hard-ass” on the field, wiped tears away as the crowd rose in ovation. He hugged teammates near the pitcher’s mound, many of them wiping away tears themselves.
“The pollen was really bad out there today,” Seager deadpanned. “I think the allergies were just getting to everybody. There was a bad breeze blowing in so it was a tough day out there.”
With the Mariners not expected to pick up his $20 million club option next season, he would leave Seattle as a free agent, having never experienced a postseason game in his career.
This season was his closest of all in a handful of near-misses to end a postseason drought that is now at 20 years and counting.
That this team finished with 90 wins and 72 losses, the first 90-win season since 2003, and played on the last day of the season for a potential postseason spot when it was picked to win around 70 by most predictive algorithms and prognosticators is an accomplishment.
“The highlight of the weekend, for me, first of all is getting 40,000 people in T-Mobile Park and feeling the energy that they brought is tremendous, not only for our team and organization but I think the whole community,” Servais said. “Baseball’s back in Seattle. We didn’t get across the finish line, but I think everybody sees where we’re headed, and I’m really excited to see that many people jump on the bandwagon with us because it’s gonna be a fun ride.”
Moral victories don’t earn trophies or postseason banners, and the Mariners still have the longest current drought in professional sports without a postseason appearance. But the success of this team is something the organization hopes will propel it forward into the 2022 season.
Given the performance, the outside expectations will certainly increase with fans demanding an active offseason to replace Seager and supplement a roster by augmenting a payroll that’s been one of the lowest in baseball the past two seasons.
“It’s a group that has really I think clearly defined itself on what we value and what our process looks like going forward,” Servais said. “And that’s not going to change. We’ll continue to add talented players and guys that can do some different things on the baseball field.”
Just five days ago, Tyler Anderson took the ball on two days’ rest and was exulted as a hero when he pitched four innings against the A’s in place of the ineffective Yusei Kikuchi, helping Seattle win and set up this situation.
Part of the reason Anderson was able to make that start was because of his struggles against the Angels in the start previous to Tuesday where he gave up nine runs on nine hits in two innings.
He wouldn’t give up nine runs in this outing, but he also wouldn’t pitch two innings. Shohei Ohtani tagged Anderson with a missile of a solo homer on the third pitch of the game that silenced the crowd and set an unforgiving tone for the rest of the day.
“You could kind of tell right away just that he wasn’t commanding the ball and his ball didn’t have a lot of zip,” Servais said. “It was one of those days really early on where we’re gonna have to unload the bullpen and try to mix and match and put it together, and we hung in there.”
Anderson gave up a single to Phil Gosselin, the next hitter, and then helped him advance to second with a wayward pickoff throw to first base. With two outs, Jack Mayfield, a Mariner for a handful of games this season, singled to left to score Gosselin and make it 2-0.
After his teammates failed to capitalize on runners on first and second with one out in the first inning against rookie lefty Reid Detmers, Anderson issued a leadoff walk to Jose Rojas to start the second. A sacrifice bunt moved Rojas into scoring position allowing David Fletcher, who had been slumping before this series, to drive him home with a double into the left-field corner.
An intentional walk to Ohtani and a single from Gosselin loaded the bases with one out. Anderson’s second out of the second inning came on Jared Walsh’s sacrifice fly to deep left-center.
It was his final batter as Servais went to his bullpen. Right-hander Yohan Ramirez was the first in a parade of relievers used Sunday.
There would be no comebacks. Seattle cut the lead to 4-2 in the second inning on RBI singles from Jarred Kelenic and J.P. Crawford. But a two-run homer from Jared Walsh off lefty Anthony Misiewicz on a 3-2 pitch with two outs in the fourth was a dagger to the comeback.
“The add-on runs hurt,” Servais said. “When you’re down a game early like that you’ve got to put zeros up there.”
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