The Statement Game

Jeff Sullivan · April 18, 2013 at 2:00 am · Filed Under Mariners 

Ordinarily, in sporting circles, when people talk about statement games, they talk about big games, important games, games where you can send a message to the competition. They’re coming-out games, games of intimidation, games of deep, meaningful triumph. The Mariners, against the Tigers, just played a game that made a statement. But it was a different sort of statement game — a game that made a statement about the very state of the Mariners.

Somebody asked me not too long ago whether I’d ever write a book about what the Mariners have been through over the last decade or so. My answer was something to the effect of “no”, because the book would be almost immediately irrelevant and certainly immediately uninteresting. But let’s say that there were such a book. Let’s say that the book somehow became so popular it led to the development and filming of a major motion picture. Something really Hollywoody, something as nuanced and subtle as a sheet of hot pink construction paper. The movie, without question, would have to feature a baseball game. The baseball game would have to weave together as many story elements as possible. The baseball game would be played toward the end of the movie, at the climax, and that baseball game could look an awful lot like tonight’s baseball game did.

Here’s the message with which the movie slaps you in the face and then slaps you again, on the other side, just to drive home the point: the Mariners, for a while, have had Felix Hernandez. Felix Hernandez can’t do it all himself, no matter how much he tries, bless his heart. Success always seems just right around the corner, and you’re always able to talk yourself into believing the team is on the way, but over and over and over again, heartbreak. Maybe not heartbreak, because people have become desensitized. Dejection. Renewed disappointment.

Felix is the bright side. He’s the superstar, he’s the guy without whom there might not be any emotion at all. There are people who want the Mariners to win for Felix more than they want the Mariners to win for themselves. Felix sometimes feels like the only certain link between the Mariners and Major League Baseball, and Felix can be impossible when he sets his mind to it. Felix was impossible tonight, which is how he struck out 12 Tigers in eight innings. It’s how he allowed just four hits over that span, with a single unearned run. The Tigers are probably the best team in the American League, and Felix didn’t just flatten them — he made tortillas out of them, and he made filling out of some of the leftover bits, and he served a heaping helping of Tiger tacos. For eight innings, Felix played video-game baseball.

And he left with a no-decision. The team was dealt a loss. There was zero support anywhere in the lineup. The game could’ve been managed better, strategically. Because of Felix, things were always close, and the Mariners were never that far away from a victory. It would take but one simple swing of the bat, and the most loyal of followers stuck around to see if their faith would be rewarded. Because of the Mariners, that swing of the bat was never swung. Other swings of the bat were swung, instead, and the team wasted Felix’s brilliance by plating one run over 42 outs.

Felix gives the Mariners such a high baseline. He always has, at least ever since he blossomed into the ace he is today. The rest of the Mariners just can’t combine to get the team over the top. Some of them disappoint because they screw up. Some of them disappoint because they just aren’t good enough. Almost inevitably, they disappoint, if not to a man, then as a collective. Felix keeps going, perhaps perversely fueled by the challenge, but the outcome’s the same. The outcome’s pre-determined. The Mariners are going to have Felix, and the Mariners are going to fail.

Given Felix’s outing, this was a game the Mariners should’ve won. Of course, from the other side, you could say that given Max Scherzer’s outing, the Tigers should’ve won. And they did, and that’s valid. But fans get to be self-centered, and in fact they almost always are, and this game said so much about the organization in 267 occasionally spellbinding minutes. Here’s Felix. Here’s what the Mariners have. Here are the rest of the Mariners. Here is the intervention by the people in charge of the Mariners. Here’s the familiar outcome we approach every time as if it’s less familiar than it is. There are glimpses of hope, there are sparks, but nothing fully ignites. On the off chance something catches, it rains.

The story of the Mariners is that they’ve had a neat guy and they’ve sucked. Let it not be forgotten that on Felix’s most magical of days, last August, he was given one run of support. He was given the bare minimum, meaning the Mariners came close to wasting perfection. They didn’t, and maybe now that’s the lesson: you can win, Felix, so long as you’re perfect. And Felix takes up the challenge every time, never stopping to look around and see if anyone else has to meet the same impossible standard. A healthy pitcher looks at a game like tonight’s and concludes that there just wasn’t enough support. An unhealthy pitcher looks at a game like tonight’s and wishes he hadn’t given up a run. There’s no way, at this point, that Felix is healthy. Not between the ears, not after what the Mariners have put him through.

I think a good, appropriate team slogan would be Seattle Mariners: Almost. I just can’t tell if it conveys too positive an impression.



32 Responses to “The Statement Game”

  1. gopilots70 on April 18th, 2013 3:00 am

    Fantastic reflection, Jeff. It really does sum up the repetitive feelings over the last ten years of this franchise, but even more so the last five when a Felix in his prime and the stewardship of baseball people who had had very recent success had the promise to wash away the wrongs of the previous regime.

    I agree that today was a big statement about the conditions of this team. For some reason for me it has really boiled over in the last week causing me to irrationally lash out in writing over a certain player or the manager (again).

    We have been there before many times and said “would have, should have” but it’s so incredible that three errors in well pitched games, compounded by the expected futility at the plate, and the bad in-game decisions we have become resigned to accept.

    Take away those three errors and we sweep the Rangers and are basking in the glow of a 12 strikeout Felix 1-0 win and looking to take the series from the Tigers with Kuma on the mound which would give us a 7-3 homestand.

    Instead, we are left with your statement and the M’s statement and the fact that something similar to my previous paragraph has been true so often in recent memory.

    But, it’s only baseball, and maybe miracles can happen and Dustin, Jason, Jesus, and Kyle will begin to hit and we really do want to sign up Morse and Kendres to be our power boys. And Felix finally gets his just reward…

  2. SonOfZavaras on April 18th, 2013 3:16 am

    Eric Wedge is making a serious case for being the first ML manager fired in 2013.

    Normally, I always kind of see the skipper getting canned as a bit of a “for show” move (“See?! We DID something! Come out for Bat Night!”).

    But, in this case, I really believe we’re on the precipice of ruining a whole generation of young talent by having Eric Wedge be the manager. And maybe this IS one of the very few times where getting rid of the strategically-challenged skipper is the best idea out there.

    Felix just turned 27- a decent chunk of his prime is gone already. And he’s toiled for a lot of bad teams with that prime, racking up a ton more mileage on his arm than most 27-year-old big-league pitchers have.

    Fucking A. If we were being run with just a LITTLE more competence, we’d be talking about Felix’ attempt to get Win No. 150 right now.

    For all intents and purposes, we wasted Ichiro’s major-league career with an unrivaled flair for incompetence. Do we really want to do the same to Felix?

    I believe in Jack Zduriencik, basically. And I believe in Tom McNamara. I believe in a lot of Mariner things that are in place.

    But I don’t believe in Eric Wedge. I don’t believe the man knows the game as well as he should, and I don’t believe the talent around him is in any way better off by him being the one in charge.

    Not even the Chicago Cubs get saddled with this much “bad luck” as an org in player development. My conclusion: It’s not just bad luck.

    You’re trying to build Rome when it’s already in flames, Jack. Have a reasonable facsimile of sanity and perspective.

    Fire Eric Wedge.

  3. SonOfZavaras on April 18th, 2013 3:19 am

    By the way, Jeff…great article.

  4. gopilots70 on April 18th, 2013 3:41 am

    Son of Zavaras,

    Great point about Ichiro.. We were handed one of the greatest marketing machines, an amazingly unique and gifted player due to the infrequent meddling of our absentee owner. (Who, by the way, also gave us Sasaki and Johjima) And the Mariners completely botched it.

    And now, sadly, the most interesting player of his decade, who demonstrated to little leaguers and major leaguers (who never really paid attention) how to play a fundamentally sound right field and how to run the bases joins the list of Mariner stars who finished out their careers somewhere else.

  5. bookbook on April 18th, 2013 4:19 am

    The Seattle Mariners: Almost Almost.

  6. LongDistance on April 18th, 2013 4:45 am

    The Seattle Mariners: Not Even.

    What a terribly well written article. Terribly true and terribly depressing. And which points, once again, to one of the most poignant things about the Mariners over the years: the wasteland seasons (Jeff keeps it to a tidy 10… but we all know there’s a yawning abyss below that number) battled through by players who were, indeed, capable of playing at or often-enough above their capacities. Who produced, when the rest of the team was in flames. Felix now. Ichiro, of recent memory. But then start the ball rolling, with Edgar, Junior, Randy, Jay…. A few miracle years, yes (one a weird aberration). But rare have been the seasons which seemed like a good place to be, for these sorts of players.

    And how many times, down the line, have Mariner fans found themselves feeling somewhat relieved when a great Mariner player, after years of service and a certain amount of loyalty, goes to finish off their career with a team that has half a chance?

    The answer is: almost always.

    For me, this was the clincher… the most painful phrase of several: “There are people who want the Mariners to win for Felix more than they want the Mariners to win for themselves.”

    That… is one hell of a goddamn thing to have to say.

  7. Kyle in Illinois on April 18th, 2013 6:28 am

    The Tigers were 0-12 with RISP and struck out 19 teams. And won.

  8. Westside guy on April 18th, 2013 6:53 am

    The Seattle Mariners: Oops, we did it again.

    Somehow, after watching last night’s game, I knew there would be an article here this morning. I didn’t know what it would say… but I knew there’d be something.

    Thank you for another great read, Jeff. After so many of these games, I really can’t understand why Felix was so eager to stay. But even with all the frustration that seems to come with his starts…. I’m glad he’s given me at least one thing to look forward to over the next half decade.

    P.S. Fire Eric Wedge.

  9. stripesjr on April 18th, 2013 6:58 am

    Is there something wrong with the way the M’s are developing/evaluating hitting prospects? Ackley looked good for a year at the major league level and then tanked the next year. Smoak had great years in the minors for the Ranger’s but didn’t seem to advance at all once he got here. Montero is more of the same. Seager seemed to be making progress which has stalled or regressed. Saunders is a bright spot on the DL. What’s going to happen when Franklin or Miller or Zunino come up?

    This feels a lot like the Giants of a few years ago when they couldn’t seem to get a hitting prospect out of their minor league system.

    I couldn’t even follow that game on game day last night because I just felt like I knew how it was going to end.

  10. feingarden on April 18th, 2013 7:13 am

    Excellent article, Jeff. Fun to read and depressing as all hell at the same time. Here’s my own attempt at something similar.

  11. mbeswetherick on April 18th, 2013 8:11 am

    Last night was probably the most fun I’ve had watching an M’s game in a while. Even with creepy as all hell Datz sending the Smoakamotive around third, I can’t deny the pleasure I felt during that final at bat. Ackley actually hitting something in the air out of the infield for a hit was incredible. This was made all the more beautiful with our dearest Justin Smoak having to collide with the catcher. After seeing that collision, I doubt Smoak had much of a football career, but seeing him try to physically harm someone so that Mariners could notch a W, that is just poetic. Our frustration culminated into physical agression. This game had to come down to a collision — violence was perhaps the only way we could have ended it. “Gotta send the Smoakamotive crashing into the station. God knows Andino can’t send him home.” I thank the baseball gods for this metaphorical victory even though we weren’t capable of scoring two runs.

  12. JasonJ on April 18th, 2013 8:16 am

    This article sums it up perfectly. The fact that Smaok got thrown out by a mile would be a perfect movie ending for this team.

    That game was a great display of Mariners baseball under the stewardship of Eric Wedge. The guy makes odd decisions that usually don’t work. It’s one thing if you’re doing things differently and getting results but that’s not the case. I can’t speak on how he runs the clubhouse but he isn’t getting any extra out of his players…he appears to be getting less.

  13. Swungonandbelted on April 18th, 2013 8:24 am

    I’ve gone from feeling ambivalent / mildly depressed to see Smoak/Ackley/Montero coming up to the plate, to being downright pissed to seeing Smoak walk up with runners in scoring position and two outs, and *knowing* that he’s either going to pop it up or strike out. This crap has got to change. I’ve had faith in Jack Z. and the direction he’s going with this team, but that faith has been seriously rocked this season so far.

  14. mironos on April 18th, 2013 9:30 am

    Great article, except maybe for the “almost” part. Almost implies there’s a chance they might win games like this — and I went to bed in the 12th inning knowing they were going to lose. I think a lot of M’s fan kinda know what’s going to happen 9 times out of 10 in these situations at this point.

    As for this game/season, there’s just no way to win when the bottom *4* in your order are just offensive (I mean that in both ways) black holes. Smoak, Montero, Ackley, Ryan — I watch games and have almost no hope that they will get a hit.

    Maybe one black hole you can hide — not four.

  15. skjes on April 18th, 2013 9:32 am

    I can’t see any way that Jack can fire Wedge. If Wedge gets fired, Jack’s probably getting fired with him.

  16. Carson on April 18th, 2013 9:40 am

    This morning, I have a little more appreciation of what I witnessed last night at the ballpark. Yeah, it was still a frustrating waste of Felix. But it was a pretty interesting game to watch.

    Still, though.

    It just kept feeling — inning after inning, like every other game — that heartbreak was coming. Like so many two-out hits with empty bases would be followed by yet another strikeout. Like a warning track hit awaited. And finally, when Smoak got on in the 14th, I said to my friends: “I’ll be employing confirmation bias tomorrow; Smoak’s getting hosed at the plate trying to score on Ackley’s first XBH of the year.”

    Sometimes, seriously, screw this team.

  17. LeftField on April 18th, 2013 10:09 am

    Please fire Erick Wedge. The Tigers never should have scored that first run and wouldn’t have if the M’s had pulled their defense in. Embarrassing.

    Smoak is never gonna be the big gun that we want him to be, if Zunino comes up he could go down. I think it is a bit early to give up on Montero and Ackley.

  18. Jake on April 18th, 2013 11:02 am

    LaFromboise optioned back to Tacoma, Welcome back to the big club, Hector Noesi!

  19. UofWAlum on April 18th, 2013 11:06 am

    “renewed disappointment.” I don’t think you could have summarized my feelings towards this club any better. But I keep coming back and hoping these guys will break through–just a little more time. On the bright side they are playing some good teams tough–just not enough to get the W more frequently. I think I will take the disappointment of close losses over being blown out, but pushing through some W’s certainly wouldn’t hurt.

  20. Swungonandbelted on April 18th, 2013 11:11 am

    6 of 16 games – the M’s have scored two runs or less… 12 of 16 games so far the M’s have scored 3 runs or less… It’s an admittedly small sample size (remember, “the season is still young”) – but when you can’t score more than 3 runs in 75% of your games….

  21. Ike Clanton on April 18th, 2013 11:53 am

    Is claiming Stockholm Syndrome with Felix a meme? I’ll assume it was and I managed to miss it somehow.

  22. TomC on April 18th, 2013 12:06 pm

    When a team is this bad for this long you need only look to the top. You can rightfully criticize Wedge but he didn’t win his job in a lottery- somebody hired him and every day somebody declines to fire him.

    You can criticize Zduriencik too but this team was bad before he got here. You can criticize Bavasi but who hired him? Who let Bavasi flounder in the job for 6 years?

    Why have the Mariners failed to benefit from even one good position player brought up through their farm system since the 90s? (Saunders may finally be an exception).

    This bad for this long is irrefutable evidence that the Mariner’s top leadership is a failure. Unfortunately Lincoln & Armstrong won’t fire themselves.

  23. Utis on April 18th, 2013 12:23 pm

    Hey, Felix pitched great and all but the rest of the bullpen wasn’t exactly chopped liver.

    You know what other factor has yet to come into play? The new fences at Safeco. Safeco on a cold spring night is a terrible hitting environment. With the exception of the Houston series, which we can attribute to horrendous pitching, Mariners pitching and Safeco Field have held two of the most fearsome offenses in the AL in check. That home run Cabrera hit the other night was truly amazing. Last night it seemed like the right field fences should have come in as well.

  24. miscreant on April 18th, 2013 1:06 pm

    What pissed me off about the way the game ended last night is that it was just flat out stupid baseball.

    Smoak, just the tying run got gunned down easily. Ackley the go ahead run was stranded on 2nd. It was stupid to even send Smoak. You never risk the 3rd out at home or 3B.

    But that’s symbolic of how this organization is run. Irrationally.

  25. dang on April 18th, 2013 1:25 pm

    I don’t blame Wedge, I blame the guy that hired him.

  26. Slam on April 18th, 2013 2:26 pm

    Am I the only one that is BLOWN AWAY that Wedge did not have Raul Ibanez bunt last night with no outs, 9th inning, runners on 1st and 2nd, and all we need is ONE RUN!!!!! Last night falls on Wedge. Terrible.

  27. henryv on April 18th, 2013 3:21 pm

    Seattle Mariners: /facepalm.

  28. GM42 on April 18th, 2013 4:28 pm

    I had a pretty intense emotional reaction to this article, it just sums up that sense of doomed fatalism that every M’s fan feels deep down. I immediately thought about the Indians game last year after watching last night’s game, and sure enough, it happened one year ago today. Jeff, you also wrote a fantastic post following that disaster, it seems that Felix pitching brilliantly in a losing effort may be your muse:

  29. MrZDevotee on April 18th, 2013 8:03 pm

    I still think the Detroit announcers gave us the best Mariner’s slogan… When talking about the Mariner’s strategies…

    “There’s no way… But you just never know with Wedge.”

  30. MrZDevotee on April 18th, 2013 8:06 pm

    On the serious side though, you tapped into my ultimate feeling about watching a Mariners game… Somehow we’re all still tapped into the “typical idiot fan’s” (tip of the cap) thought that “We have a good chance to win this.”

    When after you phrased it properly, the truth is we almost always know we’re NOT gonna win this… But let’s smash ourselves in the face over and over again pretending the outcome is 50-50.

    That made me sad. Because you’re RIGHT. And you’re right about Felix not being healthy between the ears, because he’s practically the poster boy for the old saying:

    “Insanity is doing the same thing, over and over again, and expecting different results.”


  31. MrZDevotee on April 18th, 2013 8:13 pm

    (and then- after reading through the other comments, after a long day of work…)


    “Framboise to Tacoma… Welcome back to the big club Hector Noesi.”

    I fear for my children being in the house with me the past few days– I’ve been throwing stuff around the house like a well placed Trayvon Robinson toss from deep left field, circa 2012…

    But… WE CAN STILL WIN THIS!!!! (I’m still a homer, just to spite the stupidity! In the face of all reason and sanity– “Go M’s!”)

    *face… (thud)… Desk*

  32. MrZDevotee on April 18th, 2013 8:15 pm

    Which leads to another point…

    In the case of the Mariners… Cooler heads have NEVER prevailed.

    I wanna see a couple of our players get in a tussle– not anything serious, just to show us that they feel these feelings too.

    Somebody throw something on the field after one of the B.S. “balls” called down the middle of the plate we’ve been dealing with…

    Somebody out there on the field DO SOMETHING!

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