John McGrath

John McGrath: M’s epic rally Friday night could be season’s turning point

Where were you when the Seattle Mariners delivered on their minuscule chance to win Friday night in Boston?

If their ninth-inning comeback against the Red Sox proves to be a pivotal point in the playoff race, the “where-were-you-when-the-Mariners-

rallied?” question will be asked beyond October. It will be asked years from now.

Sounds crazy, huh? How can a half-inning’s worth of work during the 127th game of a 162-game season be recalled as a potential franchise highlight?

The Elias Sports Bureau, is how. Elias estimates the odds of a typical major league team overcoming a 3-0 deficit with two outs and a runner on first base in the ninth inning to be 1.1 percent.

Not to dispute expert statisticians at Elias, but the 1.1 percent chance it gave the Mariners was hugely inflated because they aren’t a typical team. They’re a team with a batting attack that doesn’t aspire to be anything more than adequate. They’re a team ill-equipped to manufacture two-out runs in the ninth inning.

And to think, the Mariners scored five of them off Koji Uehara, the All-Star closer substantially responsible for Boston’s 44-0 record in games the Red Sox led after eight innings.

Where were you when Endy Chavez joined Logan Morrison on the basepaths after coaxing a 10-pitch walk, and pinch hitter Chris Denorfia kept hope alive with a single? Where were you when Austin Jackson, on an 0-2 count, drove in two runs with a double, and Dustin Ackley drove in two more with a blooper, and Robinson Cano drove Ackley home from first base?

I was in the press box at CenturyLink Field, watching the Seahawks roll up 31 first-half points against a Chicago Bears defense that had about a 1.1 percent chance of forcing a punt. Because every television screen in the press box was showing the exhibition game — in an NFL press box, baseball is as foreign as a movie with subtitles — I had kept track of the Mariners on my laptop.

But when Yoenis Cespedes hit a three-run homer off Felix Hernandez, pitching once again without the luxury of making a mistake, I figured what lots of others figured about the Mariners: A tough series in Philadelphia had carried over into a tough night in Boston, and the season suddenly was entering a crisis-prevention phase.

Oh, well. Losing to a last-place team for the third time in four games wasn’t catastrophic for the Mariners. It just served as a sneak preview of the anguish awaiting them in September.

Besides, how ’bout those Seahawks?

“It’s 3-2,” somebody said, not needing to specify. The Mariners were making it a ballgame in Boston, and moments later, they turned the ballgame into a statement: Until the 27th out, twenty six outs doesn’t mean a hill of beans.

The ninth-inning explosion was not unprecedented for the Mariners. On May 30, 2009, down 3-0 on the road against the Angels, Jose Lopez hit a three-run homer that extended the game into extra innings. In the top of the 10th, Yuniesky Betancourt’s sacrifice fly pushed across a run that held up.

I do not remember Lopez’s home run, nor Betancourt’s RBI, and it’s fair to wonder: If I can’t recall a ninth-inning comeback from a 3-0 deficit six years ago, why am I anticipating to recall the comeback accomplished in Boston six years from now?

Different scenarios.

The 2009 Mariners improved to 24-26 after that victory, which put them 61/2 games behind first place. And though rookie manager Don Wakamatsu guided the team to an 85-77 finish — its most recent winning season — the Mariners never really contended. They finished 12 games behind the Angels in the AL West, and 10 games behind the Red Sox for the lone wild-card bid.

By contrast, the Friday night “Boston Sea Party” we saw (or, ahem, heard about) was rife with playoff-race implications. As the Mariners were resuscitating their current trip — and, perhaps, their season — at Fenway Park, the Tigers were getting clobbered at Minnesota. Aftershocks from both games were evident Saturday.

The Mariners spotted the Red Sox three early runs in Boston before batting around in the fourth inning, scoring seven times and sustaining a pattern: Through the first 18 innings of their series against the Red Sox, they have failed to score in 16 of them. But, hey, five runs here, seven times there, that’s enough to set up an opportunity for a sweep Sunday.

The Tigers, meanwhile, responded to their 20-6 defeat Friday with a 12-4 thumping in the first game of a day-night doubleheader. They won the nightcap, 8-6.

Projections of statisticians with access to computers still give Detroit (or Kansas City) a significant edge over Seattle for the second wild card. Whatever. Statisticians with access to computers approximated the Mariners had a 1.1 percent chance of winning Friday night.

The stats guys were way off. Considering the Mariners had played 886 games since manufacturing a rally to overcome a three-run deficit in the ninth inning — considering Uehara’s dominance and Boston’s 44-0 record leading after eight — the chances of beating the Red Sox were closer to 0.1 percent.

One in a thousand.

Unforgettable.

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