(Brendan Ryan is happily pummeled after his game-winning hit on Friday night. Photo by Associated Press).
In a season in which the dwindling crowds at Safeco Field has become a major issue, the Mariners had, until yesterday, done an awful job of rewarding the faithful on the rare occasions they filled the place. Or came halfway close to filling the place.
Only three times this year, in 16 previous home dates, had the Mariners drawn at least 25,000. And those games resulted in two disasters, plus one frustrating loss:
April 8: Opening Night, and the Mariners produced their customary sellout (45,731). And then they went out and gave up 10 runs in the fourth inning to Cleveland en route to a 12-3 loss. Instead of cheers and happiness, the mood quickly turned to audible murmurs of discontent.
April 9: The next night, a crowd of 30,303 showed up and watched the Mariners bang out all of six hits in a 2-1 loss to the Indians. They hit into three double plays and were 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position — not exactly a gold-plated invitation to come back for more.
April 23: Having shut out the A’s the previous two nights in front of small crowds, the Mariners attracted 25,356 to Safeco for the Saturday night game with Oakland — and laid an egg in a 9-1 defeat. Jason Vargas was hit hard, Josh Lueke was hit harder, the defense faltered, and the offense stumbled. You all come back, ya hear?
But then last night, in front of an Ichiro Bobblehead-crazed throng of 31,912, the Mariners produced the kind of game that makes fans want to return. Felix Hernandez pitched a gutty complete game, and they rallied in the bottom of the ninth for a walkoff 3-2 victory on Brendan Ryan’s hit.
All of a sudden, the Mariners are playing great baseball, and winning games. It will be interesting to see if the crowds grow accordingly. In last night’s game, the Mariners finally rewarded a big crowd with a crowd-pleaser.