The missing energy, no matter how much the Mariners game-day crew tried to generate with crowd-engaging music and interactive videos between innings, was as noticeable as the empty seats in the stadium, despite the announced crowd of 43,997.
Those absences felt excused as the Mariners were eliminated from postseason contention less than 24 hours before.
So on a bright, cool Sunday afternoon, the sort of weather perfect for playoff baseball, the Mariners wrapped up the 2023 regular season, playing a game without meaning or postseason impact. The last time that happened was in the final days of the 2020 COVID-shortened season.
Since opening day of the 2021 season, every regular-season game played by the Mariners had an impact on their potential postseason hopes, unrealistic as they might have been, distant as they felt at times, hopeless as they seemed at others.
In an impossibly fast game of 2 hours , 1 minute, featuring plenty of first-pitch swings and quick outs from both sides, the Mariners ended their season with a 1-0 victory over the Rangers.
The Mariners finished the season with an 88-74 record, their third consecutive winning season. But it is a bittersweet accomplishment. More was expected of this team before the season and at varying points throughout the season.
“The last day is always a rough one,” manager Scott Servais said. “I’m glad we went out and won the game. It says a lot about our group and kind of how we’re wired. We’re wired to win and go compete.”
Unfortunately that wiring malfunctioned in a September where they finished 12-17 since Sept. 1, which included a 4-6 finish against AL West opponents that needed to be at least 6-4.
With Houston rolling to an easy win in Arizona, the Astros and Rangers finish with identical 90-72 records. Since Houston went 9-4 in the season series against Texas, it means the Astros are once again the American League West champions – the sixth time in the past seven seasons – and earn a bye in the first round.
“The Rangers desperately needed that game to win the division,” Servais said. “It didn’t happen because our guys showed up and we pitched a very good game today.”
The Rangers, who led the division for the first four months of the season, finish with the second wild card and will travel Tuesday to Tampa, Florida, to face the Rays in the three-game wild-card series. With the third wild-card spot, the Blue Jays travel to Minneapolis to face the Twins.
And the Mariners?
Well, they will watch the playoffs at home and wonder why they aren’t participating.
“I can go into the ins-and-outs of the season, the ups and downs, whatever.,” Servais said “Players are tired, our staff is tired. I love getting the opportunity to represent this group and work with it every day. And I look forward to it going forward. We’ve got many big years ahead of us. We have a young core, that’s exciting. We have pitching. We can do some other stuff, a lot of things to win games that we just got to continue to get better.”
The Mariners got an outstanding start from George Kirby, who tossed six shutout innings, allowing just three hits with no walks (of course) and seven strikeouts.
“Super happy with the way I finished,” Kirby said. “I finished on a high note. Unfortunately it wasn’t in the playoffs, but I’ll be ready for next year.”
The Mariners picked up the only run of the game off Rangers’ starter Dane Dunning in the fourth inning. They loaded the bases on back-to-back one-out singles from Eugenio Suarez and Jarred Kelenic and a walk from Ty France. Dominic Canzone’s ground out to first base allowed Suarez to slide in just before the throw home from Texas’ Nathaniel Lowe.
Kirby and relievers Prelander Berroa, who was recalled before the game, Trent Thornton and Isaiah Campbell combined for their 18th shutout this season, the most in MLB.