The last time the Seattle Mariners made the playoffs, Blu Cantrell’s “Hit ‘Em Up Style (Oops!)” was atop the Billboard charts, a non-superhero movie (“Don’t Say A Word”) was No. 1 at the box office, and M’s All-Star rookie Julio Rodriguez was not yet a year old.
The Pac Northwest’s 21-year drought of postseason baseball is over after Cal Raleigh’s pinch-hit, walk-off home run on a full count with two outs in the bottom of the ninth.
It was the Mariners’ 86th win of the season, which is a number they’ve reached six times during this hiatus. It always felt cruel that the longest regular season of America’s four major pro sports also was the least rewarding. Even when MLB instituted a one-game playoff it was inordinately unfair to the team that was a handful of games ahead of the last place wild card winner and had to face a winner-take-all game before even getting acclimated.
When the format was expanded to six teams per league before this season, the intention was to make the dog days more relevant with additional crucial playoff races. While I understand the thought process, once football starts the rest of the sports calendar might as well be steamed cauliflower on a plate next to a well-cooked/seared NY strip.
Regardless of Rob Manfred’s galaxy-brained attempts to fiddle with baseball until it’s fixed (or ruined), the best part of the six-team format is it allows clubs repeatedly on the fringe of contention to make the playoffs. Some dialed-in bats with a hot pitching staff can go on a run and steal a series or maybe even a ring, especially in baseball.
Should we expect that from this Mariners club? Who knows, and, honestly, I don’t think the people of Seattle give a shit. They’re just elated to be off the list of U.S. pro sports teams with the longest playoff droughts. There are undoubtedly M’s fans who have experienced more than their share of anguish who disagree with my next statement, but it’s never felt like Seattle was as hapless as the recent iterations of the Sacramento Kings, or those bleak L.A. Clippers teams of the Donald Sterling era. Even the pre-Josh Allen Buffalo Bills that spent a large portion of this century without a playoff game emitted more dysfunction than the Mariners.
Yes, the financial situation and the disadvantages of operating like a “small market” team contributed to the drought. Yet so did the fact that for a long time it’s been really hard to qualify for MLB’s postseason. If this was last year, the Mariners would be holding onto the one-game play-in bullshit by half a game, and even if they got it, that’s hardly any way to bust a slump.
Seattle won’t have to play a juggernaut Houston squad or New York right off the bat or risk going one and done. They’re still jockeying for position among the other wild card teams (Toronto and Tampa Bay), and will play a best-of-five series against an opponent that’s within two or three games of them in the standings. This season is still a ways from over, so congrats to the Mariners’ supporters who’ve waited decades for this moment.
A fan base as good as Seattle’s shouldn’t have to suffer like that, and ditto for Buffalo — or Sacramento, who now inherits the unenviable distinction of the American pro sports franchise with the longest active postseason drought currently sitting at 16 years.