By John Boyle Herald Columnist
SEATTLE — A running joke this season has been to refer to appearances by the Seattle Mariners’ new closer as The Fernando Rodney experience, implying his save attempts are a wild ride that should probably require a ticket for admission, and perhaps a liability waiver.
Lately that joke hasn’t really been relevant because Rodney has been, well, kind of boring in his efficiency, not allowing a run in his past 10 save situations. But if unpredictability and inconstant results are your thing, fear not, even if Rodney isn’t toying with your blood pressure, you’ve still got the Mariners as a whole, a team that has been more or less impossible to figure out through the first three months of the season.
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The 2014 Mariners are just good enough to make you think they’ve turned a corner and have a real shot at contention, but they’re also limited enough, especially on offense, that they’re capable of looking pretty awful over the course of a five-game losing streak. Of course inconsistent certainly beats what the Mariners have been for most of the past decade — just plain bad — but it can also be maddening for fans who one week think the Mariners are headed to the playoffs, and the next wonder if they’ll ever score another run.
The best I can offer is this: get used to it. The Mariners have suffered through one eight-game losing streak and two five-gamers, yet they’ve also had two five-game winning streaks, one of which was part of a stretch of eight wins in nine games. And yes, one of the five-game losing streaks followed that eight-wins-in-nine-games stretch. After losing those five games at home earlier this month, the Mariners responded by winning six of eight on the road.
That the Mariners have had so many rough stretches is a testament to their limitations. Their offense beyond Robinson Cano has been up-and-down at best and anemic at worst. As good as Seattle’s pitching has been, it can’t always overcome a lineup full of struggling hitters. But the fact that the Mariners have responded so well to adversity time and time again is just as significant; a sign that manager Lloyd McClendon has gotten through to his young team and helped them realize that a 162-game season won’t be defined by any series or even a five-game winning or losing streak.
“Listen, you can’t play this game on emotions,” McClendon said. “When you play a 162-games schedule, you can’t get caught up in one series or one loss or five losses. You just can’t. You have to be very workman like and very methodical about how you go about your business, and once that day is over with, turn the page and get ready for the next one. I know it sounds like an old cliché, but it is what it is. (The sweep in) Kansas City is nice, but we’ve got to get ready for Boston tonight.”
McClendon understands that he’ll be defined not by what the Mariners did Monday night or in this series, but by what they do at the end of the season, and so far, it’s hard to argue with the results. The Mariners are flawed, they’ve suffered injuries, yet they came into this home stand four games over .500 and tied for the second Wild Card spot in the American League.
For Mariners fans, the roller coaster of this season may be hard to stomach, but it’s not likely to end soon, and more importantly for the team’s chances at staying in contention, the ups-and-downs aren’t getting to the players even if they have you alternating between the panic button and a bottle of bubbly.
“Honestly I don’t think we really even notice it,” said shortstop Brad Miller. “It comes a lot from Mac. If we lose a couple of tough games — in San Diego we had two one-run games we were in against two pretty good pitchers — we lost ‘em, but it didn’t faze us. If it did faze us, we would have let it carry over to Kansas City, but we didn’t. I think that speaks to more to anything that we look at it as, ‘Hey, we can lose a couple of game, but that’s fine, we’ll keep fighting and keep rolling with it.’ It’s a long year. I think that starts at the top with Mac.”
And on the individual level, Miller is the perfect example of how McClendon’s patience has worked its way down to players. In late May, Miller was hitting .151, and many, many people were calling for a demotion. McClendon still had faith in his shortstop — and let’s face it, he also didn’t have a good viable alternative — and slowly but surely, Miller has gone from lineup liability to productive hitter. Miller was hitting .324 over his past 22 games heading into Monday, raising his average 56 points in a little over three weeks.
“To me the biggest thing was his trust in me and his faith in me,” Miller said. “The different things he’s said to me over the season that I’ve taken to heart has helped put me where I am right now, no question.”
On the multiple occasions when the Mariners have struggled this year, McClendon has joked that “the sky is falling” or that the sun still came up on that particular day. He knows as well as anyone that his team isn’t perfect, that it will inevitably go through a down stretch again at some point, but the way his team has answered the bell after those losing streaks so far bodes well for the team’s future, even if that future is sure to be torturously inconsistent at times for fans.
“He’s never panicked this year, never done anything even when we were losing eight straight,” said outfielder Dustin Ackley. “He has always had confidence in us and he knows what we’re capable of doing, and I think that’s why we’ve had success the last couple of weeks, because we’ve had faith in ourselves and him. We know he trusts what we’re doing is right, and I think it’s paid off.”
If the past three months have told us anything about the Mariners — other than that they’re capable of staying relevant well into summer — it’s that they’re just good enough to make you believe, and just flawed enough to go through some pretty rough stretches. McClendon would tell you not to get caught up in the ups and down, but getting caught up in emotions is what being a fan is all about. So instead, buckle up and enjoy the ride. It could get bumpy, but it also has the potential to be pretty fun.
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.