And so it ends with a bang.
The Mariners pulled down the curtain on a disappointing season Sunday in dramatic style with a 3-2 victory over the Oakland Athletics when Seth Smith hit a two-out homer in eighth inning.
“You wish the scenario was a little different for the last game of the season,” Smith said. “But you’re trying to win. And anytime you can win, especially the last day of the season, it’s nice.”
His words reflected a wistful postgame nature evident throughout the Mariners’ clubhouse at Safeco Field as players and staff packed for the off-season amid good-bye embraces instead of preparing for postseason.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Bellingham Herald
“You’re not going to see anybody until next year,” said Robinson Cano, who closed the season with a 16-game hitting streak. “It’s just really sad. It doesn’t matter what I did this season. For me, it’s a sad season.”
Smith broke a 2-2 tie by driving a full-count fastball from reliever Ryan Dull (1-2) to the deepest part of the park in center field. It had just enough carry to clear the wall and a leaping effort by Sam Fuld.
“I knew it had a chance once it gets up there (in the air),” Smith said. “Then I just kind of wait like you guys and see what happens. I didn’t know if it was (out) or not. I knew it had a chance, though.”
Tom Wilhelmsen then did what he failed to do Saturday night by closing out a one-run victory with a scoreless ninth for his 13th save. Logan Kensing (2-1) got the win.
“It’s your job to get those three outs,” Wilhelmsen said, “and it’s frustrating when you don’t do it. You also have to turn the page and get over it, and know it’s going to happen. Just pretend that it never did.”
This time, Wilhelmsen struck out the side on 14 pitches.
When Coco Crisp gawped at a third strike, the Mariners won for only the second time in their final 11 games while closing out a 76-86 season that began with hopes of returning to postseason for the first time since 2001.
“This journey this year was disappointing,” Seattle manager Lloyd McClendon said. “No question about it. Like I told my players, we’ll be better because of this. You learn from your past.
“Sometimes, when you’re on the verge of winning, most clubs take a step back. It’s unfortunate. But I think this club is in a position to win going forward.”
Ironically, perhaps, it was something of a pyrrhic victory.
By winning, the Mariners failed to finish with one of the 10 worst records in the majors, which means their first-round pick in next year’s draft won’t be protected if they sign a free agent who gets a qualifying offer from his former club.
The Mariners and White Sox tied for the 10th-worst record, but the tiebreaker favors Chicago. The 10 teams with the worst records lose their second pick if they sign a free agent who gets a qualifying offer.
Before Smith’s decisive homer, he scored the tying run after drawing a one-out walk in the sixth inning from Oakland starter Chris Bassitt.
A single by Logan Morrison moved Smith to third before he scored on Jesus Sucre’s soft grounder to second base.
Mariners swingman Vidal Nuno, pressed into another start, began the game by yielding two singles, but escaped unharmed by getting Brett Lawrie to ground into a double play and striking out Danny Valencia.
But Oakland broke through in the third inning after Craig Gentry led off with a triple past third into the left-field corner. Gentry scored on Bryan Anderson’s sacrifice fly to deep right.
The lead jumped to 2-0 later in the inning when Mark Canha sent a 421-foot drive to center for a two-out homer.
That was it, though. Nuno allowed nothing more in his sixth innings and handed a tie game to reliever Mayckol Guaipe to start the seventh.
Guaipe faced three batters. He hit one, walked another and threw two strikes in 10 pitches before the Mariners replaced him with Kensing, who ended the inning with a double-play grounder.
From there, the game funneled to Smith’s homer and Wilhelmsen’s three-strikeout flourish.
“You’d rather it turned out differently,” Smith said. “Rather than packing up right now, you’d rather be getting ready for the playoffs. We just couldn’t string anything together.
“It wasn’t that we were bad by any means. We just couldn’t get on a hot streak. It seemed like we would win a couple, lose a couple. Win one, lose one. That was the script for most of the season.
“You look around. You don’t have to be but 10 or 15 games over .500 (to be in the postseason picture). That’s how you do that; you run off five or six in a row a couple of times a season. That’s how you make the playoffs.”