My love of sports was born in heartbreak.
When I was a kid, I adopted a spunky Red Sox team as my team during the 1975 World Series. I wanted them to win so bad because I just absolutely hated the arrogant Big Red Machine of Cincinnati.
I actually stayed up until 11 p.m. and saw Carlton Fisk’s home run to win Game 6. Those Red Sox looked so good against the Reds. Bill Lee, Luis Tiant, Fred Lynn, Carl Yastrzemski and especially Fisk against the Reds.
But it wasn’t to be. The Red Sox went toe-to-toe with the Reds for seven games but ultimately lost Game 7 after blowing a 3-0 lead. I was crushed. I was SO certain they were going to win after Game 6.
And in 1977, they lost to the Yankees, who I hated even more than the Reds. Then in 1978, it got even worse, blowing a 14 1/2-game lead and ultimately losing on Bucky Dent’s home run in a one-game playoff.
You want more? I grew up cheering for the 49ers and watched them lose three straight years in the playoffs, twice in the NFC Championship, to the Cowboys, including blowing a 28-13 lead in a playoff game to Dallas. After that, it was literally nine years before I could bring myself to care about the 49ers again.
And yeah, the 49ers had a great run, but they haven’t won the Super Bowl for 27 years now and have two heartbreaking, last-minute losses in the Super Bowl.
So, I know heartbreak. My love-hate relationship with both the 49ers and Red Sox came from heartbreak.
So, take heart, Mariner fans. The sun rose Monday.
And the sky is the limit for next year.
How did they win?
The Mariners had no business being in a playoff race to the final day of the season. They were dead last in the American League in batting average — .226. Yeah, it was a down year for batting averages in the league, but that was still 18 points below the MLB average. This team simply couldn’t hit. They had nine guys with more than 100 at-bats who hit .220 or lower.
Other than Marco Gonzales, Chris Flexen and Drew Steckenrider, their pitching wasn’t anything special. They were eighth in the AL in ERA.
So, how on Earth were these guys contending? The Red Sox and Yankees are both full of overpaid All-Stars and Toronto hit something like 8,000 home runs, but the Mariners stuck right with all three teams. They did have some decent power — 199 home runs — but mostly they relied on clutch performances in the late innings, finding ways to win games in which they were outhit. Games they had no business winning.
I kept expecting the Mariners to collapse this year, like they always seem to in July or August, but the collapse never happened. In fact, they were arguably the hottest team in the American League in September. Maybe it’s more heartbreaking to come so close. Especially after 20 years without making the postseason.
Sabermetricians will tell you that clutch hitting is a myth. I spent 20 years watching David Ortiz and Derek Jeter hit, and I can tell you that that’s bunk. It is a thing. Some guys you simply do not want to see at the plate in the ninth inning.
But it’s also hard to keep catching that lightning in a bottle year after year. The Mariners can’t rely on the big clutch hit in the ninth inning to keep winning. They’re going to have to hit better than .226 to be able to keep competing with the big boys.
But, stay optimistic. This is a young team with a loaded farm system, with a ton of potential building from the ground up the right way, like Houston and Tampa Bay. Other than Kyle Seager, everyone on the team is 30 or younger. Those guys hitting .180 this year will learn how to hit.
The Red Sox eventually got over the heartbreak of 1948, ’67, ’75, ’78, ’86 and ’03. So will the Mariners.
Sports Editor Pierre LaBossiere can be contacted at [email protected]