Salk: Something special — and different — happens with sailors

The Mariners have had some fun teams and some huge wins over the past few years. Mitch Haniger’s game last year against the Angels certainly felt like the start of something. But it came for a team that wasn’t in control of its own destiny, was desperate to hang on, and everyone knew they were ahead of schedule when it came to competing for a playoff spot.

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In retrospect, that victory felt like a demarcation line. That was the moment the Mariners announced that their rebuild was complete and they were ready to compete. Unfortunately, it came too late to get over the hump in 2021, but it gave Mitch the confidence to write his now famous open letter to fans and management, letting them know it was time to go.

It’s too early to know for sure the significance of Sunday’s 8-7 comeback win over the Atlanta Braves, but if Mitch’s hit heralded the end of the rebuild, it — which saw game-tying and game-winning hits in the ninth inning by Julio Rodriguez, respectively and Eugenio Suarez – may have marked the beginning of the dispute.

It was special.

Special because it came with more than 45,000 in the park, a number that wouldn’t have been possible without their efforts this year so far.

Special because it came against the defending champions. Atlanta won last year and then added presumptive NL Rookie of the Year Michael Harris II (who homered twice Sunday).

Special because the Mariners tagged up three-time All-Star Kenley Jansen, who pitched in 20 postseason games and was terrific.

Special because it came after the Mariners’ regular formula failed them. That bull carried them for nearly two years, but after Eric Swanson got an early hook, manager Scott Servais burned through Andres Munoz in the eighth. He could have (and probably should have) gone to Matt Festa in the ninth, but instead turned to Diego Castillo. And he probably should have pulled Castillo after his second straight walk to start the inning with a four-run lead. But by the time Paul Sewald delivered the second home run of the inning, that dominant bullpen had turned a four-run lead into a one-run deficit.

But they didn’t give up. They were not injured. They didn’t panic.

Special because after all the games this pitching team has won despite poor offense, this one allowed the bats to pick up the guns for a change.

There’s a reason Servay spoke at length about the importance of “the team” after that win. As former Seahawks wide receiver Ricardo Lockett once explained, teams play for each other, not at each other. And if you’ve seen the image of Sewald celebrating with Suarez after the win, you know how much it meant to have someone get him off the hook.

Special because Julio hit that ball 117.2 mph, the hardest hit by a Mariner in the Statcast era. In the ninth. Down. Because Julio is different.

He’s the reason this team has real, real hope. He is not like most footballers. He’s playing at a level that 21-year-olds only play at when they’re starting a Hall of Fame career.

This is the same player that Marco Gonzalez called the best player he ever played with – just three months into his big league career! And it does all this with the charisma of a Hollywood star and the joy of a kindergartener during recess.

Special because it came in September, with the Mariners tied for the first American League wild card spot and 5 1/2 games out of the playoffs with 22 games to play and their AL East race scheduled to play each other way down along the section.

And especially because of the emotional roller coaster for everyone who plays or watches this game. Like the walk-off victory over the Yankees, it felt like a precursor to what was to come: a taste of the drama and angst that only postseason baseball can create.

Time will tell how important this victory was. But as 45,000 went home happy, you could tell they had a different feeling than any crowd that has left this ground in decades. They had just seen something special.

And they know this may just be the beginning.

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