Seattle keeps pace: 'Felt like a playoff game'

Young stars Kelenic, Gilbert lead the way as Mariners continue postseason push

September 30th, 2021

SEATTLE -- It was loud. It was lit. And if the Mariners have their way, it was a preview of what’s to come next week.

Seattle staved off Oakland for a 4-2 victory that had all the recipes for a playoff gem on Wednesday at T-Mobile Park, which kept the club within a half-game of the final American League Wild Card with just three games remaining.

The Mariners (89-70) have had the fans on the edge of their seats. And with the stakes of snapping a 19-year playoff drought growing as the regular-season schedule rapidly dwindles, the fans are catching on to the tight tilts that have defined this season -- one that has the community allowing itself to “Believe.”

“We're not quite there yet, but that felt like a playoff game,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said.

Because Boston and Toronto both won earlier on Wednesday, the Mariners weren’t able to make up ground in the postseason race. But they continue to do their part, having now won 10 of their past 11 and 18 this month, one shy of the 19 they rattled off in September 1995 during their magical season that saved baseball in Seattle.

Therein lies what Servais & Co. believe is so special about what’s happening here right now. So much of the Mariners’ present is rooted in their past, with homages paid each year to 1995 and 2001. Griffey and Edgar. Ichiro and 116. And they’re all delivered wonderfully, but with each passing year, it’s a reminder to how long it’s been.

And Wednesday was a reminder that the future is more and more the present. Just look at the key contributors from Wednesday’s victory:

• Jarred Kelenic delivered a clutch, come-from-behind two-run double in the sixth that ignited a crowd salivating for a breakthrough.

• Logan Gilbert grinded his way through five scoreless innings before giving up a homer in the sixth, and he did so with essentially just one pitch while going toe-to-toe with Frankie Montas, a fringe Cy Young candidate.

• J.P. Crawford laced a critical hit-and-run single just barely over the glove of Matt Chapman, the Majors’ best defensive third baseman, which set up…

• Ty France, who came through with the go-ahead sacrifice fly that gave the Mariners’ bullpen the late cushion it needed.

• Abraham Toro also added a hugely important insurance run with a solo homer in the eighth.

These are a few of the many faces that the Mariners have accumulated over the past three years who have brought them to the brink of October.

“You know the story of Seattle, they've haven’t been [to the playoffs] since 2001,” Crawford said. “You want to be that guy that breaks that curse or breaks the bad vibes over here. You want to be remembered, to be a legend in this city.”

Though there were many that chipped in, Kelenic did so the most dramatically, continuing a strong finish after stumbling more significantly than any Mariner this season. After that two-out double, doing so from the No. 5 hole, Kelenic is hitting .242/.321/.537 (.858 OPS) in September, after hitting .151/.236/.272 (.507 OPS) in the four months prior.

“You don't play in this league at 22 years old unless you’ve got special talent,” Servais said. “And he does, he does have a ton of talent. You see it every day and you know it’s going to be there.”

In many ways, Kelenic has been the headliner of this rebuild, the key piece in the Robinson Canó/Edwin Díaz deal that sparked it. That alone led to huge expectations, but it didn’t match the enormous pressure he put on himself earlier this summer. He, his teammates and coaches say that Kelenic is in a far better mental place, and his commentary, in front and away from the cameras, suggests as much.

Now, he’s producing the on-field results that he’s so sorely craved.

“It was just kind of surreal,” Kelenic said after the 17,366 on hand went nuts. “It's kind of like one of those things that you see in movies and you see when you're young, you see on SportsCenter and stuff like that. And when you're just there, you can only just sit there and look around, soak it in.”

But again, Kelenic, albeit with the most dramatic hit on Wednesday, was one of many to contribute.

“If you're a Mariners fan or part of this organization, you should feel very good about where we're heading and our future,” Servais said. “The experiences that those kids gained tonight will help them for many years to come.”