SEATTLE — Seattle Mariners manager Scott Servais said many times in the past week or so that “we’re still breathing” because his team kept winning just enough to have a chance to reach the postseason.
Unfortunately, the oxygen supply shut off Saturday night. After blowing an early, two-run lead, then rallying from a three-run deficit to send the game into extra innings, the Mariners lost 9-8 in 10 innings to the Oakland Athletics, and that eliminated Seattle from American League wild-card contention.
“I’ve only been a Mariner for a year, but I believe that was one of the more memorable games in Mariners history, and unfortunately, it did not go our way,” Servias said. “I can’t say enough about our team. The players’ spirit, the way they went about things this entire year. As good as we were, we were just as bad at times. But to finish it off the way we did and to put a run together and experience something like this says a lot about the players.”
The Mariners did put together an exciting run in the final weeks. Despite falling six games behind in the wild-card race in early September, they came back to stay in contention until Saturday night. They were playing the last-place Athletics and had Hisashi Iwakuma, probably their best pitcher this season, on the mound. Unfortunately, he gave up five runs in 3⅔ innings.
“I felt pretty goo, but I was just missing a lot of my pitches to the fat part of the plate, which cost me a lot,” Iwakuma said. “It’s frustrating. We came this far as a team, and coming down to this game and losing it and not being able to pitch my game is very frustrating.”
As one reporter described it, the game was a reflection of the Mariners’ season. A promising start with a 2-0 lead in the second inning, then a poor stretch that put them down 5-2 and seriously hurt their chances of making the postseason, then a tenacious rally to tie the game and keep themselves in it to the end.
Seattle came back, with Robinson Cano hitting his 39th home run and Nelson Cruz slamming his 43rd. It just wasn’t enough, and thus, Seattle extended the majors’ longest active postseason drought to 15 seasons.
“It was a great run and, in my mind, a successful season,” Servais said. “And we laid a foundation here, how we’re going to do things going forward with the front office, the coaching staff and a lot of players. We’ll build on it. It doesn’t make it any easier tonight losing a ballgame like that, but we’ve made a lot of strides.”
They have. A team that seldom scored in many previous seasons averaged close to five runs per game this year.
“Everybody knows what needs to be done to get better, just a little bit better,” Cruz said. “Maybe baserunning, a little defense, whatever it may be. If we don’t fight for the wild card, we should fight for the West division. Definitely this experience should help everybody, and undoubtedly, we’ll be a better team next year.”
The season did inspire optimism for next season, but the flip side is that the past three times the Mariners came close to making the postseason, they utterly collapsed the following season. We’ll see how they fare in 2017.
“Hopefully, this will prepare us for next year,” Cruz said. “Everybody had a taste of what it is to be in a playoff atmosphere for, like, a week. Just a great run.”