Seattle Mariners postsSunday September 30, 2018
2018 Mariners: The Best of Times, The Worst of Times
It's the final day of the regular season, and shockingly two details remain unironed: Who wins the NL West (Dodgers or Rockies?) and who wins the NL Central (Cubs or Brewers)? Meaning we‘ll get not one but two Game 163s tomorrow. Free baseball!
As for who won’t be continuing? For the 17th season in a row? Yeah, our Seattle Mariners. As was indicated by the crowd at Safeco Field on a lovely night last Thursday:
I‘ve never seen our section that empty.
If the fans didn’t show, neither did the Ms. Facing a bunch of Texas pitchers with ERAs over 6.00, we managed three hits:
- a single in the 2nd by Vogelbach (stranded at 1st)
- a single in the 6th by Gamel (erased on a DP)
- a single by Haniger in the 9th (stranded at 1st)
The closest we got to scoring was a two-out, two-base error on a grounder by Haniger in the 6th (after the DP). We never made it to 3rd base. Without errors, we never made it to 2nd base. Final: 2-zip, Texas. No bangs, barely a whimper.
That said, it wasn't a bad year. It was the lesser version of those classic ‘90s M’s ads: You gotta like these guys. And I did. We had personality. We had fun. Think Dee Gordon's Griffeyesque homerun on a chilly April, and Big Maple remaining zen-calm as an American Eagle landed on his shoulder during pregames in Minnesota. Then that May he had: striking out 16 A's in one start and pitching a no-hitter against Toronto in his native Canada in the next. Albert Pujols got his 3,000 hit at Safeco for the visiting Angels. Ichiro retired but gave us a final great defensive play, then stayed on as a good will ambassador and even joked around with new superstar Shohei Ohtani. In May, I took a friend from Australia to see her first baseball game, and in June a friend from China. Through it all, the M's kept winning. Edwin Diaz kept mowing ‘em down.
Those were the best of times. But there were worst-of-times intimations. Since 2014, King Felix’s crown has been slipping. Here are his ERAs, year by year: 2.14, 3.53, 3.82, and last year, 4.36. This year's 5.55—one off the mark of the devil—got him exiled to the bullpen for a period. Robinson Cano started off hot, but in the off-season he'd tested positive for PEDs (or a banned diuretic that rids the body of evidence of PEDs), and eventually he took his punishment: We lost him for half the season. Plus our run differential remained in negative territory. I had a conversation with my friend Jim in June or July, hashing this out. He was saying, “I don't like it, it's not going to last.” I was saying, “I didn't expect it, so this is a gift.” Both of us were right. He was righter.
On July 3, after beating the Angels 4-1 at Safeco, the M's were 55-31, 24 games over .500 and just 1/2 game back of the division-leading Houston Astros. They were the second, solid team in the wild-card hunt. Our long, local, postseasonless nightmare seemed over, possibly.
Since? 34-42. In the second half, we did well against the Astros (8-5), and held our own against the hard-charging A's (4-6) but got killed by, of all teams, NL West teams: 1-5 against Colorado and 0-4 against San Diego. We dropped 3 of 4 to Toronto. Overall, we were 6-14 against NL teams. Reverse those numbers, do better than 1-5 against the Yankees, and I'd be shelling out for playoff tickets.
Our best played by WAR was Mitch Haniger (6.0), followed by Jean Segura (4.2). You know who was third? Believe it or not, Cano (3.2), who missed 80 games. There's a problem right there. Fourth was Diaz (3.2), our closer, who was probably the most dominant player at his position in Major League Baseball. Nice to have one of those.
M's final mark was 89-73. Normally, that's enough to get you in. Next year. Again.
Let Me Into the Ballgame, Let Me In With the Crowd
What wonders awaited.
Here's a quick story about long, post-9/11 baseball lines.
My wife and I and a friend stayed over in southern Washington for an engagement party Saturday night. Since no one wanted the long slog up I-5 on a traffic-congested Sunday afternoon, and since I had tix to the Sunday afternoon Mariners/Dodgers game, with Clayton Kershaw on the mound, I suggested leaving early. We did. And despite a brief jam in Tacoma—the land of the perpetual freeway construction project—it took us just three hours. We were back in Seattle at 10:30 AM—plenty of time for the 1:10 start.
But were the Mariners ready for us?
It didn't seem like it. The lines outside the gates were worse than around Tacoma. It was a mob scene. Recently I‘ve begun to use the Mariners Team Store entrance on 1st Avenue, and yes, that line was shorter—100, 150 people maybe—so we got in it. And waited. And waited. We arrived around 12:40 and didn’t get through the security checkpoint and into the building until after the game had started. Meaning it took us more time moving those 100 feet than it did driving from Tacoma to Seattle.
Thankfully, after all that hassle, we were able to buy $12.50 beers, and, surrounded by Dodgers fans, watch as the M's fell behind 5-0 in the 1st, on their way to losing 12-1, all beneath hazy, wildfire-ravaged skies and air quality unhealthier than Beijing.
Maybe that's why they kept us from trying to enter. Maybe they thought they were doing us a favor.
Qing gei wo mai yixie huasheng he Cracker Jacks
Dee sports the sleeveless, untucked and backwards cap look. 很好看。
So I took my Chinese teacher to the Seattle Mariners game last Saturday. She’s heading back to China in August, had never seen a baseball game, and how can you let someone leave the states without at least one game? Plus there’s the whole Confucian thing. When I lived in Taiwan, and I was out with Chinese peers, they wouldn’t let me buy anything. I heard this over and over again:
It can translated a thousand ways, but this is the gist: “To have friends come from far away, isn’t that a joy?” I.e., Be a good host, damnit.
This was my third attempt in the last few years to explain the game to someone from another country. I should be getting better at it but ... no. Most team sports are metaphors for war: You have a rectangular field, a goal on either side, and an object of some kind. The point is to get that object into your opponent’s goal more often than they get it into yours before time expires. Easy.
Baseball’s different and I always struggle about where to begin. In the future, this wouldn’t be a bad place:
The goal of the game is to make it around the bases before making an out, and the team that does this the most times wins.
But I didn’t do that on Saturday. I began with the outs, and the three main ways to make an out: ground ball, fly ball, strikeout. Strikeout was the most difficult, beause it led to “ball” and “strike zone” and what happens when you don’t swing. Not to mention “foul ball.” I didn’t even get into the whole “foul ball with two strikes” thing. Good god.
As I explained all of this, positing an imaginary batter making an out and returning to the dugout, my teacher said, “And he’s gone from the game.”
“No ...” I began, but was already imagining what baseball would be like if this were true.
Beyond the game’s uniqueness: two things got in the way of better explanations: 1) the language barrier (her English was good but not like a native speaker, while my Chinese is beginning level); and 2) Safeco’s loudspeakers and constant music and announcements. It's so loud it makes it difficult to hold a conversation, let alone explain the game to someone from another country who’s never seen it. My throat was raw by the second inning.
Oh, a third thing got in the way: It was “Turn Ahead the Clock” Night at Safeco: the Mariners wore their “futuristic” unis with cut-off sleeves and crazy colors and logos. The entire game was centered around this. A robot delivered the rosin bag, the National Anthem singer had Spock ears, and the PA announcer sounded like Majel Barret’s computer voice on “Star Trek”: Occupying second quadrant, digit 9, Dee Gordon. “Normally,” I explained to my teacher, “we’d hear, ‘Playing second base, number 9...’ So this is just a kind of play off of that.” Things got even tougher when I said the whole concept of Turn Ahead the Clock nights was a parody of Turn Back the Clock nights, in which players from both teams wear the uniforms from, say, 50 years earlier. 为什么？she asked. Why do they do that? And that led to a talk about nostalgia: people wanting to see what they saw when they were young.
The M’s were playing the Royals—hapless again after a few years as one of baseball’s best and most fun teams—but it began poorly for our starting pitcher, Felix Hernandez. He gave up a single, a single, then a homerun. Three batters, three runs. Ouch. Then he settled in. The Mariners came back with a run in the bottom of the first, and after I pointed this out on the scoreboard above the left-field wall, my teacher said, “So the Royals win that round.”
Um ... Kind of.
In the end, she got to see quite a game. M's hit for the cycle: Ryon Healey homered in the second to tie it up, Ben Gamel tripled in the same inning to put us ahead, and Denard Span doubled in the third to pad the lead. Singles were spread out all over, but that's all they'd need. Edwin Diaz closed the door in the ninth and the M's won the future, 6-4. My teacher also got a free cap. It's brick-red rather than traditonal blue but that's probably better: red is a lucky color in China.
Baseball, Hot Dogs, Apple Pie and Memorial Day
Too much me and not enough Candace at Safeco Field on Sunday. She's wearing the new M's cap she bought—flat brim, as the kids do.
I went to the Seattle Mariners game on Sunday afternoon with a friend from Australia, Candace, who's lived in the states for five or so years, had never been to an MLB game, and always wanted to see one. She saw a not-bad one: a 3-1 victory over the Minnesota Twins in a quick two and a half hours under blue skies. M's scored two with two outs in the bottom of the 8th. Our earlier run came on a Kyle Seager homer that we didn't see; we were standing in long slow line to get a Mariner Dog. Yep, the hot dog, too. She wanted the whole experience.
This baseball lesson wasn't like the one with my friend from Lebanon. Candace had played softball growing up so she knew the rudiments—although I did remind her about nine innings, visiting team batting first, three outs, etc. I gave examples of outs: ground, fly, strike. She asked about the guys wearing black and I said they were the umpires. I said there were four here but six in the postseason. She asked what the postseason was. I told her. I told her you could tell the teams apart because the home team tended to wear white and the road team gray. I added that my father told me that when he took me to my first MLB game when I was about 4 years old. I still remember him telling me. Maybe because it added clarity to the proceedings. “Ah, so I root for these guys.”
I also told Candace the “Yo La Tengo” story. Just not as well as Roger Angell.
Throughout, she peppered me with good questions. She asked if the best hitter batted first. When a Mariner finally got aboard with a single, she asked why there were two Mariners on first base, so I had to explain about first/third-base coaches and what they did. I told her that traditionally the fastest guy batted first, but over the years it's evolved to where you want someone who isn't slow with a good OBP at the top of the lineup. I explained OBP and batting average, and how you calculate both: percentages to the thousandth rather than hundredth point. I told her what a clean-up hitter was.
She seemed most impressed by, or made the most noise about, foul balls ricocheting back. We were 300-level behind homeplate so I didn't give a second glance to most of them, but she was worried for the other fans. “Do they get hit often?” she asked. I replied: “Thrown and batted balls can be dangerous. The Seattle Mariners and Major League Baseball wish fans a safe and happy...blah blah blah.” You'd think I'd know this official warning verbatim by now. In my younger days, with a spongier brain, I would have. Oh, I then told her about Carl Mays and Ray Chapman. That was chilling to her.
There was one question she asked that I couldn't answer. She said that for a holiday that felt like it should be about quiet with remembrance, everyone seemed fairly loud and celebratory during Memorial Day weekend. I nodded and said that's the nature of American holidays. We want to honor a thing but we wind up whooping it up for the day off. Plus we‘re not particularly good at history or remembering. Cf., Bowie:
Do you remember your President Nixon?
Do you remember the bills you have to pay
Or even yesterday?
The question I couldn’t answer? “Why was Memorial Day at the end of May? Was it tied to some battle?” Yesterday morning, Memorial Day morning, I looked it up. Apparently the holiday began in the South during the Civil War and spread North after the war. It's not only about remembering war dead, of course, but placing flowers on their tombstones. Which is one possible answer as to why it's held during the last Monday in May:
The first northern Memorial Day was observed on May 30, 1868. One author claims that the date was chosen because it was not the anniversary of any particular battle. According to a White House address in 2010, the date was chosen as the optimal date for flowers to be in bloom in the North.
That second answer makes the most sense.
This was the profile I wrote about newcomer Ichiro Suzuki for The Grand Salami, the Seattle Mariners alternative program, back in the spring of 2001:
Hey, when did we pick up this guy? Just kidding. Ichiro comes to the M's with quite a bit of fanfare, and a playing record whose numerological significance seems something out of folklore. You‘ve heard of the 7 Deadly Sins, the 7 Wonders of the World? Ichiro won 7 straight batting titles with the Orix Blue Wave, 7 straight Gold Gloves; he was named to 7 straight “Best Nine” All-Star teams. And he’s only 27. He has a .353 lifetime batting average and Michael Jordan stature in Japan. Yet he's given it all up to try to become the first Japanese position player to make it big in the bigs. Can he do it? That's the question. The U.S. players he's been compared to keeps leveling off: from Johnny Damon (hitting plus power) to Rod Carew (hitting with no power) to Brett Butler (hitting, but not Rod Carew-type hitting). How does .353 translate into English? We hope well.
This is what I wrote three weeks into the season:
Well, that didn't take long. In his first game he looked a little overmatched against Oakland's Tim Hudsonand admitted as much in a post-game interviewbut that didn't stop him from dropping a key bunt-hit to help win the game. Four days later against Texas (and You-Know-Who), Ichiro went deep in the 10th inning for the game-winner. The following week against Oakland, he made a throw from right field (now capitalized: The Throw) which defied physics, nailing Terrence Long at third. A week later he robbed Raffy Palmeiro of a homerun at Safeco. What's next? Lightning bolts shooting from his hands? Ridding the universe of evil-doers everywhereor at least Scott Boras? And we haven't even mentioned the way he slaps that sweet single between third and short, his speed on the basepaths, and his quiet efficiency in an age of blowhard swagger. To paraphrase an old ad slogan: You Gotta Love This Guy.
So we did. So we do.
Today, the Seattle Mariners announced Ichiro Suzuki would be leaving the field but not the team. He's being kicked upstairs and given a suit and a Zhou Enlai-like title: “Special Assistant to the Chairman.” Good call. Whenever a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer is slipping toward Mendoza territory, as Ichiro was this season with his .205/.255/.205 line, it's probably time.
But what fun to recall that great rookie season in 2001, when he hit .350, collected 242 hits, stole 56 bases, and electrified several continents. He also hit .600 in his first post-season series. I'd forgotten that. Against Cleveland in a 5-game ALDS he went 12 for 20. It was one of four post-season series he would play in: two in 2001 (ended by the Yankees) and two in 2012 (with the Yankees). He never made the World Series. Like Junior and Edgar. Our best players are ringless.
That 242 hits, by the way? That was the ninth-most hits in a single season in MLB history, and the most in any season since 1930. Three years later, he set the record with 262. He broke a record no one had come close to breaking since the ‘20s. Just look at the guys who have collected the most hits in a season in baseball history. That first row of a dozen guys. Nothing but black-and-white photos. And then Ichiro. Twice.
He collected 200+ hits 10 years in a row—another record. He collected 10 Gold Gloves. He wound up with 3,089 hits, which is amazing when you consider he didn’t get his first hit in the Majors until he was 27. Combine what he did in Japan and the U.S., he had more professional hits than anyone in baseball history.
On the Mariners, he's the all-time team leader in hits (2,542), batting average (.322), at-bats (7,902), triples (79) and stolen bases (438). He's second in games (1,859) and runs (1,181). He's third in total bases (3,292). He‘ll be the third Seattle Mariner inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
I haven’t even gotten to the intangibles: the sumo stretching moves in the on-deck circle, the sleeve tug, the cool. On the Terrence Long throw, he was so matter-of-fact it sounds like bragging: “The ball was hit right to me,” he said. “Why did he run when I was going to throw him out?”
Someone on Twitter suggested it was a shame Ichiro didn't get to go out like Derek Jeter: collecting gifts and accolades in stadium after stadium until you wanted to slug the dude. My friend Nick's response: “Self-effacing Ichiro? Don't think he wants that, deserving though he is.”
Ichiro's last game was last night at Safeco. He went 0-3 with a walk and he scored one of the M's two runs. The last hit in his remarkable baseball career happened more than a week ago, April 22 against Texas, 4th inning. It's not a hit for most people, but for this 44-year-old, yes: a single to shortstop.