The Mariners held out for 161 games, staying in playoff contention through an April eight-game losing streak, multiple starting pitching injuries, and even a five-game slide during the final two weeks of the season.
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But at the close, when the city of Seattle seemed poised to explode were Felix Hernandez and the M’s to win and A’s lose, thereby forcing a one-game playoff for the second AL Wild Card spot, it all came to naught. The Mariners finished off 2014 with a home sweep of the top-seeded Angels, but Sonny Gray and the Athletics did their job, closing out Texas and booking a trip to Kansas City on Tuesday.
Though the game at Safeco did not begin until 1:10 pm, Mariners fans were locked in an hour earlier to the game in Arlington, where heavily favored Oakland had another shot to clinch against the woe-begotten Rangers. Brandon Moss and Josh Reddick got things started in the second, as the A’s put a pair of runs on Nick Martinez in the second. By the time Felix took the hill, Seattle was already behind the 8-ball.
But the King put the scoreboard watching aside and began his last gem of the year, striking out a pair in the first. The M’s failed to bring Dustin Ackley home from second in the bottom of the inning, yet things were looking up: Texas had first and third, no out.
But just as Felix struck out his fourth, setting down the side in the top of the second, the devastating news broke: Gray had danced out of danger. The young ace was on his game, and unless a pitiful Rangers order could once again string a few hits together, Game 162 would be meaningless.
Like the A’s, Seattle struck first, and they did so in the second inning on a Michael Saunders double over Mike Trout in center. Mike Zunino and Chris Taylor flew out to left field, though, and Lloyd McClendon‘s bunch had to settle for a precarious one-run lead after two.
King Felix was even sharper in the third, striking out the side and pushing his ERA (thanks in no small part to the scoring change for his Toronto start) to an AL-best 2.16. But Gray continued to match him, getting through the seventh on just eight pitches, leaving him at 78 for the game and with plenty of gas for the final six outs.
After a couple of mundane half-innings, the M’s offense went back to work in the bottom of the fourth. Another Saunders double scored Kendrys Morales and moved red-hot Logan Morrison to third, and two more came in on a Zunino broken-bat single to left. The Mariners had the cushion they desired: with Felix on the mound four runs would be insurmountable.
But, as they had in previous years as division champion, Texas became Seattle’s worst enemy. Adrian Beltre managed to commit two errors on a single play, leaving Alberto Callaspo at second to start the ninth and setting up another Oakland rally. Just as Zunino was putting the finishing touches on that three-run inning, Jed Lowrie delivered the death blow to the Mariners’ 2014 campaign: a seeing-eye single that squaked by Rougned Odor (who was pulled the wrong way trying to cover second base), putting the A’s up by four.
And just fifteen minutes later, the M’s kissed the postseason goodbye. News broke around Safeco, with the dismay most apparent on the face of the 10-year veteran who hoped that his stellar outing, which he was five scoreless innings through, would be enough.
Sep 28, 2014; Seattle, WA, USA; Seattle Mariners starting pitcher Felix Hernandez (34) waves to the fans as he walks off the field after being pulled from the game during the sixth inning against the Los Angeles Angels at Safeco Field. Mandatory Credit: Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports
Felix faced just one more batter before Lloyd removed him to what may have been the loudest ovation in Safeco Field history. Cano followed him shortly after, as both teams removed most of their starters from what had become just another game played purely for the stat lines.
Brandon Maurer, Joe Beimel, and Yoervis Medina saw the team through the eighth, and Danny Farquhar gave up a single run before fielding a comebacker off the bat of Grant Green. He tossed the ball to first, and with that the marathon came to an end. The fans saluted the team one more time, but the playoff drought reached 13 years nonetheless.
Seattle finished the year with an 87-75 mark, their most wins since 2007. They finished a single game shy of Oakland, whose dismal 10-20 run to end the year cost them only in terms of seeding. Despite the heartbreaking end to the Mariners’ season, theirs was a year of surprise contention and optimism, and it bodes well for more of the same in 2015.
Felix’s 5.1 IP got him to a 2.14 ERA, just three points better than Chris Sale in the AL. Whether the ERA title by itself will win him the Cy Young over Cleveland’s Corey Kluber, whose superior wins and strikeouts will entice many a voter, remains to be seen.
The Mariners will tentatively begin 2015 on April 6 at home against this same Halo ballclub. But during the six-month interim, stay tuned into all of the offseason happenings out of the Great Northwest right here at SoDo Mojo, your home for Mariners news and opinion.