Cano Out? Refuse to Lose!

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - APRIL 03: Robinson Cano #22 of the Seattle Mariners takes batting practice before their game against the San Francisco Giants at AT&T Park on April 3, 2018 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - APRIL 03: Robinson Cano #22 of the Seattle Mariners takes batting practice before their game against the San Francisco Giants at AT&T Park on April 3, 2018 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) /

As the high and tight, 88 MPH fastball struck the right hand of Robinson Cano on Sunday, a sound no batter wants to hear echoed throughout Detroit Tigers Comerica Park. Keeled over in pain, it was clear the Mariners second baseman was done – and likely for a while. X-Rays confirmed the hand was broken and a collective “here we go again” was muttered by the Mariners fan base.

Generally, I am right there with most of you wondering how in the world this team can be so unlucky. Just when we think the Mariners are on track, an injury occurs that throws the team we love off track. But this time my reaction was different. For some reason, as I saw Cano being evaluated by trainers I felt a sense of “they could be alright” as I flashed back to May 26, 1995.

It was a Friday evening and the Mariners were hosting the Baltimore Orioles. In the top of the 7th inning, outfielder Kevin Bass barreled up a Randy Johnson fastball and sent it toward the Kingdome’s right-center field wall. What looked to be a sure double off the bat quickly became an added clip to the Ken Griffey Jr highlight reel. Tracking the baseball from what seemed like miles away, Junior got to the warning track, flinging himself into the air, and stretched out to catch the baseball while simultaneously slamming into the wall.

Normally a play like that was followed by a slow jog accompanied by the million dollar smile of “The Kid”. This time was different. Griffey rose to his feet and began a slow walk toward the infield. Alex Diaz waiving out the trainers and Randy Johnson laying on his back in front of the mound confirmed what we feared most – “The Kid” was hurt and hurt badly.

At that moment, the season felt over. It was only May, but without Griffey, the Mariners had no shot at making their franchise’s first ever playoff appearance – or so we thought.

As we know now, Jay Buhner rallied the troops and told the entire team to just hold on until Junior got back. One metal plate, seven screws, and 73 games later, Griffey returned to the lineup and lead the M’s to the most improbable run that ended with an A.L. West Division title and a Division playoff series win over the New York Yankees. My oh My.

Injuries, especially when suffered by key players, almost always feel like the beginning of the end. The good news is it doesn’t have to be. Sometimes teams can rally behind their missing superstar, individuals can raise their own level of play, and the ship can be kept afloat just long enough. That was the case in ’95 and could be the case in 2018 as well.

The 1995 team that refused to lose had leaders such as Buhner, Dan Wilson, and Edgar Martinez. Role players like Diaz, Vince Coleman, and Luis Sojo stepped up in big moments. Tino Martinez and Mike Blowers made up for the power lost,  hitting 31 and 23 home runs respectively. For Tino, it was the most he had hit in a single season in his budding six-year career. And for Blowers, his 23 home runs would wind up being a single-season career best

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“The Big Unit” was the hard-throwing lefty anchoring the starting rotation. Going 18-2, Randy went on to win his first of five career Cy Young Awards (his only as a Mariner). Tim Belcher and Chris Bosio would go on to win 10 games each as the veteran arms of the club. Then there was Andy Benes who was brought over at the trade deadline. He went on to finish the Iyear with a 7-2 record for the Mariners.

In short, guys all over the field stepped up, embraced their roles, and kept the ship afloat awaiting the return of their captain. When you look at this year’s Mariners roster it is hard not to see the similarities to that 1995 ball club.

Cano is this team’s clear-cut leader. In the 3-hole his bat is irreplaceable. Defensively, No. 22 is still one of the best at his position. Two facts that were true about Junior. But Diaz and Rich Amaral weren’t asked to be Griffey, they were simply asked to keep things afloat. Gordon Beckham and Andrew Romine will be asked to do the same, nothing more.

Like Buhner and Edgar, Nelson Cruz and Dee Gordon are the emotional leaders. They will no doubt rally the troops. And not only demand the team stays in the fight, but they’ll continue to carry their own weight along the journey.

In addition, James Paxton may not be “the Big Unit” but he is the “Big Maple”.  He will continue to lead the pitching staff. Felix may not be “the King” who once ruled over the diamond, but the potential for him to win ball games is there. Leake is this year’s Chris Bosio, eating up innings, getting outs, and being a veteran presence every five days. And behind those three, you can hold out hope for Marco Gonzales, Wade LeBlanc and any other combo of 4/5 starters to be serviceable. I mean, did any of us really think the combination of Belcher, Dave Fleming, and Salomon Torres was capable of keeping the ’95 M’s alive?

Too many similarities to ignore M’s fans. And to further brighten the outlook, currently, the Mariners are six games over .500 (23-17) and just 1.5 games behind the Angels and Astros who sit tied atop the A.L. West. Compare that to the 1995 M’s who were 10-16 when Junior got hurt, seven games back of the California Angels (18-10) at the time. The mountain was much higher back then and that team still managed to reach the summit.

Now, on Tuesday we did learn of a new twist to the Cano saga that involves an 80-game suspension. Unfortunate news indeed, but it means Cano will still be back mid-August, the same time Junior returned to the lineup in 1995. Of course, the fact the suspension falls into the PED category does mean Cano will be ineligible for the playoffs – salt in the wound for sure. But right now I think it’s safe to say the immediate goal is to simply get to the playoffs. Let’s save the “Cano-less in the playoffs” discussion for when the time comes.

I introduced myself to you SoDo Mojo readers back in March with an Optimistic view on the season. It was met with mixed emotions, which was to be expected. Mariners fans are a passionate and emotional group made up of two types of fans; People who head into each season with blind optimism and people who know something will go wrong at some point.

Today, as I step away from my position as a contributor here at SoDo Mojo (yes, this is my goodbye as I fall into the role of a SoDo Mojo reader), I can’t help but leave you with another optimistic outlook. Sure, there is reason to be concerned. At face value, losing Cano is about as brutal as it gets for this team.

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However, as Mariners fans, we have lived this before and we have seen miracles happen. Will the organization be able to strike gold twice? We will have to wait and see. But for now, do yourselves a favor and revert back to the mindset we all carried in 1995. Get behind your team and as we all did before – Refuse to Lose!