Stop me if you've heard this one before: The Seattle Mariners are good this year. Seriously good, like longest-winning-streak-in-the-nation good. Does this mean that it's finally the M's year? Or are they dangling the football of post-season success in front of a city full of Charlie Browns? According to longtime Mariners announcer Rick Rizzs, "This is the real deal."
This week's All-Star break across professional baseball meant a rest and reflection on the first half of the year. With a 14-win streak, tied for the longest in Major League Baseball this season and one short of the all-time M's best, no other team was quite as hot this summer break. Back in spring, they were a team full of relatively young players whose names may not have rung a bell with casual fans still stuck in the King Félix era. Today they return to play with a lineup of emerging stars.
Juan Soto, from the other Washington, may have won the home run derby that kicked off the All-Star festivities. But Mariners rookie Julio Rodríguez, the runner-up, got nearly as much buzz. His first-round score of 32 home runs in four minutes was unmatched for the entire contest, and the words "phenom" and "game's next great star" were thrown around by ESPN. In the actual All-Star Game, Rodríguez and Ty France distinguished themselves in a win for the American League. While that matchup doesn't affect the real season much, it was a preview for how spectacular it could be next year—when Seattle hosts.
But back to the race that really matters: the one to the postseason, something the Mariners haven't seen since Ally McBeal was on the air. (The year 2001, to be exact.) The team missed the playoffs by a hair last year, but are now well-positioned to score a wild card spot this fall. With more than 60 games left in the season, the current 14-game winning streak will inevitably end, but it's drawn attention from the whole sports world.
"This team is really bringing people together again," says Rizzs. As he sat in his favorite Issaquah cafe during the All-Star break, people kept coming up to him to talk about the Mariners streak, he says. It beats when they made the news in late June for a massive on-field brawl with the Los Angeles Angels. Still, says Rizzs, that historic blowup brought the team together, even as several players saw suspensions for fighting. It began with wild, potentially harmful pitches, notes Rizzs. "That didn't sit too well with the guys. They protect each other."
Our team holds both the longest current winning streak in baseball and the longest playoff drought in any sport; they're the only MLB team to have never even appeared in the World Series, much less win it. It doesn't get much more underdog than that (though we may have the best stadium food in the country). But you have to hand it to Mariners fans; they've already sold out Friday's game, with Saturday and Sunday expected to sell out as well.
Tonight's game pits the jubilant M's against one of the best teams in baseball, last year's World Series contender the Houston Astros. Still, Rizzs doesn't think that will shake the ascendant Mariners: "They don't care. I wouldn't put it past them to continue this streak."