I started to write this post once before, after the Mariners had swept the A’s in Oakland to finish their season-opening road trip with a 5-2 record. But I decided to wait. Baseball is a game that punishes premature pronouncements. Imagine if you had looked at Carlos Silva’s 3-0 record and 2.79 ERA after three starts last year and saluted Bill Bavasi for his shrewd investment. (I can’t bring myself to delve into the archives and find out whether I did or not, to be honest). Imagine if you had looked at Chris Shelton’s 10 homers, 20 RBI and 1.186 OPS for the Tigers in April of 2006 and declared him the American League’s next great slugger. Imagine if you’d looked at the Oakland A’s 17-12 record last April and concluded they were going to be the team to challenge the Angels down the stretch.
No, baseball is a game in which the truths are meted out slowly, and the cream truly rises to the top. Also, the sludge sinks to the bottom. That goes for players and it goes for teams. Over the six-month proving ground of the regular season, weaknesses will be exposed and exploited. Conversely, talent and depth will ultimately prevail. Always.
That said…(could you feel a “that said” coming on?)…this Mariners team has got something. To use a word I learned on a high-school vocabulary quiz and never forgot, something ineffable (Merriam-Webster: “Incapable of being expressed in words; indescribable”). You can discount all you want the benefits of comaraderie, cohesion, chemistry, et al. You can say it’s all talent, and they’re winning this year because they have better players, better defense, better pitching, a better vision from the front office of how to build a team (and keep adding to it), a better manager to execute it all. All that may well be true. But I’ve been doing this long enough to see teams — not very often, which makes it more special — that just have that special something that makes the sum greater than its parts. They almost seem to have some sort of spirit, or belief system, that elevates it. Something, well, ineffable. It becomes almost an organic thing, growing and multiplying. It builds upon itself and eventually becomes the reality.
Yeah, I realize I’m sounding giddy. I’m doing what I cautioned against at the beginning of this post. I’ve probably (not probably; definitely) gotten carried away by the two ridiculous wins against the A’s over the weekend, particularly Sunday’s. I was at a restaurant, watching the end of the game on a nearby television while I sat with my family. When the Mariners fell behind 7-4 in the 13th, I pronounced, “Well, that one’s over. We can eat now.”
My wife said, “Have you forgotten what Yogi Berra said?”
I said, “You mean, “No one goes to that restaurant anymore. It’s too crowded.”?
Of course, the Berra-ism she had in mind was, “It ain’t over ’til it’s over.”
I watch slack-jawed (not good eating etiquette to teach the kids, by the way) as the Mariners came back to tie the game. At that point I had no doubt they were going to win. Did anyone?
The Mariners may not win the division this year. They might not even finish .500. But at this precise point in time, I have given in. They have won me over. Mark it down: It happened at about 5:45 p.m., May 3, at the Red Robin in Factoria, over the bottomless fries and guacamole burger.
They have weaknesses that are well apparent. But they also have strengths that can compensate. They have the dynamic one-two punch at the top of the rotation that we all envisioned last year. They have a resurgent Jarrod Washburn, who can be a game-changer if he keeps pitching like this. They have a defense that helps make up for stretches of stagnant offense. They have a manager and coaching staff that can both relate to players and lay down the hammer when necessary. And they have a team that seems to like each other. A lot.
Will it be enough? Who knows. Will it all fall apart once the inevitable slump hits? Who knows. Will this post look foolish in August? Who knows.There are still five long, brutal months for the Mariners to be exposed.
For now, however, it’s something to savor: A team playing to its potential, exceeding expectations, and turning skeptics into believers.