The Seattle Mariners woke up on July 4 in a pennant race – or at the least in a race for a Wildcard playoff spot. They probably ignited fireworks.
It only seems as if the last time the Mariners sported a record like 47-38 that George Washington was ensuring the future of the nation. They have been also-rans long enough to seem in danger of becoming perpetual write-offs. Because the Mariners play their home games on the Left Coast, often swinging and pitching well past the bed-time of Americans who live on the Right Coast, their results often disappear into the ozone for all but the most avid followers.
They also play in the cluttered American League West Division, home to the perhaps-best-in-baseball Oakland A’s who consistently garner more attention. Years into the small-ball, low-budget style popularized in a best-selling book and in the movie “Moneyball,” the A’s remain the focus of pundits stuck on “How do they do it?” The Mariners also play in the same division as the lavish spending Los Angeles Angels featuring Mike Trout, Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton.
Compared to the Angels the Mariners have a lineup of forget-me-nots. The Seattle staple is Felix Hernandez, aka, King Felix, who for years has been the Mariners’ lonely moundsman achiever. A three-time All-Star with a Cy Young award on his resume, Hernandez is still thought of as the best young pitcher in the game. But the startling news is that this is his 10th season. He rose above Seattle obscurity before and this season’s worthy deeds (10-2, 2.83 earned run average) register in gained importance.
Seattle also turned in probably the biggest free-agent signing of the off-season when it nabbed New York Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano. There is always going to be quibbling when multi-year, multi-zillion-dollar contracts are tossed about like so much confetti, but Cano has been a supremely valuable addition. The perennial All-Star was hitting .323 entering the holiday, his accomplishments topping the best performance of any hot-dog eating champion. Maybe Seattle’s next free-agent signing could be Joey Chestnut to work concessions.
Rookie center fielder James Jones (.293), young starter Chris Young (8-4) and closer Fernando Rodney (24 saves) have been sparks. There are still only a limited number of marquee players on the roster, but this bounceback on the excitement meter has been a long time coming in Seattle for a club that once featured Randy Johnson, Alex Rodriguez and Ken Griffey Jr.
Born in 1977, the Mariners remain an expansion team that has never won a World Series title. On their current pace, the Mariners will post only their second winning record since 2007. What is sometimes forgotten is that as recently as 2001 Seattle tied the all-time Major League baseball record for wins in a season with 116. Although that equaled the 1906 Chicago Cubs for most victories in a year, losing in the American League Championship Series likely limited the accomplishment’s enduring fame.
The Mariners are not going to win 116 games again this year, but they are spreading legitimate optimism throughout the Pacific Northwest. The current structure of qualifying for Major League Baseball’s post-season could play out in Seattle’s favor even if the A’s and Angels are in the way.