On so many occasions of brilliance in the past, Felix has required some run support from one team. On this particular occasion of brilliance, he required run support from two. So we shouldn’t be surprised. I don’t think anybody is surprised. Even the way things played out was a miracle.
An important, fundamental point to understand is that we aren’t really in this for championships. That would be stupid — if we were in this for championships, there wouldn’t be sports fans. That’s always a losing gamble. We aren’t in this for the ultimate triumph, in that the benefits are separate, but at the same time, what drives us is the belief that there could be a championship, sometime kind of soon. It’s all an exercise in misleading ourselves. Think of it like projections. We aren’t trying to get perfect player projections, and we wouldn’t want those anyway, because they’d ruin everything. We like that we’re wrong, all the time, but we always have to believe the projections are getting better, that we’re all getting a better idea of the future.
All we need is to be able to dream that good things are coming. It’s that simple, and we’re all dreamers, which is why everybody loves April. Teams are always in it in April. It’s acceptable if you feel like good things are coming a year or two or three down the line, but of course the priority is the most immediate season, and you want to be able to dream that your team can win the World Series. The 2014 Mariners allowed us to dream that dream, until the dream died on the last day of the regular season, at 2:46pm local time. It was a much later time of death than for dreams previous.
The disappointment is that the Mariners fell short of the playoffs. In that way, they’ve extended a too-long streak. The disappointment is that they had opportunities to do better, as if every team in baseball doesn’t have its share of heart-breaking or uninspiring losses. It’s so easy to look ahead. They definitely could’ve won tomorrow. At home? Please. They definitely could’ve handled Kansas City. And then to have Felix available in the ALDS…I mean, once you’re in, you’re in, right? No reason the Mariners couldn’t have gone all the way. Just needed to get there. They didn’t get there.
But what are the playoffs? The playoffs are just more baseball, where more fans of more baseball teams get to experience a final disappointment. The playoffs allow you to extend the dream, a day or a week or as much as a month. All but one of the dreams die. A dream will die Tuesday. Another dream dies Wednesday. Of the eight dreams then remaining, four are dead by the 9th. That’s a week and a half from now. Another two die by the 19th. Then two dreams remain. The Mariner dream was alive until the end of September. The Mariner dream was alive longer than most. A selection of more blessed dreams will last all of a few more days before fizzling out. There is a difference, but it’s hardly as stark as missing the playoffs suggests. The Mariners came up just short of a handful of teams who will come up just short. Think about it like that and I swear it’s not so bad.
Every day of this regular season, we got to give a shit. More than that — we got to feel like every day of this regular season mattered. And every day did. They mattered after the early eight-game losing streak, where a lot of people sensed the seemingly inevitable darkness. They mattered during every slump, and they mattered during every hot streak. God knows they mattered this week. I felt like the five-game skid killed my dream, and I swear I felt it die when Ryan Goins doubled home Munenori Kawasaki, but I kept on paying attention, because, what if? It isn’t final until it’s final. I thought it was final on Wednesday, but it wasn’t really final until Sunday at 2:46. The Mariners didn’t completely turtle, and the A’s treated a wild-card berth like an angry beehive. I’m not sure the A’s even want to be in the playoffs, but you can only lose to the Rangers so much unless you’re actively trying.
The Mariners kept us occupied all summer. Is it fall? The Mariners kept us occupied all summer, into or almost to fall. Last season they bid farewell to .500 on April 9. The year before, April 29. The year before that, July 6. The year before that, April 30. They wound up with a fine record in 2009, but they weren’t really in the thick of things so much, so that season had a different feel. This year’s Mariners, finally, held up their end of the bargain. They fulfilled their obligation. It felt like there was a return for our investment, which is the point, and which hasn’t often been the case. This was a team it was actually a pleasure to root for, even when we hated it. We all hated watching Fernando Rodney walk in the winning run against Oakland, but I love that I got to hate that so much. I love that it was a different hate — it was missed-opportunity hate, as opposed to why-are-we-doing-this hate. That second kind of hate, the more familiar hate, is in part just us hating ourselves. The former — that’s pure sports emotion. In all its beauty and pointlessness, that’s the sort of emotion sports fans want to experience.
At the best of times, being a baseball fan doesn’t have to be philosophical. It gets that way in the hard times so we can maybe try to learn something and better ourselves in the process. It’s a way to try to squeeze some water out of the stone of a godawful season. At the best of times, you feel good when the team wins, and you feel bad when the team loses, and when the team loses, you want to feel good about the team winning the next day. At the best of times, you have a very different relationship with players like Endy Chavez. It’s a relationship founded 100% less on snark. Even if you don’t like that he’s on the team, you like him on the team, and you want him to do well because you want the team to do well because you believe in the team as it’s constructed.
What the Mariners didn’t deliver was a playoff berth. They didn’t bring home a title, or even a won series. Yet they generated playoff atmospheres. They generated memorable moments. They ended on a far better note than they could’ve, and don’t underestimate the significance of ending like this, instead of ending with the four wins and the five losses swapped around. That’s a marketing thing more than it’s a baseball thing, since baseball-wise it doesn’t matter, but our emotions are easily manipulated and in this way the Mariners get to head into the offseason as having won at the end. The Mariners didn’t provide everything they could’ve. Rather, they provided enough. Maybe more than enough. Maybe you think I set my standards too low, but how seriously do you really want to take this? The game’s entertainment, and the Mariners entertained, and the show’s over, and it was a good show. Could’ve been better, but I’ve seen a hell of a lot worse, and overall that was a fine way to pass the time.
We all get about a month of reflection, if we want it, while the rest of baseball sorts itself out. The stage is set for October’s title dream battle royale, and we’ll watch without caring, or we’ll watch something else. And we have a month to look back on 2014 before we think about how to bring the dream back to life for the season and seasons to come. And the dream will come back to life, because it always does, every November, or December or February or March. I don’t know when next year’s dream is going to die. The dream about the dream is it won’t. The last time we felt this good about the Mariners, they came back and lost 101 games. But, the Pirates built on the dream of 2012. The Royals built on the dream of 2013. Maybe the Mariners build on the dream of 2014. That dream is dead, and it died today, but there’s another version of the dream to come, because there always is. You might already feel it stirring.