SEATTLE — It was worth the agonizingly long wait. The sea of navy and teal stretched 47,690 strong, in tune with every pitch and sending roar after deafening roar throughout a venue that hasn’t experienced anything like this.
Postseason baseball had been played within the walls of T-Mobile Park — 21 years ago — as has been well-chronicled. But even with recency bias, it’d be hard to suggest that it looked like it did Saturday night, sustained through a game that was scoreless until the 18th inning and tied for the longest game in postseason history, with virtually everyone in the house on their feet for all six hours and 22 minutes.
But as has been the case during this tense American League Division Series between teams that had faced each other 21 times entering this packed-house matinee that turned into a nightcap, the Mariners were so excruciatingly and exhaustingly close — but ultimately not quite there. Seattle lost Game 3 of the best-of-five series in an 18-inning 1-0 defeat, swept out of the postseason with its run over in a fashion as equally frustrating as it was gut-wrenching.
Given the tense back and forth and incredible run-prevention efforts from both teams with elimination on the line, Saturday’s game was always going to go down as one of the most memorable in franchise history, either an all-time great in which the Mariners outdueled their AL West rivals, or among the most frustrating via a loss for that same reason.
Penn Murphy, the Mariners’ final reliever in the bullpen other than Robbie Ray, surrendered a 415-foot solo homer to Jeremy Peña in a full count to lead off the 18th, then the Mariners went quietly in their 10th chance with a walk-off .
“The number of young players that played huge roles for us in this series — it is going to benefit us just immensely going forward,” manager Scott Servais said. “It’s a brotherhood in that clubhouse, and it is something that’s going to serve us well and certainly serve our core — all the players — well going forward as we took a huge step as an organization this season.”
The season ended sooner than the Mariners hoped, but beyond their big step forward in 2021 — when they won 90 games and inspired the region to “Believe” — Seattle finally ended the drought and, even more so, they showed that once they were in the dance that they belonged.
“When we all look back, everybody’s been talking, ‘Oh, the drought, the drought, the drought,'” star outfielder Julio Rodríguez said. “This whole team together has come a long way, and I feel like this is the beginning for all of us.”
Rodríguez is the prized face of the future, likely on his way to winning the AL Rookie of the Year Award — and perhaps many more awards down the road. Yet his presence is an embodiment of the overall trajectory of baseball in Seattle, which — if this playoff run indicates anything — could be the first of many.
There’s a nucleus here that showed quantifiable development, but also the reality of a need to continue adding talent externally this offseason. Nearly the entire 26-man roster sat on the top step of the home dugout during Houston’s celebration, soaking it all in as motivation to be in that exuberant position next October.
“You never want to see somebody else celebrating on your home field, but hats off to them,” catcher Cal Raleigh said. “It’s still going to be imprinted in a lot of our minds for a while, and we’re going to take it next year and remember how it felt.”
On paper, this was a sweep and the Mariners’ 15th loss in 22 games to the juggernauts that they share a division with — the one that they continue to chase. Yet in each of these three contests, had one pitch or swing gone another way, the dynamic of this series could have shifted in a completely different direction. Seattle was outscored by one run in Games 1 and 3 and two in Game 2.
“We feel close and yet still feel far away,” president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto said. “They’re going on to the LCS for the sixth straight year. And we recognize and respect what they do, but we feel like we can play with anybody — and I think we just showed it for three days.”
The Mariners led in every game but their last. Yet, as was the case in the opening acts in Houston, Saturday’s showing underscored that Seattle lacked the knockout punch.
The Mariners went 7-for-60 with 22 strikeouts. They reached second base just three times and third base just once — in the second inning — while going 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position and stranding 10 runners total. Although Saturday’s game was for the taking, they struggled to seize the moment offensively.
“It’s a tough way to lose, especially being so close to playing them so well,” outfielder Mitch Haniger said. “Unfortunately, we didn’t get it done and this one hurts. … Our pitching staff has been great. We’ve just got to put more runs up on the board.”
It was a tough ending to an otherwise promising season. The Mariners didn’t quite conquer their division rivals, but they certainly have their attention — for next year and beyond.