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Postseason Hope Weighs Heavily on Seattle Mariners Fans

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SEATTLE — The familiar sinking feeling returned quickly, in the primary inning of the primary game of probably the most anticipated Mariners homestand in a protracted, long while.

The team had entered Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game bathing within the glow of a 14-game win streak, an expectation-less squad suddenly turned bully. Coming out of the break, last weekend’s three-game series against the A.L. West-leading Houston Astros was to be a litmus test.

Was it finally OK to hold real hope on the Seattle Mariners?

Whack. With one clean swing, an Astros home run confirmed the reply.

In Friday’s opener, the Mariners’ starter, the left-hander Marco Gonzales, had thrown a four-seam fastball that Jose Altuve couldn’t resist: too slow, too near the guts of the strike zone.

It felt like an omen. Just like the Mariners’ marvelous and unexpected winning streak was about to finish, soon to get replaced by well-founded doubt.

That is baseball. It breaks your heart. Within the twenty first century, no team, and no city, understands this greater than Seattle.

Twenty seasons and not using a postseason appearance, the longest such drought in big-time American skilled sports. The one M.L.B. franchise to never make the World Series.

Seattle baseball fans possess two traits in abundance: dogged, unrewarded loyalty for the Mariners and the sports version of post-traumatic stress syndrome. As a native Seattleite and longtime Mariners fan who spent too many afternoons watching losing baseball at midnight dankness of the long-gone Kingdome, I can attest to it. Within the Pacific Northwest, defeat tends to be endured politely. And on the subject of the Mariners, with profound resignation.

Things only got more ominous Friday after Altuve’s homer when the Mariners went to bat, determined to even this tense affair — a house game played before a rare midseason sellout crowd — with a run of their very own.

The Mariners’ magnetic leadoff hitter, the player nearly everyone within the stands desired to see, was a no-show. Julio Rodríguez, the 21-year-old phenom center fielder who had just blasted 81 balls over the outfield fence on the Home Run Derby in Los Angeles, had been scratched from the lineup due to a sore wrist.

Walking through the stands at T-Mobile Park, I could hear a collective sigh of deflation emanating from the group.

“That is so on brand,” Evan Riggs, a longtime fan, told me. “In fact, they’d go down early. In fact, their best player wouldn’t play because he just got hurt, probably within the All-Star Game.”

“That is the Mariners.”

I couldn’t have put it any higher.

Through June 20 the Mariners struggled to administer a record 10 games under .500. But then they suddenly became baseball’s hottest team — victorious in 22 of 25 games — and got here inside 10 games of Houston within the chase for the A.L. West crown.

Out of nowhere, the Mariners suddenly dangled on the precipice of hope.

So it hurt, deeply but in addition unsurprisingly, when the Astros took a straightforward, wire-to-wire win, 5-2, Friday. The pain deepened Saturday, when the 39-year-old right-hander Justin Verlander propelled the Astros to a second victory, 3-1.

On Sunday, with Rodríguez still injured and out of the starting lineup, Seattle fell behind 6-0 after three innings and succumbed, 8-5. The massive series turned out to be an agonizing sweep. Same because it ever was.

A fast review for individuals who don’t understand the extent of this team’s suffering.

In its 46 years of existence, no organization in baseball has been worse. A few of the game’s most iconic stars have worn a Seattle uniform while of their primes — Ken Griffey Jr. at the highest of the list — however the Mariners have been to the playoffs only 4 times, and all in a brief window from 1995 to 2001.

But these, supposedly, are the brand new Mariners. A team attempting to break ground and slough off a past most current players had no a part of. Fans in Seattle need to dare to dream big. But we are able to’t quite let go. We expect the shoe to drop — or a bum wrist to start out one other losing spiral.

Fans on the series last weekend echoed my apprehension:

“Cautious optimism is the very best I can do.”

“It’s like we’ve been here before, but each time we get burned.”

“It looks like they will finally make the playoffs. It also looks like they are going to probably go on a losing binge.”

Then there was this from Dusty Baker, the Astros’ manager, as he stood by the batting cage before Friday’s game, asking me what the mood of the town is. They’re able to win big, I told him, but I’m pretty sure your team may have something to say about that.

Baker smiled. “Yes, we are going to.”

He isn’t a lot a soothsayer, as he’s used to leading an actual contender. His Astros are 5-2 against the M.L.B.-leading Yankees this season after sweeping a doubleheader in Houston last week. Against the Mariners, their indefatigable precision was harking back to an excellent champion I watched at Wimbledon two weeks ago. Like Novak Djokovic, when Houston puts the clamps down, they don’t let go.

I’m almost scared to dream that the Mariners are near becoming that sort of team. Funny how sports can turn “the thing with feathers,” as Emily Dickinson called hope, right into a weight to be shouldered.

In April, I used to be warily certain that Seattle, having built this team with smart off-season moves and by creating top-of-the-line minor league systems in baseball, might eke further than 2021’s result, once they were eliminated in the ultimate game of the season.

Then got here that win streak during which they zoomed past the slow and regular progress befitting charming underdogs.

Now I’m fascinated with what it should take to completely shred Seattle’s popularity as polite losers wearing aqua jerseys. Guts. Daring. Words nobody was using a month and a half ago.

Management must be emboldened by how close the Mariners appear to breaking the long cycle of despairing defeat. Lay down the chips and go all-in. The main league trade deadline is Aug. 2. Washington’s Juan Soto is on the trading block — an extreme rarity because 23-year-old superstars are probably the most coveted asset a team in any sport can have.

Do something big, something akin to the early 2000s reeling-in of then 27-year-old Ichiro Suzuki. Now’s the time to interrupt what looks like a curse. All those talented players within the minor leagues represent nothing greater than potential. Wrap up a bunch of them in a bushel, add a top quality starter from the foremost league team, and make the Nationals a suggestion they’d be fools to refuse.

Mariners General Manager Jerry Dipoto has talked for weeks about making a pointy, stirring move before the looming trade deadline. He won’t say what, maintaining a secrecy that only tightens fans’ grip on the doubt that defines us.

“We haven’t been to the playoffs in 20 years,” Dipoto underscored to me this weekend. “We’re the franchise that hasn’t been to the World Series.”

“Fans shouldn’t trust us until we get there,” he said, in the subsequent breath extolling his team’s rigorously calculated journey of improvement.

But one among the attractive traits of a sports fan is the way in which the games allow us to hope for the not possible, even the irrational. An outfield of Rodríguez and Soto is just that, but I’m dreaming it anyway, and I’m hardly alone.

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