Patterson: Mariners, amazingly, not out of playoff hunt yet

SEATTLE — There were those who declared the top of the fourth inning between the Seattle Mariners and the Toronto Blue Jays on Tuesday night at Safeco Field as the official time of death of Seattle’s 2016 season.

The Mariners, playing for their postseason lives, watched as nine consecutive Blue Jays reached base with one out in the top of the fourth. The large contingent of Toronto fans, which made the trip south of the border to take over Safeco the past three days, erupted with glee following every hard-hit ball. Toronto plated eight runs in the inning as Seattle watched a 2-0 lead melt into an 8-2 disaster. The eventual 10-2 loss dropped the Mariners’ three games back in the race for an AL Wild Card playoff spot with just 11 left to play, and many thought that meltdown in the top of the fourth was the straw that finally broke Seattle’s back in trying to end its 14-year playoff drought.

But clearly those people haven’t been paying close attention to Seattle this season. The 2016 Mariners are the baseball version of Jason Voorhees of Friday the 13th movie fame: Every time you think they’re dead and buried, they roar back to life.

Seattle may have saved its season thanks to an intense 2-1, 12-inning victory over the Blue Jays on Wednesday afternoon, and that game was just the latest repudiation to those who keep counting the Mariners out prematurely.

“We’re not dead yet,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said following Wednesday’s game. “I’ve said it a few times, you have to be all the way six-feet under and we’re not quite there yet.”

Seattle’s season has had more violent swings than a haunted playground. A peek at FanGraphs.com’s chart of the Mariners’ playoff odds throughout the season shows more peaks and valleys than the roller coaster my wife and I rode at the Washington State Fair last weekend in Puyallup. Seattle saw its odds of making the postseason fluctuate from a high of 75.3 percent on May 26 to as little as 2.1 percent on Sept. 6. The last month of the chart alone resembles an EKG scan more than it does a realistic curve of September playoff possibilities.

But many believed the current homestand hammered the final nail in Seattle’s coffin. The Mariners had won eight straight to put themselves right back in the hunt in the wild card race, and they were coming home to face a pair of teams they were racing against. But losing two out of three against the Houston Astros, followed by dropping the first two against Toronto, had the naysayers writing Seattle off yet again.

But even four defeats in five games against fellow wild card chasers somehow couldn’t knock the Mariners out of the race. Wednesday’s victory, combined with the Baltimore Orioles’ 5-1 loss to the Boston Red Sox, meant Seattle was just two games out of a Wild Card spot — which is just a half-game worse than at the beginning of the homestand.

“This was a must-win game,” said Mariners ace Felix Hernandez, who was in imperious form as he tossed seven scoreless innings to put Seattle in a position to win. “When I got here I was like, ‘You know what guys, we’re going to win this game.’”

They won the game, and they’re still in the race.

What helps Seattle down the stretch is a favorable schedule over the final 10 games. The Mariners begin a three-game series at Minnesota on Friday, and the Twins just happen to have the worst record in baseball. After that comes a three-game series at Houston, which affords Seattle another opportunity to reel in one of the teams it has to out-lean at the tape. Lest we forget, the last time the Mariners had a six-game road trip they returned home with six victories against the Oakland Athletics and Los Angeles Angels, and that was just one week ago.

Seattle then concludes the season with a four-game set back home against an Oakland team that has nothing left to play for. Think the atmosphere won’t be electric at Safeco Field for that weekend series should the Mariners still have a playoff berth to chase?

“We need help,” Servais admitted. “We’ve got to play good ball against Minnesota. That’s a team we won’t take lightly, they handled us a bunch here earlier in the year [when the Twins swept Seattle in a three-game series at Safeco in late May]. They have a lot of young players who will play very loose and free, and that’s how we need to play.”

Do the Mariners need help? Perhaps. But they’re not on life support.

Yes, the odds are still against the Mariners making the playoffs for the first time since 2001. There’s still four teams ahead of them in the race for the two AL Wild Card spots, and there’s precious little time remaining for Seattle to make up the difference.

But don’t count the Mariners out. They’ve shown all season long, just like an action-movie villain, what a mistake it is to turn your back on them when you think they’re dead.

For more on the Seattle sports scene, check out Nick Patterson’s Seattle Sidelines blog at www.heraldnet.com/tag/seattle-sidelines, or follow him on Twitter at @NickHPatterson.

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