SEATTLE – The quotes made the clubhouse seem as though it had just been hit by an 8.1 earthquake.
“They don’t care about winning,” one Mariner said.
“I’ve seen a lot of teammates walk out that door. But this one hurts the most …” another said.
This was the instant reaction to the M’s trading lights-out closer Kendall Graveman to the Astros for reliever Joe Smith and infielder Abraham Toro late last month. Other deals followed before the trade deadline, as Seattle acquired a new closer in Diego Castillo and starting pitcher Tyler Anderson, but the Graveman deal was the one that raised anger levels to 11.
Two losses to Houston followed. Then two losses in three games to the Rangers, both coming with the Mariners holding the lead in the final inning of the game. Linking the team’s skid to that trade might not have been fair, but it wasn’t unreasonable, either.
Right when the M’s lured the city into thinking they might finally end this 20-year postseason drought, they seemed to revert to their maddening losing ways.
But then came the series with Tampa Bay, and, well, maybe believing again isn’t a guaranteed setup for heartbreak. Then came beating the defending American League champions twice in three games, and, hmm … there still might be a chance.
If a couple of balls were hit a little harder, or if outfielder Jarred Kelenic doesn’t lose sight of a fly ball that turned into a two-run triple, the Mariners might have swept the series and gone 7-0 against the Rays on the season.
Could this M’s clubhouse, which felt haunted a few days back, be suddenly filled with hope? I asked their manager Scott Servais about this after Seattle’s 4-3 loss to Tampa Bay, noting some of his players’ reactions to Graveman being dealt.
“When things happen like that, we have a very close-knit group. Talk about family, guys care about each other, so I don’t know about you guys, but if I have a close family member or whatever and I don’t get a chance to see him or don’t get to work with him every day, it hurts. It hurts a little bit. There’s no question about it. That’s something that is very normal,” Servais said. “I said it the day that all the stuff came down. I still liked our team. I know that our lineup is the best that it’s been at any point this season. I can see it. The players can see it. They’re looking forward to what the rest of the season brings.”
Doesn’t hurt that Toro did his best Mike Trout impression upon joining the Mariners. In his first seven games with Seattle, the second baseman hit .440 with three home runs, three doubles and five RBIs. He had another hit Wednesday and launched one just short of the warning track in the eighth with a runner on second. Such contributions will offset the pain of losing a beloved reliever.
Even so, it’s hard to give Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto a particularly glowing review for what he did at the trade deadline. Despite a number of deals supposedly in the works, nothing particularly jaw-dropping came to fruition by the time the July 30 trade deadline passed.
In Dipoto’s defense, he held on to the top prospects he and Servais have been raving about. But as one anonymous Mariner suggested, the bulk of the moves seemed lateral.
Still, it’s August, and the Mariners (58-51) are playing meaningful baseball. That would have likely come as a surprise to most folks around the league before the season began. They’re three games back of the A’s, relatively healthy and, over the past few games, have been playing teams tight in defeat.
“I think the team is very confident in what we’re able to do and how we’ve played this entire year up to this point,” M’s pitcher Logan Gilbert said after the Tampa Bay series. “Sometimes things go your way, sometimes they don’t. At the end of the day, it’s just pitch, execution, that’s what it comes down to. It’s frustrating to lose, but we got the series win. We’ll just keep on and maintain that confidence.”
The mood seemed bleak a few days ago after losing a closer and four out of five games. It seems less so now.
It’s fair to question the strength of the Mariners’ horses, but the horses are still in the race.