All Right, Seattle
Dayton Moore said a couple things last year that got him staring down the business end of the Internet. And he definitely deserved it, if not to such an extreme degree. Around the All-Star break, defending his decision not to sell, he said he believed the Royals could get back in it by winning 15 out of 20. Shortly thereafter they won 17 out of 20. And then, Moore was speaking after the year, after a year in which the Royals again didn’t make the playoffs. His exact words: “In a small way, I feel like we’ve won the World Series.” That got him roasted. Few things the baseball Internet loves quite like roasted Dayton Moore.
Of course, 15 out of 20 is usually over-optimistic. Of course, the Royals didn’t win the World Series, or the ALCS, or the ALDS, or the wild-card playoff, or an 87th game. But talking about that second quote, if you allow yourself, you can see where Moore was coming from. He said himself after the fact it was a poor choice of words, but he was trying to convey a certain sentiment, and one that isn’t untrue or invalid. The Royals last year didn’t succeed by playing in October, but they did succeed in getting people engaged, and keeping people engaged. People went to Royals games in August; people were excited to go to Royals games in August. There was a buzz, and it was as if someone had revived a comatose franchise. The 2013 Royals returned the Royals organization to local and national relevance.
The Mariners are about to host the Blue Jays. The Mariners are competing directly against the Blue Jays. These could be games described as having a playoff atmosphere, and that’s because, in terms of feel, these games won’t feel altogether that different from playoff games. The Mariners are definitely fighting for their lives. Nothing will be conclusively determined by the next three games, but the future in part depends on this. You might not think these will be pseudo-playoff games. You might not remember the feel of playoff games. That’s okay, I don’t either. I’m just basically guessing here, but I think that I’m on to something.
We can’t say the Mariners organization overall has been rescued, but a feeling buried deep within us has been unearthed. It’s August and we give a shit, and if we’re lucky, soon it will be September and we’ll be able to continue giving shits. Not in the “this prospect might help us down the road” kind of way — in the other way, the more immediately meaningful way, the way where we care about team outcomes over individual outcomes. It’s the reverse of our usual stretch run, and when it’s August and when you care, you get games against competitors, not just games against the White Sox or some interleague opponent. Yesterday’s game, for the Mariners, was of a certain leverage. Tonight’s game, and the following couple games, will be of a higher leverage. These matter, more than usual, and they’re at home, and the Mariners have their three best starting pitchers lined up against three inferior starting pitchers.
This is the biggest Safeco series of the year. It was big to take two of three from the A’s before the break, but the A’s were so far out ahead it’s not like the Mariners were playing for the division. It was important to take two of three from the Indians at the end of June, but that was June, and the Indians were several games behind. There was nothing this big in 2013, of course. Nor 2012, nor 2011, nor 2010, nor 2009 nor 2008. You know where this is going. There was a hyped home series in August 2007. When it started, the Mariners were two games out of first place in the division, and they had the lead in the wild card. Then they got stomped, outscored 24-8, and the tailspin lasted for, I don’t know, years? Felix Hernandez might remember that series. Kendrys Morales might remember that series, too, albeit with a hell of a lot more fondness.
It’s been that long since we had this. How precious is this? Well, it’s been that long since we had this. Last time people got to look forward to a playoff atmosphere in Safeco in August, the team lost 13 of 14 games and plummeted right out of the race. It could happen again! There’s absolutely no way to know. The only thing we know for sure is these games matter, an awful lot, and this is something that ought to be cherished. For those in attendance, this is something that ought to be wild.
The complaint has existed for more than a decade, that Safeco is baseball’s most beautiful library. But, what do you expect from a crowd of people watching the last decade+ of the Mariners? Maybe you’d like for there to be more noise, but the noises would not have been pleasant or appropriate for kids. Crowds respond to a response-worthy product, and Safeco used to ring, it used to roar during that four-year window of incredible success. I can’t say enough about the idea behind and execution of the King’s Court. The King’s Court is the second-coolest damned thing in baseball, behind the King himself. That atmosphere was made possible, once every five home games, by the formation of such a fan-centric area. There’s another kind of atmosphere made possible for every home game by the baseball team being one of the better baseball teams. To participate, the only special ticket you need is a ticket for entry. The whole park’s involved, to say nothing of the fan network watching somewhere else. This is the sweet spot of fandom, where you have legitimate hope that falls well shy of entitled expectation. It makes a sound, and you can hear it for nine innings at a time.
Lloyd McClendon’s talked about the second season, the season that begins August 1. Everybody plays after August 1, but only some of the teams play for any reason. The Mariners made it to season #2, and they’re trying to make it to season #3. The stakes right now are lower, yet at the same time they’re incredibly high, and this is why Dayton Moore emerged from 2013 feeling more than a little satisfied. In theory there’s a black-and-white difference between regular-season baseball and postseason baseball, but really, towards the end you’re either playing baseball that matters or you’re not. The point is to make people care for as long as you can, and the Mariners today are where they haven’t been in some time. This is fragile and God knows we don’t trust it, but we get to look forward to immediate opportunity. What’s the worst that could happen? I mean, we know the worst that could happen, because we already went through it in 2007. At least we get the anticipation.
The fans never left. The sports scene in the northwest is rabid and loyal. The fans never left. They just didn’t show up, because why would they? They checked out because there was no reason not to. They’re all now getting pulled back in, so they can maybe be a part of something. A part of what, we don’t know, but without the hopeful mystery sports would be a sentence told to you.
At one point earlier this post had a direction. Appropriately, I guess, I’ve gotten lost in my own tangled mental web of excitement. Seattle isn’t hosting playoff games, but it’s hosting almost-playoff games, and that beats the crap out of everything we’re used to. For three days, the Mariners will try to thump the damn Blue Jays. For three days, we’ll think everything about these Mariners, from the best to the worst and to everything in between. For at least three days, we’ll hope that someone can beat the unbeatable Royals. There are no teams of destiny, but there are teams that reach the end and stand alone, and on August 11 we wonder if — this season — that team is our team.