Seattle Mariners' Most Memorable Highlights of the Season's First Half
As we turn to the month of July, it's become clear that the Seattle Mariners aren't quite on par with the rest of the American League West.
Yet, that doesn't necessarily mean that all is lost as we begin the second half of the team's 2013 schedule. The M's appear to be shifting towards a youth movement with the promotion of several top prospects in recent weeks.
Still, before we get to the unofficial halfway mark at the All-Star break, I figured it might be worthwhile to take stock and enjoy some of the more memorable highlights of the season's first half.
Overall, when looking back at these moments, I like to think of them as helping tell the story of a team that is slowly but surely putting the pieces together.
Of course, there are a lot of losses wedged in between these moments, and there will likely be plenty more to come in the second half. Yet, maybe for the next few weeks the mix of young and old can work together as originally intended?
If not, we can only hope that a few of the players featured here will some day emerge as long-term fixtures within the M's lineup, as the team continues to rebuild for a day somewhere off in the future.
Until then, let's try to enjoy a few positive moments from the first three months of the season, shall we?
Brandon Maurer's First Win
Brandon Maurer's first win on April 14 should have been the start of something big, but instead was one shining moment during what turned out to be a disastrous stint, via ESPN, in the majors.
Coming out of spring training, Maurer was given a fair shot in the starting rotation and seemed as ready as one could expect for someone who had never pitched beyond Double-A.
For a time afterwards, it seemed that Maurer was slowly finding his way over the course of his next few starts. But as the losses continued to mount, his performance began to tail off.
By the end of May, Maurer was shipped down to Triple-A Tacoma, according to milb.com. Since his demotion, he has seemingly fallen off the face of the Earth with prospects like Taijuan Walker, Danny Hultzen and James Paxton looking to earn their shot at the majors this season.
Whether Maurer makes it back to Seattle this season remains to be seen. But for one brief moment on a Sunday afternoon in early April, we got a glimpse of someone who will hopefully contribute for years to come with the Mariners.
Nick Franklin Goes Deep Twice
Speaking of future contributors, on May 30, 2013 in San Diego at Petco Park, Nick Franklin officially arrived.
After tearing up the Pacific Coast League at Triple-A Tacoma for the first few weeks of the season, Franklin got the nod to join the M's in late May. Just days after making his debut, he homered not once, but twice against the Padres.
On a day in which the Mariners cruised behind yet another solid performance by Felix Hernandez, Franklin helped provide fans with a potential glimpse of the future by putting his sweet swing to work in one of the best pitcher's parks in all of baseball.
Meanwhile, in retrospect, what makes Franklin's performance, according to ESPN, even sweeter is that ever since that day a little over a month ago in San Diego, he's quickly become a key cog in the M's lineup and perhaps helped open the door for a few other prospects to cut their teeth in Seattle.
Kyle Seager's Grand Slam
Less than a week after Nick Franklin's two-homer performance, another young Mariner infielder actually helped make history.
Through 13 innings on June 5th, the Mariners and Chicago White Sox remained locked in a scoreless draw. Finally in the 14th inning, the Sox broke through with five runs. With that, the few remaining fans at Safeco Field that afternoon were probably left to wonder if they really wanted to stay to watch the end.
For the sake of anyone who was there, I hope they stayed.
Well, perhaps just long enough to see the M's rally in historic fashion, according to the Associated Press (via Yahoo! Sports), capped by Kyle Seager's game tying grand slam.
According to the Mariners, with information from Elias Sports Bureau, Seager was the first player to hit a tying grand slam in extra innings and no team had ever scored five or more runs in the 14th inning or later to tie a game. It also was the first game in major league history when each team scored five or more runs in the game when it was scoreless through the ninth.
Of course, two innings later the M's went on to lose, but just when it seemed that all was lost, Seager helped prove that the M's do have a little bit of fight in them that would shine through in the coming weeks.
Kendrys Morales Pinch-Hit Winner
After a hard fought win the night before against the Oakland Athletics in which Nick Franklin broke a 5-5 tie in the bottom of the eighth inning with a clutch two-run single, the Mariners once again found themselves tied with the A's the very next day on June 23 after the bullpen failed to hold the M's lead following a two-homer performance by Raul Ibanez.
Then with one out in the 10th, the M's happened to get lucky, as Mike Zunino reached first base on a wild pitch after he had struck out.
From there, a Michael Saunders single helped put runners at the corners for Kendrys Morales, who came up as a pinch hitter after resting that day.
Fortunately for Morales and the rest of the Mariners, all he needed was one pitch from Oakland's Grant Balfour to send the fans at Safeco home happy with a homer that helped cap off a 6-3 win.
Of course, the celebration was muted somewhat. Given what happened the last time he hit a game-winner, no one wanted Morales to repeat history by breaking his ankle. But overall, his homer in a pinch has to rank as one of the brighter moments this season.
It was almost the best moment on my list, but last Friday night turned out to be a pretty special night for the M's as well.
Mike Zunino's Game-Winner
Last Friday night, in the bottom of the 10th inning with the bases loaded and one out, rookie Mike Zunino just needed to make solid contact.
Yet after being called up to the majors virtually one year after being drafted third overall in the MLB draft, Zunino has struggled.
In many ways, it's a lot to ask of a 22-year-old to simultaneously learn to hit and catch major league pitching for a team that expects nothing less than for you to be the face of the franchise some day.
So when Zunino came to the plate with the bases loaded on what had already been an exciting night in Seattle, it seemed only fitting that he would finally deliver a clutch hit in front of the hometown fans.
After working the count full, Zunino laced a single right up the middle and just about everybody lost it.
Before long, Zunino found himself being chased by his teammates, and for a brief moment, it was fun to think about the present and the future as not being years apart.
Perhaps the momentum of Friday night's win didn't translate into victories the next two days, but it was still refreshing to see the M's fight back both Saturday and Sunday against the Cubs.
It may not translate to enough wins to help the M's in the standings or save the jobs of manager Eric Wedge and general manager Jack Zduriencik, but it could help instill a sense of pride and determination that will come through in the years to come.
Either way, the next month will be an interesting one for the Seattle Mariners.
One with the likelihood of seeing some significant changes in addition to those we've seen already this season. In the meantime, I suggest we all embrace the chaos while getting a mix of first and last impressions of quite a few players that will come and go from the club in the coming weeks.
Let's hope for everyone's sake that the right people come and go as necessary. Otherwise, the moments highlighted here won't amount to much more than another batch of fuzzy memories of yet another season lost in Seattle.