Mike McCormick of Alaska by way of Haverhill, Massachusetts, is a fan of the Seatle Mariners baseball club. The Mariners’ trip to the playoffs this year brought to mind for Mike his youthful experience as a fan of the Boston Red Sox.
Remembering the Red Sox During the Mariners’ 2022 Playoff Run
By Mike McCormick
When I was a boy growing up in Haverhill, the Boston Red Sox finished each baseball season with a losing record. As the Red Sox entered the 1967 season, I expected that the team would turn in another losing campaign.
Then the team cracked out a ten-game road winning streak just before the all-star break.
Hundreds of loyal rooters greeted the ball club at Logan Airport when they arrived back from the road trip. I wanted to part of the excitement. For the first time in my life, I took a bus alone to Boston. I walked the two miles from the bus station near Boston Common to Fenway Park where I purchased one of the last remaining dollar bleacher tickets for a twilight double header against the Minnesota Twins. I realize now that going to Fenway for the first time on my own was a rite of passage.
Suddenly, Red Sox baseball was everywhere. People talked Red Sox on street corners and stores, at playgrounds and in bars. In that “summer of love” and Sargent Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, baseball play-by-play announcers and not the Beatles-provided the soundtrack of my afternoons. Strolling along the sands of Hampton Beach, so many sunbathers at water’s edge tuned into the game that a walker could travel the two and a half miles from Rocky Bend to Hampton Beach State Park without missing a pitch.
Each game – no matter the outcome- brought joy. I now belonged to something bigger and older than myself, something that extended before I was born; something that joined me to family, and friends, and countless people of all ages I did not know.
I was a part of the community of Red Sox baseball.
The Seattle Mariners clinched a berth in this year’s playoffs on September 30, the season’s final weekend. As was the case with the 1967 Red Sox, this was the first time in twenty-one years that the Pacific Northwest’s lone Major League baseball representative reached a post season series. As was the case with Red Sox fans in 1967, Mariner fans were starved for a post season game. And, like the ’67 Red Sox, the Mariners reeled off an impressive July winning streak – a fourteen game surge – that signaled the possibility of a special season. When the Mariners signed two-time all-star pitcher Luis Castillo at the trade deadline, I remembered the Sox getting Gary Bell in June of ’67.
Entering the season’s last weekend, both the 1967 Red Sox and 2022 Mariners needed victories to punch a post season ticket. The Red Sox swept the Twins on the back of Carl Yastrzemski heroics to end the year with ninety-two wins and clinch (with help from an Angels’ win over the Tigers) on October 1. The Mariners needed a 406-foot, eleventh inning pinch hit homerun by Cal Raleigh against the Oakland A’s on September 30 to insure a surging Oriole team couldn’t overtake them for a wild card playoff position.
Raleigh’s blast relieved years of misery. Mariners’ fans had endured the longest playoff absence of any team in the four major sports. Since its 1977 birth, the team has lost more games than it had won. Only eight Mariner teams have had winning records in the 21st century. The 2008 and 2010 entries each dropped 101 games.
Most tellingly, the Seattle Mariners is the only team currently in Major League Baseball to never play in a World Series.
By coming in first place in the American League in 1967, the Red Sox earned the right to compete in the World Series in the two league, twenty team, set up.
Once they clinched, The Mariners, performing in today’s vastly expanded playoff system, had to triumph in three separate playoff series to reach the autumn classic. The team opened its World Series quest with a trip to Toronto where it needed to win two games against a hard-hitting Blue Jays team to advance.
Hopes flamed high when Mariners’ ace Luis Castillo and reliever Andres Munoz shutout the Canadian team 4-0 to insure a first game victory. And in the second game, the Mariners came back from an 8 to 1 deficit with four runs in the eighth and one in the ninth to send the team forward to face defending American League champion Houston in a best of five series.
The Mariners entered as underdogs. Yet carrying momentum on their side after the sweep in Toronto, beating the Astros seemed – if not likely- at least possible.
Mariner fan dreams leaped when the M’s chased Houston ace Justin Verlander for six runs and entered the eighth inning with a four-run lead. Given the Mariners deep and talented bullpen, a four-run lead seemed safe against Astros steam that 0-48 in its post season history when trailing by more than a run after eight innings. Fans figured that after the M’s closed out this game, Seattle would bring back its well-rested ace Luis Castillo in the second game.
Andres Munoz, pitching in his third appearance in as many games, gave up two runs. In the ninth, Paul Sewald, the Mariners’ top closer (20 saves), got two Astros out. A bloop single and a hit batsman put two runners on base. The Astros most feared slugger Yudon Alvarez stepped to the plate.
Mariner Manager Scott Servais then made the most inexplicable pitching change I’ve seen in more than sixty years of watching baseball. He brought in lefthander Robbie Ray, a Mariner starter who had only relieved six times in his career, possessed a 10.97 era vs. the Astros, finished the year second in the league for homers allowed, and got bombed in his last start to pitch to a left-handed power hitter who hits lefties better than righties.
Alvarez clubbed the second pitch out of the park to deliver an 8-7 win.
I recalled Grady Little’s decision not to pull a fatigued Pedro Martinez in the 8th after 120 pitches vs the Yankees in the 2003 playoffs.
Little got fired for that decision.
Seattle brass is still touting Servais for manager of the year honors.
Mariner fans are still trying to digest the biggest dose of sports anguish they’ve swallowed since New England’s Malcom Butler picked off Seattle’s Russell Wilson in 2015.
When the Mariners took the lead in the second game of the Series 2-1, I thought of the 1986 World Series. The Red Sox led Game 7 in the by a score of 3-o. Even with the reliable Bruce Hurst pitching, I had no confidence that the lead would hold up; the opportunity to win the Series had passed when the Red Sox coughed up a run in the eighth and three in the tenth
to hand the Mets a victory. I was not surprised when the Mets scored in the sixth, seventh, and eighth to take Game 7 and that Series.
Remembering that game, when the Astros touched Luis Castillo for runs in the sixth to take a lead, I felt as though a Mariners’ loss was a fait accompli.
The Mariners returned home for the first post season game in Seattle in twenty-one years. The area around the T- Mobil Park was already buzzing when my son Patrick and I arrived two hours before the game. Although the team was in a 0-2 hole, the mood was ebullient. Fans in long lines for sausages and hot dogs laughed and smiled. Placards reading “Good Vibes Only” and “World Serious” conveyed the predominant optimism.
When we reached our row twenty-one seats above home plate in the top tier of the stadium, we were surprised by the number of fans already seated; Mariners fans are notorious for late arrival.
We sat beside a grandfather, father, and son. The grandfather had fallen in love with the Dodgers growing up in Brooklyn. He adopted the Mariners when he relocated to Seattle and brought his son up to be a Seattle baseball fan. The son, who seemed to be in his late thirties, had flown with his own son to Seattle from their new home in L.A. for the game. The elementary school son had also been raised to be a Mariners fan. The boy was one of the thousands of Pacific Northwest youngsters who had never seen the local team in a playoff game.
My own son Patrick has a dual allegiance to the Red Sox (passed down by me) and the Mariners (courtesy of his mother and my wife Katy who grew up in West Seattle). He remembers the joy of the Mariners’ stunning 1995 playoff victory over the Yankees, the absolute disappointment of the Sox loss in that 2003 Yankee playoff game, the elation of 2004, and many disappointments and lots of pleasant moments following his favorite teams. He a took a three hour, five am flight from his Alaska home to Seattle to make the game.
A sell-out crowd of more than 47,000 fans stood for Pearl Jam member Mike McCready’s guitar rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner (evoking thoughts of Seattle native Jimi Hendrix’s Woodstock performance). Standing fans exploded when the beloved Felix Hernandez, the best pitcher in Mariner history to never make the playoffs, strode triumphantly in from center field to toss the ceremonial first pitch.
Fans continued standing and cheering and waving aqua and blue rally flags as the Mariners took the field. Mariner starter George Kirby’s sizzled through a 1-2-3 inning. The stadium burst into rounds of high-fives when Jose Altuve and Yudon Alvarez, two stars who had destroyed the Mariners with home runs and clutch hits through their careers, were put out.
I’ve complained for decades that Mariner fans were listless and not into the games. For the first time in recent memory, the stadium was hanging on every pitch.
And the attention and enthusiasm didn’t flag. Every one of the twenty-one strike outs triggered high fives, towel waving, standing ovations, and bedlam. Fans stood and implored the home team to score through every home half of seventeen innings. Fans danced and sang with abandon to between inning music. They roared when local rapper McLemore, an ardent lifelong fan, buoyed fan support and confidence on the jumbotron with inspiring messages. Everyone sang “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” just as fervently in the fourteenth inning stretch as they did in the seventh inning stretch.
I was remembering the Mariners 19 inning game in this same stadium against the Red Sox, a game won by Mariner centerfielder with a lead off shot, when University of Maine product Jeremy Pena put the Astros ahead when he parked one in the centerfield bleachers in the eighteenth.
For the first time in more than six hours the stadium went silent.
The Mariners retired in order to end the contest in the last of the 18th.
After six hours and twenty-two minutes of baseball, a stadium full of physically and emotionally exhausted fans began a slow trudge to the exits.
I recalled how the ’67 Sox had transformed Red Sox fan culture from pessimism and low expectations to optimism and hope. I wondered about the Mariners future. Would the fan base revert to its longtime pessimism if the team started slowly? I wondered if the boy next to me would stay enthused about the team through his lifetime.
As I began my descent on the stadium steps, a chant rose from the box seats behind the visitors’ dugout. It rose and spread and grew louder and louder until it reached us in the upper deck.
“Let’s Go Mariners! Let’s Go Mariners!”
As I joined in, tears welled in my eyes.
It felt as though a baseball team and its fans had turned a corner.