The Mariners stumbled to the All-Star break on a three-month track of frustration that was summed up last Saturday night in three hours.
A 36-year old pitcher was making his big-league debut for the Athletics, a team so bad it’s not even contemplating an up-for-grabs bid for the second AL wild-card berth. Seattle countered with rookie Andrew Moore, who worked six serviceable innings, allowing three runs.
They were at home, in front of a decent crowd on a pleasant night. The lineup was intact, as close to a version of everyday players as it’s ever going to get.
Baseball offers no certainties – only crazy people bet on it – but a club presuming to be in contention finds a way to win this game.
Final score: Oakland 4, Seattle 3.
The Mariners lone rally produced two runs in the third inning. Their other run came on Jarrod Dyson’s solo homer in the sixth. Otherwise, nothing.
The formidable middle of the batting order – Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz, Kyle Seager and Danny Valencia – combined to go 1-for-16, stranding seven.
In the ninth, with two outs, closer Edwin Diaz surrendered the tie-breaking run on an 0-2 slider that didn’t slide. Mitch Haniger’s two-out double in the bottom of the inning provided a last hope, but then Dyson hit a fly ball to left field, and that was that.
A few minutes after his team’s record fell to 42-47, manager Scott Servais bemoaned its inconsistency.
“Some nights we can look like world beaters, when the offense is clicking and we’re playing good defense,” he said. “Other nights, not so good.”
Most new-wave baseball thinkers bristle at the word “chemistry.” The notion some intangible defines winners from losers: Pure nonsense.
Really? Chemistry is a vital component on basketball floors, football fields, hockey rinks and soccer pitches. Baseball is less an exercise in teamwork than a succession of match-ups between pitchers and batters, I get it, but I’m convinced some kind of dynamic exists that can’t be quantified.
The Mariners reflect what they are: A team whose roster largely has been assembled from other organizations. There’s a benefit to growing up together in a minor-league system – even the most avid metrics analysts will acknowledge that – but take a look at the lineup Servais put together against the A’s.
Jean Segura and Mitch Haniger were acquired from the Diamondbacks. Ben Gamel and Cano came from the Yankees. Add Cruz (Orioles), Valencia (A’s) and Dyson (Royals) to the mix, and you’re left with only Seager and Mike Zunino as original Mariners, and they didn’t grow up together in the Seattle farm system.
It’s a collection of spare parts – some of whom are very talented and very expensive , granted – but spare parts just the same.
Servais has done everything possible to foster a climate of togetherness, beginning with spring training meetings encouraging players to open up with each other. Before a road trip flight to Minnesota last month, he put names into a hat and took out two at a time, requiring each arbitrarily assigned duo to wear twin costumes.
Some previous Mariners teams shared a clubhouse where the mood was toxic. (Definition of toxic: First baseman David Segui and starting pitcher Randy Johnson brawling over the volume of the pregame music.) The dismal first half of the Mariners season can be attributed to several factors. A toxic mood in the clubhouse is not one of them.
But I’m still waiting to see a genuinely bonded team at Safeco Field, instead of something that looks like it was assembled with art-class paste. Sustained rallies, bottom-of-the-ninth comebacks, winning streaks longer than three games. Stuff like that.
The Mariners aren’t renowned for their colorful personalities, yet it was Cano and Cruz who infused the All-Star Game – a boring marathon of strikeout upon strikeout – with jubilant smiles.
Cruz’s home-plate antics with grumpy umpire Joe West temporarily stole the show, until Cano stole it for good with the world’s happiest homer trot. The guys from Seattle had a blast, revealing more emotion in a 2017 game that didn’t count than in any of the 89 games that have.
Cano and Cruz clearly reveled in their connection as teammates. May their energy be contagious.