Mariners fans have been here before.
The 2019 club began 13-2, a record that turned into the biggest pop culture false positive since Milli Vanilli.
The Mariners ended up 68-94, finishing 39 games back of the division champ Houston Astros, who at that point were under suspicion for sporting dirt-baggery, but not convicted.
Two years later, the Mariners are again exceeding expectations in April. This time, they don’t appear to be lip-syncing.
They are 10-6 and atop the American League West after taking two of three over the weekend from the freebooter Astros, who were subsequently convicted in 2020 of rules skullduggery.
Part of the punishment included hectoring, mockery and shaming from fans at every road yard. Unfortunately for the executioners, they were denied admission to all parks in 2020 by the pandemic. This season, some of them were allowed to return.
Though their numbers are smaller (8,959 Sunday), their indignation is undiminished. While baseball has a rich history of tawdriness when comes to cheating the game, something about the Astros brings out the bile.
Mitch Haniger noticed.
“They’re definitely bringing energy this weekend against the Astros,” he said, smiling and ever-polite, after his double, triple and three RBIs helped the Mariners win 7-2 (box) to accompany maybe the most improbable one-hitter in club history. “It was cool, and fun.”
Manager Scott Servais made no effort to hide his snicker over the fans’ critiques.
“It’s been very noticeable this series,” he said. “It’s certainly their right. We’re entertainment and they have a right to voice their opinions. I’ve enjoyed it.”
A sign held up in the stands was Friday was my favorite, non-profane division, Seattle smart-ass category:
“You can’t steal this sign.”
The Astros (7-8), losers of seven of their past eight, were missing five players because of COVID-19 protocols, including stars 2B Jose Altuve and 3B Alex Bregman. Nobody cared.
Doesn’t matter that the sign-stealing shenanigans supposedly ended by mid-2018. The legacy lingers, fueled by the lack of punishments for individual players and the mild to no contrition expressed by the guilty. How they were not named the Trump administration’s sports mascot remains a mystery.
All of which made the weekend more fun for Mariners fans.
Even the 1-0 loss Saturday was tolerable, due to the admirable pitching brilliance of Zach Greinke, who arrived in Houston after the outlaws had ridden out of town with the women, horses and whiskey.
Besides, Mariners pitchers Sunday punched back, freakishly.
Starter Nick Margavecius retired nine consecutive batters before having to leave the game with arm fatigue (no injury) after facing one batter in the fifth inning. He was followed to the mound by relievers Ljay Newsome, Casey Sadler, Anthony Misiewicz, Rafael Montero and Drew Steckenrider, who combined to give up no hits.
The Astros’ lone hit was a ground-rule double by Aledymis Diaz in the second inning when LF Jose Marmolejos lost the ball in the sun. If he catches that ball, the Mariners are the national story of the weekend: Newsome, 24, would have won his first-major league game as the winning pitcher in a no-hitter.
Newsome is part of a bullpen that has unexpectedly combusted from mud and leaves into a force. Relievers also held the Astros hitless for the final two innings in Friday’s 6-5 comeback win.
“Awesome series,” Servais said. “I’m so excited about winning this series.”
Although it is unwise for any MLB team to pile on another over cheating, every team is entitled to some grievance regarding the Astros. Revisiting the 2019 season again, the Mariners’ aggravation is clear: They went 1-18. Hence, the Servais giggles.
Before indulging the fantasy that the Mariners are finally heading up as the Astros are coming down, fans might want to wait a couple of days after they get a look at what a fully loaded MLB team looks like.
The world champion Los Angeles Dodgers are in town for a pair, Monday and Tuesday. The Mariners are tied for the AL’s second-best record, and the Dodgers lead the baseball world at 13-3 with triple the Mariners’ payroll.
Despite the pending humblings, the chance to pants the class cheater is a 2021 moment that will stick.