The 2014 Seattle Mariners are winners.
Felix Hernandez pitched seven shutout innings with eleven strikeouts. Logan Morrison hit a three-run home run to break a scoreless tie in the top of the ninth. The Los Angeles Angels tried to make things easy, scratching Jered Weaver and not using any of their regulars the day after clinching the AL West title. But in true 2014 fashion, the Mariners refused to take the easy way out, instead choosing to make their triumph a thrilling and dramatic one.
Okay, so the lineup King Felix carved through wasn’t Mike Trout and company, but rather some Texas Rangers-looking mess of reserves nobody’s ever heard of. No matter – that’s eleven strikeouts in seven innings, to go with only three hits and two walks. Hank Conger was easily the best player in the Angels lineup today, but that doesn’t mean Felix’s gem didn’t count. It all counts the same. The Mariners simply capitalized on an opportunity.
Except they almost didn’t. Wade LeBlanc stepped up in place of Jered Weaver, and did an admirable job. Over 5.1 innings he allowed three hits, no walks, and struck out three. The Mariners didn’t do much against him, then stuggled to hit the Angels’ bullpen as well. It seemed perfectly plausible that the game would head to the bottom of the ninth without the Mariners having managed a single run.
Until Kevin Jepsen happened. When the ninth came around the M’s were finally able to break through. With two outs, Kendrys Morales singled and was replaced by pinch runner James Jones. Jepsen overthrew his pickoff attempt and Jones went to second. Kyle Seager drew an intentional walk, and Logan Morrison smacked a 1-1 change over the wall in right. It was a magical, magnificent home run. It was the home run Logan Morrison was brought here to hit.
Fernando Rodney made things interesting with a classic one-run save, allowing a Conger home run before finishing off the bottom of the ninth. With that, the Mariners placed their 82nd tick in the win column and assured themselves of a winning season, barring something completely unforseen.
Funny how success changes our expectations. In January, 82 was probably the reasonable goal for most fans. By mid-season we had a pretty good idea that these Mariners were better than we thought they’d be, and as the playoffs began to look more and more plausible we started to adjust our idea of what this team could do. Not a lot of people are celebrating 82 wins tonight because there are ten games left to play and a playoff spot up for grabs. That’s the new goal. That’s what we want, now.
Oakland lost, Kansas City and Detroit didn’t play, and the Mariners are a game out of the second wild card. They’re only a game and a half out of the first wild card, and have been playing better than the teams they’re chasing as of late. But it’s not about how they’ve played, it’s how they play going forward. It’s so simple: outplay the field over the next ten games and make the playoffs. That’s all it’s going to take. It’s absolutely plausible, and the team is legitimately good. This could really, truly happen.
Tomorrow the Mariners are in Houston to kick off a three-game set that they really ought to consider sweeping. Taijuan Walker vs. Brad Peacock, 5:10 start. The M’s will be tested after this though, as they’ll face both Dallas Keuchel and Collin McHugh in this series. The Astros have the ERA advantage in those games, as Chris Young and Hisashi Iwakuma haven’t been quite as awesome as Houston’s front two this year. Welp. Prepare for insanity.