One of the less-appreciated virtues of being 20 games over .500 is a greater tolerance for the spit-up. Such as Sunday, when the Red Sox played a game in line with their pre-season expectations, and so did the Mariners.
On a near-perfect afternoon at Safeco Field to celebrate Father’s Day along with the renaissance of baseball in Seattle, Seattle baseball didn’t cooperate. But unlike past seasons, when a 9-3 loss would usher in the same-old-Mariners litany, there is a 72-game sample size large enough to suggest a break from tradition remains underway.
Looking beyond a game that was nearly out of reach by the third inning, 3B Kyle Seager could see a homestand that included a three-game sweep of the Angels and a four-game split with Boston and appreciate the 46-26 rarity more than most.
“Since I’ve been here, uncharted waters,” he said. “We’ve never been close to this. It’s been awesome. Playing lots of good baseball, winning a lot of games. Absolutely a blast.”
Since becoming a regular in 2012, Seager has never played fewer than 154 games in a season nor had fewer than 578 at-bats. He has participated in much mediocre baseball.
In that time, the Mariners have had two winning seasons, 87 wins in 2014 and 86 in 2016. But this season is different. The Mariners could go 42-48 the rest of the way and still reach 88 victories.
But 88 may not be enough for the Mariners to crash the playoffs for the first time since what seems like Lou Piniella was a kid outfielder for the Yankees.
Right now, it looks good — the Mariners hold the fifth and final playoff spot, and the gap grows between them and No. 6, the 38-34 Angels. The Angels have an incredible 15 players on the disabled list. Presuming a return to health for at least some of them, Anaheim has the time and the capacity to rally.
But if the mid-June form holds for another three months, Seattle will face the American League’s second-place team, either the Red Sox or Yankees, in the loser-out wild-card game. More immediately, they face both teams in the first six games of a 10-day trip that begins Tuesday at Yankee Stadium.
The biggest outcome of the Safeco series — other than the fact that 165,541 showed up for the four games, including 46,462 Sunday, the seventh-largest crowd in stadium history — is that the split suggests the Mariners are credible contenders.
That suggestion could unravel by going oh-for-six on the trip. But there were no indications over the weekend that traveling to the East’s small ballparks (including four at Baltimore) would be anything but a benefit.
“Playing in some smaller parks, maybe a couple of these balls that reached the warning track (Sunday) get into the seats,” manager Scott Servais said, smiling. “We’ll have games like this once in a while, and maybe we’ll blow people out once in a while.
“Well, maybe not. We like to play those one-run games. So I won’t go there.”
He was still smiling. After a 2-1 loss to Boston Thursday, the Mariners won 7-6 Friday and 1-0 Saturday, the latter featuring a two-hit shutout over 7.2 innings by Wade LeBlanc in which he retired 22 consecutive hitters.
The Mariners are 23-10 in one-run games, which leads the majors in wins and games played. How rare are those numbers? According to baseball-reference.com, the 23 wins are the most through 71 games, dating to 1908. The 1938 Pittsburgh Pirates had 22. Since May 18, the Mariners are 14-3 in one-run games.
The precarious outcomes can indicate that the success so far is fragile. But winning so often builds an attitude that all is possible.
As Seager put it: “It’s a different feel this season. It’s a much more resilient group. So a bad stretch or losing streak wouldn’t affect this group.”
Servais echoed the sentiment.
“The effort level is there, the confidence is peaking at the right time,” he said. “The (Red Sox) are a really good team, we’re a good team. Overall, a very good homestand.”
The finale wasn’t good for starter Mike Leake, who came into the game having pitched at least six innings in his previous five starts and allowed two or fewer runs in each. This time he gave up five runs in one inning, the third, when he lost command of his curve ball. A walk and five hits, including a three-run homer by 3B Rafael Devers, produced a 5-0 lead that was easy for Red Sox starter Eduardo Rodriguez (9-1, 3.54 ERA) to protect.
The bad inning put a chill on a warm day for a hot team and a sellout crowd. But a bad inning is nothing compared to a bad day, week, month or season. And in case of the Mariners, several decades.
It will take fans some getting used to, this notion of avoiding the presumption of doom at every spit-up. It is possible for this team to wipe chins and carry on. Hurray for hygiene and a summer of relevant ball.