(Eric Wedge congratulates Justin Smoak after he scores in the ninth inning in the Mariners’ 4-3 comeback win on Wednesday. Photo by Associated Press).
That was a big, big win for the Mariners on Wednesday — about as big as a win in April can be. Which is to say, it’s not like it was life-or-death for them or anything like that. If they hadn’t mounted that comeback, it’s not like it would have de-railed their season. And winning doesn’t put them on track for the championship.
But it was important in its own way, as much for what it prevented as for what it ushered in. I’ll admit it — when Seattle’s scoreless streak reached 23 innings, I was already formulating a snarky blog post in my head with a lot of wisecracks on the theme of, “Here we go again.” Following the game on twitter, you could already sense the frustration starting to boil over. Every team has a golden opportunity at the beginning of a new season to change the narrative. But all the Mariners seemed to be doing was reinforcing theirs: That despite leading the majors in hitting in spring training, that despite Eric Wedge’s optimism, that despite some early flurries of offense in a few games, this was going to be the same old story.
And then the eighth inning happened. More importantly, the ninth inning happened. And it was the kids who sparked the rally, the future, the ones who will lead the Mariners out of the darkness, if they are indeed going to be led out. Dustin Ackley’s RBI single finally getting them on the board, Justin Smoak and Kyle Seager setting the table in the ninth, Jesus Montero delivering a key sac fly with two strikes, Michael Saunders coming up huge not only with a game-tying double, but also a daring steal of third, which, if unsuccessful, would have made him a huge goat. It took guts to pull that off, and Saunders did it with aplomb. Then John Jaso — perhaps not part of the rebuilding nucleus but an interesting piece, particularly with the sudden recent focus on Miguel Olivo’s struggles — coming through with the clutchest hit, a two-out, go-ahead single.
Once Brandon League completed the save, snark had been magically transformed into celebration. It was just one win in one game out 162, with more frustrating nights sure to follow. But what it accomplished could be powerful — it provided renewed hope that things might be different for the 2012 Mariners, at the precise point when fear was mounting that it would be depressingly the same.