No more drought in rain city

Mariners fans at SPU celebrate end of playoff drought

Callaghan Bluechel, Staff Writer

On Monday, Oct. 22, 2001, the Seattle Mariners lost to the New York Yankees by a score of 12-3. With that loss, the Yankees brought themselves to the World Series, while the Mariners, who had boasted a record of 116-46 that year, went home. Nearly twenty-one years later, the Seattle Mariners have not played a single postseason game. 

In those 251 months, baseball Godfathers, George Steinbrenner, Stan Musial, Hank Aaron and Vin Scully died. Ichiro Suzuki, the electric Mariners right fielder who on the date of that last game turned twenty-eight years old, played 18 more years of major league ball in a career that will surely land him in the Hall of Fame. The Mariners’ playoff drought has stretched over four presidencies and has outlasted the Afghanistan War. Most of Seattle Pacific University’s sophomores and freshmen, as well as many of its juniors, had yet to be born.

Austin Freeman (center)
attends a Mariners game with his dad brother Justin and friends Alec, Isaac, and Ayden early in the 2022 season. (Austin Freeman) (Courtesy Austin Freeman)

Mariners fans at SPU and in the city of Seattle have been thirsting for the playoffs for years, and the energy they bring to games is palpable. Isaac Johnson, an avid Mariners fan and a sophomore apparent design major, is happy to finally see a playoff team in the Emerald City. 

“Everybody is really excited, and there’s nothing else like when they hit a home run, and all the lights start flashing and everybody is standing up and yelling and having a good time. Nothing compares to going to a Mariners game,” Johnson said.

The Mariners and their fanbase have come close to their goal many times in the last twenty years. In 2002 and 2003 the Mariners fielded a good team that was kept out of the playoffs by bad luck, the Moneyball A’s and the juggernaut Red Sox. In 2007, the team made a run at the dance that was dashed by a nine-game losing streak in late August and early September. In 2014, the Mariners were eliminated from playoff contention on the last day of the season; in 2016, the second-to-last. In 2018, the Mariners put themselves in a good position by midseason only to fall apart in July and August. In 2021, the Mariners again were eliminated on the final day of regular season play.

The Mariners of 2022 have had a rollercoaster year. Billed in the offseason as the team to end the drought, they surged in April. Like so many other Mariners teams before, a hot start was followed by a May collapse. By June 19, the team’s record stood at 29-39. Of all American League clubs, only Detroit, Kansas City and Oakland were worse. 

A week later, a benches-clearing brawl in Anaheim combined with improvements from key players provided the spark the team needed to put it all together. On July 7, the team had as many wins as they had losses: a 42-42 record. As the all-star break began on July 18, the team climbed to 51-42 and possessed a playoff spot. At the trade deadline, the team added ace pitcher Luis Castillo, and his eight-inning shutdown performance on August 9 served as the team’s backbone in a thrilling 13-inning victory over the Yankees.

“There were a lot of highs, a lot of lows this season,” junior history major Zach Nacke said.  “There were points where I thought this team was going to lose 100 games and moments where I thought they were the best team on earth.” 

And so, the team rolled on through August and the first two weeks of September. On the 14, the Mariners were 80-62 and seemed a lock for the playoffs. But the specter of the myriad collapses still haunted the team as they went on the road. In Anaheim, Oakland and Kansas City, the team dropped game after game. Was this the collapse that had come yearly for the past two decades? Would 2022 be just another failure?

Despite the slide, Johnson expressed confidence that the Mariners would end their drought. 

“They’ve had their rough spots,” Johnson said, “but I really think they’re going to pull through in the end when they need to.”

The team had help that prevented the type of Mariners-Esque collapse that had occurred time and time again for two decades. Their nearest competition for the final wild-card spot, the Baltimore Orioles, also rattled off loss after loss during the Mariners’ skid. After an 11-inning victory over the Texas Rangers on Sept. 29, the team needed just one win or an Orioles loss to make the postseason and end the drought once and for all. 

“Ecstatic” was the way junior Gurv Basra described his emotions as the team approached this final, long-denied goal on Sept. 30. “If we win tonight, I’m going to cry, honestly,” Basra said. 

Lifelong Mariners fans understood the magnitude of the moment for the team and the city. 

“In my 20 years on earth, I’ve never seen them once succeed, ever, in a season, and so to get to the point they’re at, it’s not just big for the team, but also big for this entire city,” Nacke said. 

On the last day of Sept. 2022, the drought and the doubt finally ended. With two outs in the bottom of the ninth, with the score tied at one run apiece, Mariners catcher Cal Raleigh cracked a walk-off home run. With one swing of the bat, the pain and frustration of baseball fans from Alaska to Oregon to Montana to the SPU campus were released. Raleigh’s swing was a catharsis to Mariners fans everywhere.

But this is not the end of the road for the 2022 Seattle Mariners. As they have made the playoffs, they will be one of six American League teams to compete in postseason play for the league championship, but no matter what happens in October, the 2022 Mariners are already a success. 

 “It’s been a long time coming, as a Mariners fan, just waiting for this day,” Nacke said.