With the exception of a few glorious years in the mid-to-late '902 and early aughts, the Seattle Mariners indisputably rank among the most hapless Major League Baseball franchises of all time. Hence, the true die-hard Mariner fan must be trained to view even seasons in which the club finishes 30 games below .500 as half-full propositions. Most years--like last, when expectations were artificially high--it's doggone difficult. But this year, it's easy: The 2011 Mariners are the most enjoyable horrible team in the club's sorrowful history. And last night's extra-innings win over the New York Yankees provided a perfect distillation of why this is so.
Consider the Mariners' opening-day batting order:
Now consider last night's lineup:
Of the six players in the opening-day lineup who didn't get the nod last night, only Ryan and Figgins remain on the roster--and really only Ryan, as Figgins has been so scarce as to spark rumors of his renting a room in Dick Cheney's erstwhile underground hideaway. Of the remaining four, Langerhans and Wilson were traded for virtually nothing, and Cust and Bradley were released outright. Trades of starting pitchers Erik Bedard and Doug Fister (whom we sincerely miss) fetched other fresh faces as well.
Last night's lineup featured five rookies, and just as easily could have featured six had Casper Wells (landed in the Fister trade) been inserted in place of journeyman Hefty-bag Wily Mo Pena. The winning pitcher, Steve Delabar, was substitute-teaching for a living last year, and the guy who set the table for him, Tom Wilhelmsen, quit baseball to tend bar in Arizona before giving it one last shot. There are not two more unlikely rookie reclamation projects in all of baseball, and last night they appeared back-to-back, for the same team, on the same mound.
Granted, it's September, when teams are permitted to expand their roster and give young players plenty of run. But Zduriencik has been treating the M's AAA club in Tacoma like an extended bench since May. Even when the M's are suffering from an otherwise depressing losing streak, there always seems to be a new addition to ogle, a brighter future on the horizon. It's enough to land an unproven GM with a sketchy track record a lucrative contract extension, even.