A playoff berth best way Mariners can thank Lou Piniella

It’s a happy coincidence that the Seattle Mariners’ front office chose early August to honor former manager Lou Piniella with induction into the Mariners Hall of Fame, at a time when the Mariners still are playing games that matter.

Thanks to Major League Baseball’s addition of a second team to the wild card race and Seattle’s much improved play this season, Piniella, “Sweet Lou,” could honestly congratulate the team and urge Seattle on to the playoffs before Saturday’s game against the Chicago White Sox.

It’s been 12 seasons since Piniella last coached the Mariners. In that time, Seattle can count only four winning seasons, none that took it to post-season play. With 43 games remaining, the Mariners are in the thick of a race for a wild-card berth. It’s more than appropriate, then, to honor Piniella at a time when Seattle fans are reacquainting themselves to baseball that counts in the final third of the season.

Monday night’s game brought 41,000 fans to Safeco Field. 41,000. On a Monday night. In August. Granted, the Toronto Blue Jays brought fans from north of the border, but that was a sea of yellow “K” towels that twirled for Felix Hernandez.

Turns out, rising to your feet for a Robinson Cano RBI-double feels an awful lot like cheering for an Edgar Martinez extra-base hit. Watching catcher — and former AquaSox player — Mike Zunino drop to his knees to block a pitch in the dirt is just as reassuring as Dan Wilson’s .995 career fielding percentage. The crowd roars just as raucously for a Felix strikeout as it did every time Randy’s Johnson’s Mr. Snappy flummoxed a hitter.

And doesn’t first-year manager Lloyd McClendon mirror Piniella’s gruff-but-lovable demeanor when curtly explaining to a reporter in a post-game interview that “That’s baseball,” when his batters put up six runs on 11 hits one night and the next can’t get a runner past first base?

Seattle fans aren’t pushovers. Or stupid. When a team shows a commitment to winning, they will come to the stadium, as they did for most of Piniella’s years at the helm, as they have for the Seattle Seahawks under Pete Carroll and the Seattle Sounders under Sigi Schmid.

Yes, it could all come crashing down in a seven-game losing streak, but once again, Mariner fans are paying attention, daring to hope and watching the scoreboard.

Consider Piniella’s visit to his old dirt-kicking, base-throwing, foot-stomping grounds fortuitous timing, a good omen.

Saturday night, in thanking the Mariners and Seattle’s fans, Piniella encouraged the team to add to what it had built so far this season.

“Let’s kick some butt the rest of the year and get to the playoffs,” he said.

Consider those words Sweet Lou’s marching orders.

Correction: An earlier version of this editorial conflated Felix Hernandez’s last name with that of Edgar Martinez. It has been corrected. Score the play as an error.

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