The Mariners finally get to bring at least one postseason game back to T-Mobile Park

TORONTO — The derring-do, Rally-Shoe Mariners have been checking off goals faster than Adam Frazier racing around the bases on JP Crawford’s Bermuda Triangle double Saturday.

If Frazier’s frantic, game-tying sprint reminded you of Ken Griffey Jr. running faster than he had ever run exactly 27 years earlier, well, join the club. And in this club, the secret handshake is actually a Eugenio Suarez bear hug.

The first goal to fall by the wayside, of course, was ending the endless playoff drought. That was accomplished on Cal Raleigh’s walkoff home run that instantly joined the annals of epic Mariners moments.

The second goal to be reached was actually win a postseason series, which hadn’t happened since the 116-win Mariners ousted Cleveland, three games to two, in the 2001 Division Series, a precursor to getting unceremoniously ousted by the Yankees in the ALCS.

Goal No. 2 was accomplished in two exhilarating games in Toronto, one a masterpiece for the ages by Luis Castillo, the other a comeback for the stages — the national stages that the Mariners will now be featured on as they advance to the American League Division Series against Houston , and, they hope, beyond.

That series sweep at Rogers Center led directly to the accomplishment of the Mariners’ third goal, which might not be their most ambitious — that would absolutely be winning the World Series — but certainly is the most meaningful. The Mariners are now assured a playoff game at T-Mobile Park, which has been their focus since the possibility of hosting the Wild Card Series as the No. 1 wild-card team disintegrated.

Now it’s a fait accompli, and Mariners fans have a week to prepare for the first playoff game at T-Mobile Park (nee Safeco Field) in 7,668 days next Saturday. That will be Game 3 of the best-of-five ALDS against the Houston Astros, representing either a chance to clinch the series, a desperate attempt to stave off a sweep, or the vital pivot game after a split in Houston.

I have a hunch that under any of those scenarios, the energy and emotion in the building will be massive, relentless and unending, reminiscent of the wall of noise in the Mariners’ first playoff foray at the Kingdome in 1995.

In the frenzied jubilation that followed the Mariners’ comeback win Saturday after falling behind 8-1, player after player expressed delight at ensuring they would get a home playoff game. No one wanted to face the possibility of ending the drought yet never getting to manifest that place among their fans in person with a home playoff game.

“I can’t really put it into words,” said Ty France. “They’ve been through a lot over the past 21 years, so for us to be able to bring playoff baseball back to them — we’re just very grateful, very thankful for them. We’re very, very happy we’re able to do that for them.”

Before the Toronto series even started, Mariners manager Scott Servais had spoken with the assurance of having more magical moments in Seattle. He didn’t flat-out predict a series win, but the implication was exactly that.

“There are big moments yet ahead for this team,” he said after their regular-season finale. “I certainly believe that, and they’re going to happen here at T-Mobile Park.”

In fact, Servais is turning into a flannel-clad Nostradamus. He predicted that the Mariners’ ability to handle the inevitable adversity and momentum swings of playoff baseball would be the key to their success — and was it ever on Saturday, when their Win Expectancy in the fifth inning was at 1%.

“Keeping your emotions in check and just playing baseball will give us the best chance of coming back here and playing at T-Mobile,” he said. “I’m sure there’s going to be a few heroes along the way.”

Oh, there were indeed heroes, from Castillo to Raleigh (again) to Frazier to Crawford to Carlos Santana to George Kirby. The fact that Saturday’s comeback was accomplished with little impact from Julio Rodriguez, the Mariners’ flashiest and most productive player all year, is testament to the fact that October baseball rarely goes according to form.

Servais’ mantra to the team heading into the playoffs was “expect the expected,” which means not to let the gravity of playoff baseball fool you into thinking you need to do anything more than you have all year. But “expect the unexpected” is the byword for those of us on the outside watching it all unfold with delightful unpredictability.

Dripping Champagne on Saturday, Servais was visibly thrilled at the prospect of managing a playoff game from the T-Mobile dugout.

“It means the world to me,” he said. “When I took this job seven years ago, you hope you get to the point that you get in the playoffs and host a playoff game. Obviously, we weren’t able to host this series. But to have an opportunity to play in front of all the fans in the Pacific Northwest and how long they’ve been (waiting) — they’re starving for this.”

Servais believes that the home-field advantage will be tangible for the Mariners.

“It’s a big motivation,” he said before leaving for Toronto. “These guys want to play in this ballpark again. There’s a special vibe in this ballpark, and you see it when the game’s close late. I don’t know how we’re going to win, but we’ll find a way. And our players know that.

The worst-case scenario now is that the Mariners’ first home playoff game in 21 years is also their last home playoff game of 2022. That would be the case if the Houston Astros sweep. But there’s also the chance that the Mariners play as many as nine home playoff games, and this is merely the start of a T-Mobile extended baseball festival.

That would require, as the next goal in line, knocking off a 106-win Astros team that has dominated the American League in 2022 and the Mariners for many years before that. But, Servais said, “This club fears no one. I truly believe that.

Jerry Dipoto, Seattle’s president of baseball operations, talked about the Mariners’ “awesome” confidence, which was put to the supreme test by a formidable Toronto offense. When the Blue Jays were having their way with Seattle early in Saturday’s game, Dipoto turned to general manager Justin Hollander and said, “Boy, we really did take the hard road, didn’t we?”

Added Dipoto: “And we got through it. And now we have to take the next step, which is also a hard road. But this team does ‘hard’ pretty well.”

The Mariners are heading to Houston, but for them, all roads lead to Seattle.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.