The Seattle Mariners are in the playoffs for the first time since 2001, and nobody can ruin that for me. However, the Mariners themselves sure did try.
After coming through with a two-game sweep over the Toronto Blue Jays to advance to the divisional round, the Mariners were staring down the barrel of a loaded gun. The Houston Astros are far and away the American League favorite. This is where the Mariners’ season was likely to end, and that’s okay. They finally came through in a way no Mariners team has for 20 years, and we as a city and fanbase should be eternally grateful for their performance.
Still, they weren’t ready to give up so easily. Up against Justin Verlander, the 2022 AL Cy Young favorite and first-ballot hall-of-famer, the Mariners racked up nine hits over the first five innings. Everybody on the lineup contributed in one way or another, with Carlos Santana being the only member not to record a hit. Julio Rodriguez became the youngest player in American League history to record both a double and a triple in a playoff game. Eugenio Suarez continued his fantastic season with a solo home run in the seventh. J.P. Crawford hit just his sixth home run this year in the fourth inning. Jarred Kelenic had two hits, which I have put a strange amount of emphasis on over the last couple of days.
Unfortunately, that’s where the good news comes to an end. After Logan Gilbert got pulled in the sixth inning, allowing three runs on five hits, the wheels sort of fell off. Matt Brash and Diego Castillo came through with a scoreless five outs, but Andres Munoz gave up three hits in the eighth inning, including a two-run home run by Alex Bregman to cut the Mariners’ lead to two runs. Bregman became the third player to hit a home run off Munoz’s slider all year.
You’ve probably heard about the ninth inning tragedy, but I’ll run through it again anyways. Know that I recount this series of events with nothing but pain in my heart. The ever-reliable Paul Sewald took the mound in the bottom of the ninth, though he was fresh off giving up four runs to the Toronto Blue Jays a few days earlier. He got through Christian Vazquez with ease before hitting the rookie David Hensley with a pitch to put him on first base. Jose Altuve struck out to put the Mariners one out away before giving up a single to Jeremy Peña. In a move that baffled fans everywhere, manager Scott Servais put in Robbie Ray to face Yordan Alvarez in a lefty-lefty situation. On the second pitch, Ray threw a slider middle-in, and Alvarez blasted it 430 feet into the seats to walk off the Mariners.
We expected to go home following this series, knowing full well the Astros were likely the better team. So why does it hurt so much? Still, it’s hard for me to find it in myself to blame the team. Sure, the pitching wasn’t there. Sure, the decision felt wrong even in hindsight. But it’s just baseball, and the Mariners have truly exceeded expectations this year.
Losing a game in which you had a sizable advantage over one of the best pitchers in baseball felt like a death knell to the Mariners’ playoff run, but it’s not quite over. It’s a best-of-five, meaning the Mariners can still win three of the next four. Regardless of the results, I’m happy with how my team has performed and the Mariners should be too.