I was planning to write about Mariner minor leaguers, but after what the big club just did, the little guys can wait. The Mariners just beat Toronto 9-5, and if you missed it, you missed out. When I got home from work, Ricky Romero was working on a no-hitter in the middle innings. Ackley ripped a double to break that up soon after, but the Mariners were still trailing, then it was tied, then they were trailing, and so forth.
I don’t remember the order of everything that happened, so you’ll have to read Geoff Baker’s game story if you want that, but there were a lot of memorable moments. Jesus Montero hit a homer to left center with an apparently cracked bat. Casper Wells ripped a double to right center to tie the game. Ichiro threw a rocket home to get a third out and keep the game tied. There were two errors at first on pickoff attempts, one by Wilhelmsen that contributed to the Blue Jays taking a 5-3 lead in the eighth. The other was by Toronto’s catcher and went clear to the right field corner. Kawasaki was on the ground for 5 seconds before he noticed the error and still made it to third easily. Then Jaso, pinch hitting with two outs in the ninth, singled him home. Colby Rasmus lucked into a barehand stop while diving to keep it from going for an inside the park homerun. Ackley was thrown out at home on an ill-fated attempt to score.
After some nice work by the bullpen to take it to extras, it was Michael Saunders time. He had already slugged a homer in the ninth to start the inning. In the tenth, after Smoak, Montero and Liddi all reached base, The Condor stepped in with one out and a lefty on the hill. One swing later, on a lefty slider no less, Saunders hit a towering fly that carried and carried until it eventually dropped over the right field fence for a grand slam. Brandon League shut the door and the Mariners had their most memorable win of a young season. I just reread this paragraph and I did a terrible job communicating how exciting this was. I’m usually pretty quiet watching games, especially since I’ve had a cold all week, and I yelled at least three times. This felt like some moment of destiny, a little gift saying, “Here, remember how great baseball is? Don’t give up!”
This is finally starting to feel like a new era. The Mariners are 11-10. I’m not expecting them to contend this year. I’ll be very happy if they finish at .500. The Mariners are almost entirely youth now, so winning means that these players we’re banking on are starting to come through. They’re still going to struggle at times. Some guys are not going to stick. This season is still about figuring out who’s a part of the future, about giving the young guys time to develop and mature. That’s what’s important. Wins are icing on the cake, and yet they’re necessary to gain any good feeling about this team. It’s important that they win while doing developing guys. You don’t want to develop losers. Players have to learn to win, and they have to develop to the point where they are good enough to win. It’s a weird circle that’s hard to get into, which is why so many teams are constantly bad and rebuilding.
Winning is a sign that they’re performing, but it also puts them in the habit of winning. I’ve been on teams, and watched teams, that expected to win every time they took the field. Sometimes it’s because the talent is superior, sometimes there’s something magical about it; the best and most memorable (2001 M’s, Tuiasosopo Huskies) are a combination of both. It always starts with winning though. You don’t learn to win by losing. That’s why you can’t completely write off a season, even if you’re rebuilding, and why it’s so hard and dangerous to go without any veterans, even if that veteran is Miguel Olivo. I have no idea if the Mariners will ever get to that point of expecting to win, but nights like tonight remind what it feels like. This is a team of likeable, competetive guys. They have talent, and for the first time in a while, they’re starting to have personality. There will be some tough nights in Texas in July, but take tonight as a sign that we’re going to have plenty of fun this summer and for a long time to come.