SEATTLE – They smelled first place before they even entered the field. They craved it even more when the $45,175 ticket at T-Mobile Park appropriately acted like they were watching a team at a pennant race.
And by the time the Mariners scored their 27th overall by defeating the Royals 6-5 Friday night, they’d reached territory they hadn’t occupied in more than two decades.
Seattle (72-56) owns a share of first place in the American League West late in the season for the first time since August 26, 2003.
Thanks to losses to the Astros in Detroit and the Rangers in Minnesota, the Mariners rallied to a tie with Texas and moved to a half-game lead over Houston, which was also surpassed by the AL Wild Card runner-up.
JP Crawford said, “Like Jay Buehner once said, forget the Wild Card, man, we’re headed for this department.”
For a team that spent 23 days at exactly . 500 — still an MLB high — most recently when it entered play exactly one month ago, the surge in the second half was resounding. On June 30, the Mariners were 38-42 and 10 games out of first place.
And for a team whose happiest moments date back to last year, it’s impossible not to draw parallels between the 2023 club and the 1995 club, a team that also hovered in the middle most of the year, finally cruised to win the Division I crown on the final day of the season and ultimately saved baseball in Seattle. .
“It’s been a long time, certainly since the Mariners have been in this situation,” said manager Scott Service. “It’s a credit to our players, staff and organization. We got off to a rocky start this year with really high expectations. We have a lot of baseball games to play yet.”
However, reaching these unknown heights was not easy. Facing a team that may have been their most troublesome opponent this year, the Mariners had to overcome an early lead and then avoid a late KC rally — including a bases-loaded jam with two outs in the ninth inning behind Andres Muñoz, who struck out Matt Duffy to end the game.
Just before that, Eugenio Suarez led a pep rally to reassure the up-and-down leverage reducer, which was perhaps his biggest contribution on a night as he shredded the go-ahead song on night four and added an insurance run on night eight. It was a symbolic sight of Seattle’s second-half lead: when one player falters, the others get up.
Recounting the conversation with Muñoz, Suarez said, “Just tell him you’re the best here and you’ve got the baseball in your hand.” And tell him, “I got it.”
Beyond Muñoz, Bryce Miller pitched 34 in the second inning that led to three runs and his workload ballooned, forcing him to walk out after the fourth inning. Just as it became clear that Miller’s night was over, Suarez ripped a go-ahead single with the bases loaded to regain a 4-3 lead.
Then in the fifth, Teoscar Hernandez hit a home run after hitting a double on the 26th and advanced to third on a single off Dominic Canzon, and Canzon scored when Josh Rojas hit a single.
It came after a first inning in which Crawford smashed his career-longest homer (432 feet) on first pitch and Julio Rodriguez singled, stole his 35th base and scored on an RBI hit from Cal Raleigh.
However, by returning to their four-man in Kansas City last week, the Royals proved that no lead seems safe. Matt Brush surrendered a leadoff single in the seventh inning, then a two-run homer making it a game-one. But Tyler Saucedo, Justin Toba and Muñoz held a scoreless Seattle to the finish line.
“We didn’t do that in the first half,” Seravis said. “We swing the bat. Despite the criticism we leveled at our attack early in the season, our guys have turned the script.”
There are 34 games left, which is an eternity given how tight the AL West’s race numbers are to the end – especially considering Seattle’s last 10 games are against Texas and Houston. But how long did the Mariners’ second-half boom last and how energized the fanbase was after a disappointing first half, Selling in the wake of an 8-2 wild ride showed he dares to dream.
Almost three decades on, the ’95 race remains among the most iconic races in the Emerald City’s sports history. And nights like Friday showed that maybe – just maybe – there is something similar here in 2023.
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