The 2014 season started just the same as it ended: with a three-game sweep of the Los Angeles Angels. The first sweep led to panic in Anaheim, stirring thoughts that maybe this team had gone about it all wrong and was going to be done before they even got started. There were articles written about how no team had done more to improve their playoff odds than the Mariners. Through three games, it appeared the M’s were heading up and the Halos were going down.
Then the Mariners hit a rough stretch while the Angels recovered, but soon it became clear both clubs were contenders, greatly improved from the previous year. And contenders they both remained until the Oakland Athletics finished off the Texas Rangers this afternoon, assuring themselves of the second wild card in the process and ending the Mariners miraculous run.
For the first 161.5 games of 2014, the Mariners were legitimate playoff contenders. They hung around all year, then stumbled hard late, then climbed almost all the way back in the season’s final four days. They swept the Angels to end the year, forcing a scuffling Athletics team to win their regular season finale in order to make the playoffs. The Mariners came as close as they could’ve.
Felix Hernandez struck out seven batters in 5.1 innings, coming out in the sixth even though the A’s clinched during the bottom of the fifth. He recorded one out, putting himself securely in line for the ERA title, and then was removed to a lengthy, riotous ovation from the crowd of 40,000. He allowed no runs, one hit, and no walks in his final outing of the year. He’s going to win the Cy Young. It was the biggest game of his career, and he hardly so much as allowed contact. He did his part.
As did the offense, which scored four runs off the Angels relievers. Cory Rasmus finally lost a start after threatening to, you know, not do that. Logan Morrison singled and was driven in by a doubling Michael Saunders in the second. Kendrys Morales walked leading off the fourth, prompting the removal of Rasmus. Joe Thatcher struck out Kyle Seager, then allowed another LoMo single and another Saunders double. Mariners four, Bad Guys nothing.
John McDonald, who is a forty-year-old shortstop and probably done forever after the playoffs end, singled home the Halos’ only run in the ninth with two outs. It was a sweet little moment. Danny Farquhar then induced a Grant Green groundout, and the season was over. But instead of “wait until next year…” it was “wait until next year!” since this team has given us so much to hope for. The foundation is there. This team is already good. It’s now easier than ever to see them taking the next big step.
What a season it’s been. What a crazy, amazing season. The M’s contended until the last day of the season, then swept the best team in the league despite being eliminated mid-game. There was always a chance the 2014 Mariners could make some noise in the playoff race, but it was a longshot. We’ll see how the offseason goes, of course, but as of now the M’s odds for 2015 are some kind of awesome. They’re young, they’re good, and they’ve got some financial wiggle room. And, you know, an obvious reason to get better. Improve from good and there’s a good chance you end up great.
There is still so much to say about this team and all they’ve given us. This was the first legitimately good Mariners team since 2003, and they came within a game of the playoffs. They’re on the upswing. They’re fun. And the entirety of the core is around for a long time. What a time to be a fan.
Thanks, Mariners, for some of the most fun I’ve ever had. Thanks everyone, for following along with us all season. Thanks, Felix. Thanks, everybody. This may not have been a playoff team, but they were still a very good team. Which is more than I’d have dreamed to expect in April.