SEATTLE – Kyle Seager spit out a sunflower seed, flipped his bat and watched the baseball – and the eight-game losing streak – fly into the right-field stands.
He didn’t admire it for long because that’s not Seager’s style. But he did enjoy the moment and what it symbolized just enough before chugging around the bases. And when he got within 10 feet of home plate, he looked at all his giddy teammates waiting for him and submitted to an all-out celebration. He threw his helmet into the air and ran into the hive of players.
Say this much for Seager and the Mariners: They know how to maximize the drama of a breakthrough. The Mariners were two outs from a ninth straight loss in the bottom of the ninth inning Wednesday afternoon. They were facing Houston closer Josh Fields, a former Seattle first-round draft pick jettisoned long ago. Seager entered the game with a .156 batting average and concerns that he was no longer a dependable option for a team flailing because it lacks stability.
With the Mariners trailing 3-0 in the seventh inning, Seager had hit a two-run homer off Jarred Cosart. But pessimists, and the Mariners have spawned a legion of them over the years, figured it was one lucky swing. In the bottom of the ninth, with Houston clinging to a 3-2 lead and Robinson Cano and Corey Hart on base, this was the opportunity for Seager to make an impression. This was his chance to make a credible argument that this Mariners team still warrants patience and that his slow start doesn’t have to mean that he’s headed for an awful season.
Seager took one powerful swing at a first-pitch fastball, and the burden was lifted, at least for now. His three-run jolt of adrenaline gave the Mariners a 5-3 walkoff victory before an announced crowd of 13,739 at Safeco Field.
“It’s a character win for our club,” said Mariners starter Chris Young, who allowed three runs over seven innings and kept the Mariners in the game despite walking five batters. “I just can’t say enough about Seags, and the way he kept battling and grinding. It’s awesome.”
Two weeks ago, before the Mariners threw a Costco supply of losses on their fans, manager Lloyd McClendon dismissed Seager’s struggles as merely a bad patch magnified by early-season scrutiny. During spring training, McClendon had praised Seager as one of the game’s top 10 third basemen, and he wasn’t about to change his mind.
Sure, you’re talking about a manager who wouldn’t panic if a mountain goat tapped him on the shoulder. But even if he were the fidgety type, McClendon would trust Seager.
“If I’ve got to worry about Kyle Seager, then I’m in trouble,” McClendon said two weeks ago. “I probably need to quit this job.”
After Wednesday’s game, McClendon didn’t belt out, “Told ya so.” That would go against his balanced perspective. If he won’t show much emotion about an eight-game losing streak, then he can’t react too passionately about one thrilling win. The Mariners are still 8-13. They’re in an early-season hole. They have work to do.
But perhaps the climb will include a rejuvenated Seager now.
“Obviously, he has a track record,” McClendon said. “I said all along he is going to hit. Obviously, a losing streak and the guys you expect to hit don’t hit – it’s a little frustrating. In that case, you have two options: sit ’em or play ’em.
“I think he’s going to be just fine.”
As reporters entered the clubhouse Wednesday afternoon, the old 2Pac rap song “Keep Ya Head Up” filled the room. It fit the moment.
It seems that they’re still a united, blue-collar team competing with the right intentions. It’ll take more than one walkoff win over the lowly Astros to believe they’re fixed, but it sure beats the despair of the previous eight games.
“Nobody was really stressing,” Seager said. “We’ve been all right. 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.”
It’s a good thing Seager and the Mariners know what they have. Most everyone else is quite perplexed. And Seager’s struggles have been among the most confounding. At the plate, he has been uncharacteristically invisible. His defense has been inconsistent, too.
For a player who can be oppressively analytical, Seager has been pressing all season, overanalyzing, watching too much video, making too many tweaks. Combine it with his slow finish to last season, and there was fear that opponents had figured him out. But in conversations with hitting coach Howard Johnson and others, he was told to relax and calm down his upper-body movement when he swings. He needed to simplify his approach. His line-drive homer in the seventh was his best swing in weeks.
Then, with the game on the line and a losing streak festering, Seager kept it simple again. Seek fastball. Hit fastball.
The result: joy.
Even when it’s been a while, you know the feeling.