Virtually eliminated for the past week, the Mariners made it official Sunday.
A 4-2 defeat to Cleveland, which followed Minnesota’s victory over Detroit, reduced Seattle’s long-shot chance of qualifying for a wild-card bid to zero. Baseball’s longest playoff drought is now 16 years.
“The finality of it all hurts,” manager Scott Servais said after the Mariners record fell to 75-81. “I thought we did an unbelievable job this year to kind of hang in there. As water was coming into the boat, we kept throwing it out, trying to keep afloat.
“It says a lot for our guys to keep it up for as long as we did, struggling through pitching injuries. What we did this year, using 40 different guys, is unheard of. When you battle so long like that, you get to the point you kind of just run out of gas.”
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In a game that mirrored their season, the Mariners got another serviceable start from veteran right-hander Mike Leake, who surrendered three runs before Shae Simmons was brought in to relieve him with two out in the top of the seventh. But three runs was too many against Tribe ace Cory Kluber, a co-favorite to win the A.L. Cy Young Award for the second time.
Kluber (18-4) wasn’t flawless. He allowed a Ben Gamel homer with a man on in the fifth, and at least one base runner in five of the seven innings he worked.
But 10 strikeouts — his 15th double-digit strikeout effort of the season — enabled the right-hander to escape further trouble. So did some spectacular defense in the fourth inning, when Yonder Alonso hit a liner to deep center with two on and one out.
Former Mariners center fielder Austin Jackson made a running catch before relaying the ball to shortstop Francisco Lindor.
Lindor then delivered a dart to first base, a split second ahead of Seager, attempting to return after the catch.
“It changed momentum, changed everything there,” Servais said of the inning-ending double play. “It took an absolutely perfect relay throw to get him.”
An absolutely perfect throw got him.
The Mariners 2017 season, in a nutshell.
***Fight to the finish. Prior to the home finale, Servais said he has talked to the coaching staff and assorted players about the week of inconsequential games awaiting them.
“You have to finish,” he said. “Anything in life, you have to finish. When you sign up for the season, you don’t just sign up for the fun games, when the stadium is packed and there’s a lot of excitement and all that other stuff. You sign up to play 162 and be a pro.”
Servais is also planning sit-down meetings during the road trip, to “talk about the season — what went right, what went went wrong, what could have been better or worse. The injuries we went through this year were a big deal and we’ll have some discussion about that and how to stay away from that.”
***Leake solid again. Mike Leake, acquired in a trade with the Cardinals on Aug. 30, recorded a quality start for the fourth time in five attempts. Facing one of the most dangerous lineups in baseball, Leake struck out five without allowing a walk.
Given the injury issues of Felix Hernandez and James Paxton, the durable Leake has the look of a rotation anchor in 2018.
“What he brings in the clubhouse from a leadership and experience standpoint — you see him talking to Andrew Moore and Marco Gonzales and other guys on the staff — that’s invaluable,” said Servais.
When told the manager perceives him as a mentor for young pitchers, Leake called it “an honor,” and added: “I like what we have. Unfortunately, this year is shaping up bad. But next year, starting out in the spring, we could have something special.
“I’m looking forward to getting to know the guys a little bit more in the spring and getting even closer, so we can do something pretty cool around here.”
***New names in the lineup. Since the roster limit was expanded to 40 in September, outfielder Jacob Hannemann (claimed off waivers from the Cubs), backup catcher Mike Marjama and first baseman Daniel Vogelbach haven’t done much but watch from the dugout.
Servais hopes to find them some playing time this week “so they can finish on a high note.”
The starting rotation, meanwhile, will remain in place.
“I think all the guys want to get at least one more to make sure they feel good, and pick up a ‘W’” said Servais. “Why not? It’s part of competing, being a pro. You’ve got to figure out a way to win another game.”