For the first time in more than six months, the Mariners will be back where they belong Monday afternoon, back in Safeco Field.
The forecast for the home opener figured to be calling for a festive mood with a chance of drama, but that was before a road trip more deflating than “No Country For Old Men.” (A movie about a creepy serial killer that concludes with the creep at large, what’s that about?)
Only a week ago, friends were asking me about the potential of a club that appeared to be improved in every phase. Now they’re asking what the Seahawks’ plans are for Richard Sherman, the Pro Bowl cornerback with the range to dominate the news cycle in early April.
“I will share my thoughts on Richard Sherman,” I tell them, “if you can explain why the creepy serial killer got away in ‘No Country For Old Men.’”
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Call me stubborn, but I can’t give up so soon on a baseball season. I’ve waited 190 days for the thwack of wooden bats, for the smell of peanuts, popcorn and Cracker Jack, for the taste of toasted grasshoppers.
Just because the Mariners stumbled out of the gate by losing a four-game series to the Astros and a three-gamer to the Angels — just because they woke up Sunday sharing the worst record in the majors, and went to sleep Sunday more pained than when they woke up — is no reason for any of us to curb our enthusiasm.
As the road-trip finale showed, when the Mariners aren’t stranding dozens of runners in scoring position, they’re capable of rallies. (For those of you just tuning in, “rally” is a quaint word describing the chain reaction that occurs when multiple hitters reach base in the same inning. A rally often converts into a “lead,” another quaint word associated with the exaltation of showing more runs on the scoreboard than the opponent.)
The Mariners put together some rallies Sunday, enough to coast into the ninth inning with a 9-3 lead and a sense they had weathered all that can go wrong on a baseball diamond. And then still more went wrong, crazy wrong, surrealistically wrong, seven-runs-in-the-bottom-of-the-ninth wrong.
Edwin Diaz’ erratic control of his secondary pitch, a work-in-progress slider he couldn’t place within a foot of the strike zone, succinctly summed up an unanticipated grind of a road trip. The not-so-harmonic convergence of tepid offense, shaky defense and pitchers who pitch well until challenged to deliver in the clutch deflated all of the optimism generated in spring training.
When the going gets tough, I tend to remember the Minnesota Twins of 1987. The Twins were not the best team in baseball that season, nor the best team in American League — far from it — but they won the World Series because, as advanced metrics subsequently verified, God wanted them to win the World Series.
The Twins had outfielder Kirby Puckett in his Hall-of-Fame prime while another Hall-of-Famer, Bert Blyleven, anchored the starting pitching staff. Blyleven went 15-12, lefty Frank Viola went 17-10, and after that, well, here is where God decided to intercede.
The No. 3 starter, Les Straker, finished 8-10 with a 4.37 ERA. The No. 4 starter, Mike Smithson, finished 4-7 with a 5.94 ERA. The No. 5 starter, Joe Niekro, finished 4-9 with a 6.26 ERA.
See what I mean about keeping the faith? In 1987, a team celebrated a world championship with three starters combining for a 16-26 record.
Thirty years later, the ’87 Twins still fascinate me. Built for power in an indoor park variously known as the “Homer Dome” and the “Thunder Dome,” they doubled down on their strength — outscoring everybody at home — and held their breath with their eyes closed the rest of the time.
In June, the Twins went 1-6 in a road series. In August, they went 0-6 in a road series. Their road record ended up 29-52.
But they surprised the Tigers in the playoffs, then held serve against the Cardinals in a best-of-seven World Series decided in Minneapolis.
The 1987 Twins were flawed, maybe as flawed as any championship team in the history of professional sports. Didn’t matter.
They won at home and won when it counted, forever providing hope to the hopeless.
The 1987 Minnesota Twins might seem like an obscure role model for the 2017 Seattle Mariners, but those Twins are all we’ve got.
Your move, God.