SEATTLE – The familiar sinking feeling is back quickly, in the first half of the Mariners’ most anticipated first game in a long time.
The team had entered an All-Star Game in Major League Baseball bathed in the glow of a 14-game winning streak, and a team without expectation suddenly turned into a bully. After the break, last weekend’s three-game series against the leading Houston Astros in the West was supposed to be a real test.
Was it finally okay to hang true hope on Seattle Mariners?
whack. With one clean swing, the Astros home run confirmed the answer.
In Friday’s opener, the Mariners’ left-back Marco Gonzalez threw a quick four-stroke that Jose Altuve couldn’t resist: too slow, near the heart of the strike zone.
It felt like an omen. Like the Mariners’ brilliant and unexpected streak of victories was coming to an end, it was soon replaced by powerful doubts.
This is a baseball game. It breaks your heart. In the 21st century, no team and no city understands this better than Seattle.
Twenty seasons without a post-season appearance, the longest dry spell of its kind in the big American professional sports. The only MLB franchise that never made the World Championship.
Baseball fans in Seattle have two traits in abundance: resolute and unrewarding loyalty to the Mariners and the athletic version of PTSD. As a Seattle native and longtime Mariners fan who has spent very long afternoons watching baseball lose in the dark dampness of the Old Kingdom, I can attest to that. In the Pacific Northwest, defeat tends to be politely tolerated. And when it comes to sailors, with deep surrender.
Things got more serious on Friday after Homer’s Altuve When the Mariners went on the racket, bent on the tense affair — a home game played before a rare mid-season sell-out crowd — with a tour of their own.
The Mariners’ magnetic hitter, the player nearly everyone in the stands wanted to see, was a no-show. Julio Rodriguezthe 21-year-old apparent quarterback who had just shot 81 balls over the outside fence at the Home Run Derby in Los Angeles, was scraped off the lineup by a sore wrist.
Walking through the stands at T-Mobile Park, I could hear the collective sigh of deflation emanating from the crowd.
“It’s about the brand,” Evan Riggs, a longtime fan, told me. “Of course, they will come down early. Of course, their best player is not going to play because he just got injured, maybe in the All-Star Game.”
“These are the sailors.”
I couldn’t put it better.
Until June 20, the Mariners struggled to manage a record 10 under 0.500 games. But then they suddenly became baseball’s hottest team – winning 22 of 25 games – and came within 10 games of Houston in the AL West title chase.
Out of nowhere, the sailors suddenly dangled on the brink of hope.
So it hurt, but unsurprisingly, when the Astros took an easy win, 5-2, on Friday. The pain worsened on Saturday, when right-hander Justin Verlander, 39, propelled the Astros for a second 3-1 win.
On Sunday, with Rodriguez still injured and out of the starting line-up, Seattle fell 6-0 after three games and lost 8-5. The big chain turned into a painful sweep. Same as it ever was.
A quick review for those who do not understand the level of suffering of this team.
In the 46 years of its existence, no organization in baseball has been worse. Some of the game’s most famous stars wore the Seattle uniform while they were in their prime – Ken Griffey Jr. was at the top of the list – but the Mariners made the playoffs only four times, all in a short space of time from 1995 to 2001.
But presumably these are the new sailors. A team trying to break ground and get rid of a past that had no part in it. Fans in Seattle want to dare to dream big. But we can’t give up completely. Expect the shoe to fall off — or the wrist to start another losing spiral.
Fans of the series last weekend echoed my fear:
“Cautious optimism is the best I can do.”
“It’s like we’ve been here before, but every time we get burned.”
“It feels like they can finally make the playoffs. It also looks like they’re probably going to have a losing party.”
And then there was this one from Dusty Baker, the Astros manager, standing by the batting cage before Friday’s game, asking me about the mood for the city. I told him they were ready to win big, but I’m sure your team will have something to say about it.
Baker smiled. “Yes we will.”
He is not so much a fortune-teller, because he is used to driving a real rival. His star star Astros are tied 5-2 against the leading Yankees in the MLS this season after winning two headers in Houston last week. In front of the Mariners, her indefatigable precision was reminiscent of the great champion she had seen at Wimbledon two weeks earlier. Likes Novak Djokovicwhen Houston puts the clamps on, they don’t let go.
I’m almost afraid to dream that sailors are about to become that kind of team. It’s funny how sport can transform “the thing with feathers,” as Emily Dickinson called it hopeful, in weight to bear.
In April, I was sure that Seattle, having built this team with clever off-season moves and by creating one of the best minor league systems in baseball, might yield more results than 2021, when they were eliminated in baseball’s final game. season.
Then came that streak of victories as they overcame the slow and steady progress that befits a magical win.
Now I’m thinking about what it would take to completely destroy Seattle’s reputation as polite losers in watercolor T-shirts. bowels. boldness. Words no one has used for a month and a half.
The administration should be encouraged by how close the sailors came to breaking the long cycle of desperate defeat. Put the chips and do everything. The major league trade deadline is August 2. Washington Juan Soto In the trading block – which is extremely rare because the 23-year-old superstars are the most coveted asset any team in any sport can own.
Do something big, something similar to what happened in the early 2000s to 27-year-old Ichiro Suzuki. Now it’s time to break what seems like a curse. All these talented players in the minor leagues represent nothing more than potential. He wrapped up a bunch of them in a bushel, added a featured player from a major league team, and made an offer that the Patriots would be foolish to turn down.
Mariners general manager Jerry DePoto has been talking for weeks about taking an exciting, sharp move ahead of a looming trade deadline. He won’t say what, maintaining a secrecy that only tightens the grip of the masses on the skepticism that characterizes us.
“We haven’t been to the playoffs in 20 years,” Diputo assured me this weekend. “We are the franchisees who did not go to the World Championships.”
“Fans shouldn’t trust us until we get there,” he said, the next moment praising his team’s carefully calculated journey to improvement.
But one beautiful feature of sports fans is the way games allow us to hope for the impossible, even the irrational. The Rodriguez and Soto stadium is exactly that, but I dream about it anyway, and I’m not alone.