Rodriguez, Fun-Loving Mariners Seek Seattle’s First World Series Trip

Jerry Beach
Last Updated: Sep 8, 2023

There is not a team in baseball that appears to have more fun or carries with it more intrigue for October than the Seattle Mariners.

Budding superstar Julio Rodriguez literally bounds into the batter’s box for each plate appearance. When a Seattle player hits a home run, he celebrates by carrying a six-foot-tall trident throughout the dugout. The Mariners’ postgame victory dances from last season are included in the 2023 version of MLB: The Show.

“We try and make it a kids’ game,” Mariners first baseman Ty France said. “This game can really beat you down. So we just try and make it as fun as possible.”

And thanks to a red-hot run since July 1, the Mariners enter today in second place in the American League West and occupying the second AL wild-card spot, which means more Mariners-inspired montages are possible in next year’s video game.

But the Mariners’ fun and intrigue are rooted in frustration and the heartache of the near-miss.

“In 2021, we missed the playoffs by one game,” France told The Game Day Baseball during a series against the New York Mets last weekend at Citi Field. “So it’s just kind of the importance of each game and understanding we have to take every game as if it was the last. Because if you miss the playoffs by one game, that hurts.”

This marks a second straight late-summer surge into contention for the Mariners, a franchise for whom stirring comebacks and agonizing disappointments are baked into the collective experience.

The Mariners ended a 20-season postseason drought — the longest in the four major North American pro sports — last year, when they were 10 games under .500 on June 19 before finishing 90-72 and reaching the Division Series, where Seattle fell to the eventual World Series champion Houston Astros.

The Mariners didn’t dig as deep a hole this year. But even after winning 17 of 26 games in July, Seattle was just 55-51 and 3.5 games out of the final wild card spot at the trade deadline when it dealt closer Paul Sewald and reserve outfielder A.J. Pollock.

Despite the relative inactivity, the Mariners got even hotter after the deadline. They’ve gone 24-10 since Aug. 1 while concluding a stretch of 40 straight games in which they won outright or lost by two or fewer runs, the sixth-longest streak in MLB history.

“Last year, we kind of had the same situation. We just got going a lot earlier,” said catcher Cal Raleigh, whose walk-off homer last Sept. 30 clinched the Mariners’ long-awaited playoff berth. “We knew it was kind of a matter of time before we got hot. Once things kind of got rolling, it became contagious.”

Raleigh’s approach to frustrating slumps became contagious, too. He opened last season by hitting .065 with one homer and one RBI in his first 14 games before hitting a two-run homer against the Mets at Citi Field on May 15. His 52 homers since then are the most among big league catchers, while his 125 RBI rank fifth.

“You know what that moment’s called?” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “It’s called the ‘eff it’ moment. It happens to a lot of players — it probably happens to a lot of players, almost every player at some point during the course of the season, unless they just start from Opening Day and rake.

“But they get to that point, like, OK, forget it. I’ve got to quit chasing it. Eff it. Let’s just go play. And it’s amazing what happens when they get there.”

The consecutive surges into contention have been reminiscent of the Mariners’ euphoric first playoff run in 1995, when they might have saved baseball in Seattle by overcoming a 12.5-game AL West deficit over the final six weeks of the regular season before beating the California Angels in a one-game tiebreaker. Weeks later, Washington State approved the public funding of what is now T-Mobile Park.

“‘Win series’ is kind of the slogan that we have used here often,” Servais said. “It helps just minimize things. Because if you look at the big picture, it can be overwhelming. We’re ‘X’ games below .500 or ‘X’ amount of games out of the playoff race or whatever.”

Such an incremental approach will come in handy if the Mariners can advance to the postseason, where they’ll try to master the unpredictable nature of the playoffs and attempt to end the franchise’s World Series drought.

The Mariners, who began play in 1976, are the only team without a pennant in that time frame. They have won at least 90 games but missed the playoffs three times in the wild card era, a total matched only by Cleveland. Seattle recorded 116 wins, the most in the modern era, in 2001 but lost to the New York Yankees in a five-game AL Championship Series.

The Mariners have fallen short of the Fall Classic despite the presence of three current or future Hall of Famers — Ken Griffey Jr., Edgar Martinez, and Randy Johnson, along with sure-fire 2025 inductee Ichiro Suzuki — in their all-time top five in WAR, per Baseball-Reference. Alex Rodriguez, who would be an inner-circle Hall of Famer if not for his multiple PED busts, is in sixth place. Felix Hernandez, who ranks fifth in WAR, played his entire career during Seattle’s postseason drought.

Julio Rodriguez — the reigning AL Rookie of the Year who is signed through at least 2030 — was already a good bet to join that group of franchise icons even before his sizzling August sparked an offensive resurgence for the Mariners, who have the best ERA in the majors at 3.69.

Rodriguez hit .429 with a 1.198 OPS in August for the Mariners, whose .864 team OPS was 101 points higher than the previous single-month high recorded in July. In a four-game span from Aug. 16-19, Rodriguez was 17-of-22 with five stolen bases.

“What he’s doing, I’m not surprised because it’s who he is,” France said. “It’s who he’s always been since I’ve known him. That’s just what he’s done. Not surprised. But at the same time, you look up and he’s got 17 hits in four games, and you’ve got to take a step back and be like, ‘Holy crap.’ It’s just mind-blowing what he’s been able to do. Very cool to watch. Excited for where he’s going and taking this team.”

Now Rodriguez and the Mariners hope to parlay another summer surge into the one achievement a sports-mad market has never experienced. Seattle’s NFL, MLS, and WNBA teams have all won titles, as did the NBA’s SuperSonics in 1979. The NHL’s Kraken began play in 2021-22 and made the Western Conference Semifinals last year.

“That city is so starved for baseball greatness, and for us to be able to give them that last year and give them that hope — it’s put us in a position (where) now that we got there, we’ve got to give them more,” France said. “To be a part of that group that got us there, it’d be pretty special for everybody.”


Jerry Beach

Jerry Beach began his journalism career as a high school senior in Connecticut in 1990 and has been covering professional sports in the northeast since 1997. He has written three books, including “Fighting Words,” a history of the Boston Red Sox and the local media, and “Subway Series,” a 20th anniversary look back at the 2000 World Series. A member of the Baseball Writers Association of America and the Pro Hockey Writers Association, Jerry currently covers the Mets and Islanders while also writing about Major League Baseball and the Baseball Hall of Fame for numerous outlets. Jerry, a graduate of Hofstra University, lives on Long Island with his wife, daughter and way too many media guides to count.

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