By Scott M. Johnson Herald Writer
It’s October, and you know what that means, Mariners fans.
The pain of another long season is behind you, and now it’s time to sit in front of the television and get stabbed in the heart.
The annual rite of passage known as watching ex-Mariners play playoff baseball could be harder than ever this month, when more than a few of this town’s former stars and one-time prospects will be trying to lead their new teams to World Series glory.
Just seeing longtime fan favorite Ichiro Suzuki in the uniform of the hated New York Yankees is enough to drive a Seattleite crazy, but he’s only part of the story. The Texas Rangers’ leading hitter (Adrian Beltre), the Detroit Tigers’ No. 2 starter (Doug Fister), the Baltimore Orioles’ cleanup hitter (Adam Jones) and one of the Yankees’ most dangerous sluggers (Alex Rodriguez) are all ex-Mariners. No fewer than 17 players who were once with Seattle are playing in the postseason.
The field includes former M’s favorites such as Suzuki and Freddy Garcia, rising stars like Jones, Fister, Oakland A’s starter Travis Blackley and Washington Nationals breakout performer Mike Morse, journeymen like Wilson Valdez and Miguel Cairo (both now with Cincinnati) and Ramon Santiago (Detroit) and even one of the Mariners’ long list of veteran busts in Jack Wilson, who’s now with the Atlanta Braves.
To make matters worse, there are some just-miss players still playing in October, like San Francisco pitcher Tim Lincecum (the Mariners passed on drafting the University of Washington star in favor of Brandon Morrow, but you already knew that) and Detroit slugger Prince Fielder (whom the Mariners courted in free agency but who never seemed interested in relocating to the Northwest).
No fewer than five ex-Mariners are expected to be on the Yankees’ postseason roster, with Suzuki, Rodriguez and Raul Ibanez being part of the lineup while Garcia and fill-in closer Rafael Soriano are key members of the pitching staff. Reliever David Aardsma recently made his 2012 debut after struggling with injuries for the better part of two seasons, although it seems unlikely that he’ll be part of the Yankees’ postseason plans.
Suzuki seems to have arrived in New York via the fountain of youth, having hit .324 with the Yankees after posting a .261 average in 95 games with the M’s before the July trade.
A change in scenery also seems to have helped the Rangers’ Beltre, who hit 33 home runs over his final two seasons in Seattle and has 36 for Texas this season. He also leads the Rangers with a .321 batting average after leaving the Mariners in 2010 to join the Boston Red Sox as a free agent.
The Rangers also have gotten a decent season out of hard-throwing reliever Mark Lowe, who was part of the Cliff Lee-for-Justin Smoak trade and seems to have recovered from the injuries that limited him in his final season in Seattle.
The Mariners’ farm system helped boost Baltimore’s rise from the ashes, thanks to the ill-fated Erik Bedard trade that sent a flock of players — most notably Jones and starter Chris Tillman — to the Orioles. Jones hit .287 with a team-high 32 home runs this season. Tillman went 9-3 with a 2.93 ERA.
Tillman is a key cog in Baltimore’s rotation, but no ex-Mariner pitcher has made quite the impact that Fister has had in Detroit. The Tigers’ No. 2 starter has become the missing piece the Tigers needed to complement ace Justin Verlander. Fister went 10-10 with a 3.45 ERA this season, and Detroit will be looking to him to help shut down the A’s bats in the Tigers’ opening series.
The National League playoffs don’t include quite as many ex-Mariners, but there are some key role players, including Braves reliever Eric O’Flaherty and the Reds’ Valdez and Cairo.
Perhaps the most intriguing ex-Mariner in the NL playoffs is the Nationals’ Morse, who never quite lived up to his sky-high potential in Seattle but has blossomed in recent years. He hit .303 with 31 home runs and 95 RBI during an All-Star season in 2011 and followed that up with 18 home runs and a .291 average during an injury-plagued regular season this year.
Seeing players such as Morse, Fister and Jones thrive in new cities can only make the decision of what to do with current Mariners Justin Smoak, Michael Saunders and Jason Vargas that much more difficult. But that’s all up for discussion in the coming weeks and months.
For now, the only thing that matters is October. And while the Mariners are once again watching from home, several players who once called Seattle home will be all over our television screens for the next month.