TORONTO – Before this American League Wild Card Series began, I asked a member of the Mariners’ traveling party what sort of celebration they planned if the ballclub should happen to knock off the Toronto Blue Jays. Given that it would just be the first of four steps to their stated goal of winning the World Series, I thought it might be a little more sedate than the near-bacchanalia following their drought-breaking victory in Seattle.
“Let’s put it this way: They’ll know we were here,” was the reply.
Let’s now put it a slightly different way: The Blue Jays will never, ever forget that the Mariners were at Rogers Centre. It will haunt their dreams forever after they blew an 8-1 lead Saturday and fell victim to one of the most stirring, unlikely comebacks in postseason history.
But this column isn’t about Toronto’s litany of regrets and laments. It is about the Mariners and how, after two decades, they created a new legendary postseason moment in franchise history in defeating the Blue Jays 10-9 to sweep the best-of-three series.
And, yes, they partied and danced and sprayed Champagne precisely as you’d expect a team to do after a rally so preposterous that only the most Pollyannish fan would have believed it possible. President of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto sheepishly admitted that in the fifth inning, when the Blue Jays scored four times to open that seven-run lead and raise their analytic Win Probability to 99% , he did “what a normal person would do” and began mapping out the pitching options for Sunday’s winner-take-all rubber match.
What happened after that will live forever in the annals of Seattle sports.
“All season long, this team has been about carving something out for themselves,” Dipoto said.
That they did so on the 27th anniversary of Edgar Martinez’s epic double in 1995 that has shouldered far too much of the franchise’s historical burden is poetic justice at its most profound. That they pulled off the biggest road comeback in MLB postseason history, and the biggest postseason comeback of any kind in Mariners history – knocking aside Edgar’s other legacy moment, his grand slam the night before the double to help overcome a five-run deficit to the Yankees – is just piling on.
Martinez’s miracle moments don’t need to fade away. Far from it; they were, are and always will be epic. They’re just getting some well-deserved company after a lonely 21 years. And there were eternal heroes galore Saturday who emerged after starter Robbie Ray and reliever Paul Sewald had rocky outings to give the Blue Jays their seemingly insurmountable lead.
How about Carlos Santana, who delivered the hit manager Scott Servais said got him started thinking the miracle could happen: a three-run homer in the sixth that cut the Blue Jays’ lead to three at 8-5.
How about J.P. Crawford, whose diabolically placed fly ball with the bases loaded in the eighth will be shown to howls of delight from Mariners fans for perpetuity. Four Blue Jays fielders converged, two of them colliding in their all-out effort to catch the ball. As center fielder George Springer and shortstop Bo Bichette lay writhing in pain, the ball dropping safely, and all three Seattle runners raced around the bases to tie the score.
What was Crawford’s reaction as the ball floated to its sainted landing spot?
“I was praying to the baseball gods that it would drop,” he said.
Asked if that was the greatest moment of his career, Crawford shook his head and pointed to the raucous clubhouse.
“No, this right here is,” he said.
How about Cal Raleigh, the vaunted Big Dumper who continued his star turn with three consecutive huge hits in the late innings, coming around to score on all of them? Dipoto said when Raleigh doubled with one out in the ninth, “I knew we were going to win.”
And how about Adam Frazier, who made sure they won by lacing a double into the corner – “The Double, Part Deux” – that easily brought home Raleigh with the run that ensured playoff baseball will return to Seattle next Saturday. It, too, will be played, replayed and savored far into the future.
“Didn’t look good for a minute,” Frazier said with a grin, referring to the Mariners’ huge hole. “Julio [Rodriguez] said, ‘Keep going, keep going.’ He’s been saying it all year. And that’s what we did.”
Just like Edgar before him, Frazier let the instincts honed over a lifetime of preparation take over when he faced All-Star closer Jordan Romano with two outs in the ninth – a setup for legend status if there ever was one.
“This is what you dream about when you’re playing in the backyard as a kid,” Frazier said.
Finally, how about George Kirby, the rookie starter who was the unconventional choice to pitch the ninth, the first relief appearance of his major league career and his first save opportunity since pitching for the Harwich Mariners in the Cape Cod League in 2018. Naturally, Kirby retired the Blue Jays to set off the celebration that rivaled the one in Seattle in intensity, jubilation and craziness.
As Crawford said, “We know if we can win this game, we can win any game.”
To a man, the Mariners were thinking about the future celebrations they feel are coming.
“This felt good,” Frazier said. “But hopefully we can create some more moments like this, and this isn’t the best thing.”
Said Dipoto: “These guys want to have their own personality. They wanted to get on the other side of this drought. We have been able to accomplish that. Now the goal is to win 11 more games. And if we can do that, they will be legends. They will be a legend in Seattle. And that’s been what their goal is from the very get-go.”
When I mentioned to Servais that this Mariners team is creating its own history that will supplement the miracle of ’95, he grinned and yelled, “Finally!”
After Saturday, the entire baseball world knew where the Mariners were, and how they got there. The only mystery remaining is where they go from here, and what history they’ll create on the way.
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