So now that I’ve conjured enough bad feelings and PTSD for any Mariners fans reading this (just seeing some of those names is triggering, I know), let’s stroll down the awful memory lane of experiencing that game in person. After moving to Seattle in late 2007, I was feeling very gung-ho about being a Mariners fan and being able to go to games regularly for the first time in my adult life. I was feeling extra prideful about being a Seattle sports fan and making sure I supported my team hard, especially against teams like the Red Sox, Yankees, and any other team with a large traveling and/or bandwagon fan base so that the visiting team's fans would not overpower the home team's fans, a phenomenon that still persists to this day for certain series. This pride has been largely beaten out of me, or least as been laying dormant somewhere deep and dark in my psyche, largely due to this game and this play.
I excitedly bought a ticket in the bleachers as soon as they announced that Lee would be making his debut. In the later innings, I was trying unsuccessfully to find a friend of mine in the lower level on the first base side. There were plenty of empty seats, so I gave up and sat down to watch the rest of the game right after Lee exited after the 7th to a roaring standing ovation. I sat there impatiently waiting for the Mariners to score a run, blowing decent chance after decent chance. When Ichiro got the lead off single in the 11th, I felt really good about it. How many times had we seen this over the years? Ichiro leads off and gets on, he eventually makes his way around the bases through steals, fielder’s choices, sacrifices, or god forbid HITS, and then comes around to score.
Seeing Byrnes pull his bat back, hanging our beloved Japanese baseball deity out to dry, and then subsequently striking out to end the inning resulted in me screaming profanity and being the maddest I’ve ever been at a baseball game. I’m honestly surprised I wasn’t asked to leave. I’ve seen people kicked out for less at Safeco. It’s embarrassing to think about it now, as a 32 year old, but I was in a full-on rage blackout. This was how the team’s offense was going to treat yet another generational pitching talent basically at his prime? By never scoring runs? All this potential, all this planning for a team built on pitching, speed, and defense, and it’s just all just going to go to waste?
Yeah, it really did. The 2010 Seattle Mariners scored only 513 runs, the lowest total for an AL team since 1973 and lost over 100 games for second time in three years. A friend and I had purchased a 14 game ticket package that year (thanks preseason hype) so I witnessed A LOT of those losses in person. I’ve never purchased a ticket package since.
A final note on the amazing 2010 version of Cliff Lee. The mighty Jeff Sullivan has written many great things about Lee over the years, so I suggest you read some of these pieces. Lee led the majors in 3 pitch strikeouts from 2010-2013. His run of insane, pinpoint control of his pitches through the first half of 2010 resulted in a staggering 89 strikeouts in 103.2 innings. Oddly enough, no one really benefited much from the pre-deadline trade that sent him to the Texas Rangers for the rest of 2010. Justin Smoak tormented Mariners fans for years, forever teasing us with his hitting potential while teaching us all the true meaning of “warning track power.” Lee pitched well for the Rangers on their journey to the World Series, but not nearly as dominantly as he did in the first half with the Mariners and the Rangers ended up losing the World Series to the Cardinals in a series of events that are still truly unbelievable.
So, everyone lost and ended up miserable and I never got my blood up that much again concerning the outcome of a stupid Mariners game. Oh yeah, and Eric Byrnes literally never played in MLB again after that weekend and the story of him riding his bike out of the clubhouse after the bunt incident, dodging reporters and Jack Zduriencik, will forever live in hilarious infamy. Perhaps the only good thing that came out of the 2010 season is that Felix won his first (and most likely last *sobs*) AL Cy Young award, a fact that still baffles me as writers gave him the nod in spite of a 13-12 win/loss record. A very progressive moment for baseball awards.
I still get a little upset every now and then, but seasons like 2011, 2012, and 2013 inspired nothing but cool sense of detachment from the hot emotions of competitive sports. 2014 got me going a little bit, especially the infamous Night Court game. The regaling of that game experience will have to wait for another time. But the 2014 Mariners never really had a chance to make a playoff run, in my opinion. They only got as close as they did (one game away!) because the Athletics had an epic come-apart down the stretch and nearly missed the playoffs entirely.
The hype prior to the 2016 season is partly what inspired this post. This was certainly the most hyped team since 2010. Thankfully, even if the Mariners do not make the playoffs this year, they’re not going to lose 101 games. And they’re not going to set any new low scoring records because they hit dingers like it’s 1997. But, for many fans, missing the playoffs this year will feel like a massive failure and let down given the decades of ineptitude this team has provided us with. And part of me shares that feeling. But a bigger part of me acknowledges that this team surpassed every one of my normal expectations for a Mariners team. It’s August 5 and they are still theoretically in the wild card race and hanging around .500. I can go to games without bringing a jacket. Given the seasons we’ve lived through just in the last 8 years alone, that’ll do just fine.