I told myself I wasn’t going to write about the Mariners in this week’s Left Field column. And I didn’t. The piece that publishes tomorrow says nothing about the fact that last night, the Mariners improved (if that’s the word) on their franchise record 17-game losing streak. I didn’t write about the losing streak, because I figured by the time the print edition published, the Ms would have won, rendering any sorry lament void.
That didn’t happen. They lost again, this time to the Yankees, by a score of 4-1, the sort of close-enough-to-win-if-they-had-any-offense game that has become as familiar and disappointing as this summer’s weather in Seattle. This is funny. I’ve always been oddly proud of my native city’s sunnier-than-perceived summers and their better-than-advertised baseball club. But if there ever was a summer when a stereotype about Seattle is true, this is probably it. For all I know, there’s some downcast kid in a flannel shirt serving up lattés at every Starbucks and Nervermind plays over loudspeakers at each intersection.
Yeah, I know this is Oregon where – despite our regional television coverage – not everyone is a Mariners fan. In fact, most of you aren’t. But if you follow baseball, even tangentially, you know about this losing streak; and if you follow sports at all, you know that losing streaks have the power to ruin your day, or your week…or in this case, your entire month.
I remember the last time the Mariners won. It was the day after the Fourth of July – a Tuesday, I think – and I washed down a slightly hungover workday with a fluke extra-innings win over the Athletics. Things were looking good. The club was back at .500 going into the All-Star break and just a couple games out of first place. I even let dreams of the boys playing deep into October creep into my head. For the first time in a long while, the All-Star break seemed too long. I was anxious to see if they could take first place.
But they haven’t won since that day and are now 17 games below breaking even, 15.5 games out of first. The season is over and it’s still July. The trade deadline is approaching and in true Seattle style, they’ll piss away their best prospects and give up. The towel has been thrown in with two-plus months of pain left to endure. This shouldn’t be as depressing as it seems right now, but it is – just as it’s been for every Mariners fan I’ve spoken with over the past week as the losses piled up.
“But the Mariners have always sucked. What’s the big deal?”
You’re thinking that right now…unless at any point during your life you’ve been a Mariners fan. Yes, the team was shitty beyond belief for its first 14 seasons. They were always bad, but you knew they were bad, so it didn’t matter. Now, these guys aren’t that bad, so it’s doubly mindboggling. But then came ’95 and Edgar’s double down the line and Griffey rounded third and Dave Niehaus shouted “The Mariners are going to play for the American League pennant” and everything changed. We were no longer losers. Mariner highlights showed on Sportscenter and soon, they were good enough to blow up the damn Kingdome all together, hoping those losing seasons would be forever buried by the rubble.
Six years after that, the Mariners were, without a doubt, not the worst team in baseball. Actually, they were the best team in baseball. In the history of baseball, to be specific. No one team had ever won that many games and now, a decade later, no team has. And that’s probably why this losing streak is starting to really sting. A lot of us who grew up with this team still love this squad. We’re scorned lovers. We’re battered puppies. We’re the Catholics of professional sports, taking a sick pleasure in the pain.
It’s been a hell of a season, too. First, there was the passing of Dave Niehaus during the off-season and since then the games just haven’t sounded quite right. Then there was the promise of greatness from some stellar pitching. But any wins they could find seemed almost like favors and we all sat around at the pub and said how great this team would be if they could just hit the damn ball.
No one thought this team was going to win a World Series this year. But winning is nice. Even if you we were getting a few each week. At least you could say, “Hey, the Mariners won” to yourself before going off to bed and rest soundly. You could wear your Mariners hat out in public, even here, deep in Oregon, and have someone ask you for the score or comment on Felix’s fastball.
Not now, though. We merely check the score, knowing that the streak has to end sometime, but taking each record-breaking defeat as another reason to stop caring and put away the hat. But if you’re a Mariners fan, you can’t do that. You might not be able to explain to the initiated why exactly this is, but if you have loved the team long enough to remember Alvin Davis, you know what I’m talking about.
And you’ll probably be tuning in today, knowing that no team could ever lose 18 games in a row.
Photo: Keith Allison