To many, this weekend’s matchup against the Oakland Athletics was the biggest series of the season for the Seattle Mariners thus far. For Lloyd McClendon and the boys, it was probably heralded as nothing more than games 93, 94, and 95 of 162, all of which being important. Whatever you decide to call it, there’s little doubt that a series beginning with a matchup between King Felix Hernandez and Jeff Samardzija is bound to be a good one. The M’s would defeat the Athletics 3-2 and 6-2 on outstanding outings from Felix and Hisashi Iwakuma, but couldn’t complete the sweep on Sunday as they lost 4-1.
Now, before we talk about the games themselves, I’d be remissed if I didn’t make mention of the incredible atmosphere that fell upon Safeco Field this weekend. Just under 100,000 made their way through the gates in total, including myself and 39,204 on Saturday alone — although I don’t know how much of a factor the Kuma bobblehead giveaway played in that. Maybe it’s finally set in that the Mariners are in fact, not a terrible baseball team, and people are starting to actually buy into it. I can’t remember the last time I was at a game where every single section was populated, or when the Seattle fan base was able to out-cheer the pesky A’s fans that always seem to show up in droves when Oakland comes to town — and I must say, I enjoyed it. Even the mood outside of the stadium on Saturday night was something I haven’t seen in an extremely long time.
The M’s don’t have the Boston Strong mentality that encapsulated the Boston Red Sox fan base in 2013 and catapulted the club to a World Series title. Even the young players expected to play big roles this year like Taijuan Walker, Brad Miller, and James Paxton haven’t been able to provide what spark that many hoped would carry over from September of last year. Of course injuries derailed the seasons of the aforementioned pitchers, but aside from the addition of Robinson Cano, there wasn’t any major change to the Mariners personal heading into 2014 outside of the management team — which should be given due credit as well. But what the club has been doing is simply getting it done; any way they can. Guys like Chris Young and Joe Beimel having resurgent seasons and James Jones and Roenis Elias bursting onto the scene with key contributions have propelled this club to a 51-44 record — and people have rallied around that.
Perhaps it all started with the Super Bowl Champion Seattle Seahawks reigniting Seattle as a sports city, or maybe people are starting to take my advice and attend at least one Felix start this year — more likely the former — but the most likely scenario is simple: people want to see winning teams. But I digress.
On Friday night Felix continued his dominance and allowed just a pair of earned runs across eight innings of work in the victory. He did have a rocky start however, giving up both runs — one of which was a solo home run by Stephen Vogt — in the first inning, but settled down from there on and finished the night with nine strikeouts and just six hits allowed. The win gives the King 11 before the All-Star break for the first time in his career and his 2.12 earned run averaged eclipsed Randy Johnson‘s 2.20 mark for a new team record at the break. The offense managed to even things up quick by scoring a run in both the second and third innings — including a Logan Morrison solo shot — before Cano hit an RBI-double in the sixth to give the club the lead. Fernando Rodney would pitch a scoreless ninth which concluded with a strikeout of Nick Punto on a questionable pitch. He offered this gem of a quote after the game.
Rodney was asked if the last pitch to Punto was a strike, his response: "All the pitches were strikes."
— Ryan Divish (@RyanDivish) July 12, 2014
Saturday night featured another strong pitching matchup between Iwakuma and A’s right-hander Jesse Chavez. In fact, the Japanese star would’ve earned a shutout on the night if it wasn’t for a two-out Brandon Moss home run in the top of the ninth. Otherwise it was nearly a perfect night for Seattle that featured a pair of home runs from All-Stars Kyle Seager and Robbie Cano and a double for Corey Hart that would lead to the first run of the game. The M’s managed to rack up a total of 14 hits on the night, but more importantly they managed to pick up three of those with runners in scoring position — something that seemed impossible at times during the previous series with the Minnesota Twins.
It almost looked as if the M’s were more interested in their plans for the four-day break than Sunday’s matchup against Sonny Gray who, aside from an RBI-ground out from Cano in the first, shut the team out. Closer Sean Doolittle managed to neutralize the left-handed bats of Seager and Morrison en route to a four-out save. Cano and Seager led the sixth inning off with a pair of hits to give the M’s runners at the corners with no outs, but Cano would be left stranded at third in what would become the last real opportunity Seattle had to do some damage on the night. Veteran starter Chris Young gave the club six innings of work while allowing three earned runs and continues to be a dependable arm in the rotation. This was a classic 2014 Mariners game where the offense just wasn’t able to muster up anything of substance. The club was 0-for-5 on the night was runners in scoring position.
All in all, the Mariners managed to take two of three from the best team in baseball, and that in itself should be worth celebrating to some extent. It’s always nice to go into the break on a winning note, but after a tough week prior to the serious, it was significant to see the M’s step up when it counted in games that provided the closest thing to a playoff atmosphere that this city has scene in years.
Heading into the second half of the season, the boys in blue and teal sit seven games above .500 with a decent grip on a Wild Card berth. Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?