By John Boyle Herald Columnist
SEATTLE — The Mariners were two outs from disaster. Two outs from a ninth straight loss and the indignity of being swept at home by the lowly Houston Astros.
But when all seemed lost for the Mariners again, a slumping bat gave a slumping team a much-needed ninth-inning celebration.
There’s season upon season of evidence in Seattle to suggest that Kyle Seager’s game winning home run — his second homer in the game’s final three innings — was just a happy blip on the radar in what will amount to another dismal season. But if the Mariners are going to right the ship, if this recent losing streak really was just a funk (to use manager Lloyd McClendon’s words) and not a sign that the Mariners are headed for another losing season, then Seager’s heroics could be the spark a slumping team needed.
If there’s such a thing as a statement victory 21 games into baseball season, Wednesday’s 5-3, comeback win might have been just that. That’s probably going way, way overboard, but nonetheless, the Mariners, and Seager, really needed that.
“You can’t say enough about Seager and the way he’s been battling, the way he’s been grinding, he’s a true professional,” starting pitcher Chris Young said. “He picked us up today in a much-needed win, and that’s awesome to see.
“It’s a character win for our club.”
Asked if Wednesday’s win, which saw the Mariners erase a 3-0 deficit on two Seager home runs, could be the type of victory that can spark a team, McClendon deadpanned, “I’ll let you know after Thursday’s game.”
Never mind that the Mariners don’t actually play Thursday, McClendon’s point was understood. Baseball seasons are long, they’re full of ups and down, and in all likelihood, no single win or loss, no matter how thrilling or gut-wrenching, is likely to have a huge effect on the big picture.
But darn it if the Mariners, and their struggling third baseman, didn’t need an afternoon like this.
After so many ugly losses, after so many nights in which no-name pitchers looked like All-Stars against Seattle’s lineup, the Mariners were once again being stymied by a pitcher whose track record says he should be fighting a demotion to the minor leagues, not a flirting with a no-hitter. Yet Jarred Cosart, he of a 7.36 earned run average coming into the game, did not allow a hit until Robinson Cano singled in the fourth.
Cosart carried a shutout into the seventh. Then Seager, who entered the game with a .156 batting average, no home runs and two RBI, sent a pitch into the right-field bleachers to make it a one-run game. Two innings later, with Cano and Corey Hart on base, Seager jumped on a first-pitch fastball for the game-winning homer.
“We’ve definitely been battling a little bit, hadn’t had some games go our way,” Seager said. “For sure it’s always good to get a victory.”
Seager has been one of the Mariners’ best hitters during the past two seasons, but has struggled mightily to start this season. McClendon has said repeatedly that Seager is the least of his concerns and he never wavered in his support for his third baseman, and on Wednesday that faith was finally rewarded.
“He has a track record, and I’ve said all along he’s going to hit,” McClendon said. “Obviously, when you’re in a losing streak and the guys that you expect to hit don’t hit, it’s a little frustrating. In that case, you have one of two options: you can sit him or you can play him. I chose to play him, and he didn’t disappoint. I think he’s going to be just fine.”
If the Mariners really are going to build on this victory, a productive Seager would be a great place to start. Coming into the season, he and Cano seemed like the only two sure things the Mariners had offensively, and his lack of production has very much been a part, though by no means the only cause of, Seattle’s offensive woes.
Seager has been working diligently with hitting coach Howard Johnson, and said his swing has actually felt better for a couple of days. On Wednesday, that better feeling turned into two very productive swings.
Seager says his season-opening slump wasn’t overly concerning, noting that every player and team goes through ups and downs in a season, but that the negatives are magnified early in a season.
“Nobody was really stressing, we’ve been all right,” Seager said. “We know what we have here. Obviously nobody wants to lose, so that’s been hard, but we know what we have here and we haven’t been panicking.”
Well, maybe not nobody. Fans have been stressing, and with good reason. They can’t help but remember season after season of 90-plus losses and immediately get that “here we go again” feeling when the losses start coming in bunches. But for at least a day, and if McClendon is right about his team, many more days to come, the Mariners showed a little resilience Wednesday, getting a much-needed victory thanks to a player who got two much-needed big hits.
“I said when I took the job that I want them to take on my personality, and I think you guys can see, I didn’t have any panic,” McClendon said. “The fact is, you’re going to have losing streaks during the course of a season, and how you deal with them will define what type of team you will become over the 162-game schedule. Nobody said it was going to be a bed of roses every day. We’ll see. I like my team, I still like my team, and I think we’re going to be OK.”
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.