Mandatory Credit: Photo by Eric Gay/AP/Shutterstock (13454615b) Seattle Mariners manager Scott Servais talks with players during a workout ahead of Game 1 of baseball’s American League Division Series, in Houston. The Mariners will face the Houston Astros ALDS Mariners Astros Baseball, Houston, United States – 10 Oct 2022
“Y’all know where we’re headed,” Seattle Mariners manager Scott Servais loudly announced to his players moments after they’d eliminated the Toronto Blue Jays last weekend.
His players knew. Because they crave this opportunity. Because they’ve come to despise the Houston Astros.
Listen closely to their answers during the best-of-five American League Division Series that begins Tuesday afternoon at Minute Maid Park.
You will not hear the Mariners say the name of the team they’re playing. Instead, it’s “those guys” or “that team.”
That’s why this has the makings of a great postseason series. They know each other well. Also, the Astros have been the American League’s best team for the last eight seasons and represent what the Mariners would like to be.
Being dominated gets old, and the Mariners have lost 30 of their last 37 games in Houston. They understand that beating this one team would symbolize so much more than one series.
Also, as mentioned above, the Mariners do not like the Astros and have been involved in a couple of ugly incidents that resulted in benches being cleared and angry words exchanged.
Again, everything you could ask for from a postseason series. The Astros are the better team. That’s not up for debate.
But we just saw a 101-win Mets team lose to the Padres. We just saw two other road teams win in last weekend’s Wild Card round.
The Mariners are loaded with youngsters doing this playoff dance for the first time. Do not dare tell them they can’t do something. That’s why their dangerous.
“Our club fears no one. I truly believe that,” Servais said.
And there’s 21-year-old Seattle center fielder Julio Rodriguez, who is on his way to joining the “best player in the game” conversation.
Players like Julio Rodriguez crave the biggest stage, thrive on it. The Astros have all that experience, and they say that the thrill of the chase is still there.
For Seattle, though, this is the first chase. They’re pursuing something against a team virtually no one expects them to beat. In that way, Seattle probably has an edge, whatever that’s worth.
“They have been there, we have not,” Servais said. “But I do know that to go to the World Series, you have to go through Houston.”
The Astros were the primary motivating factor when the Mariners did an organizational teardown in 2019.
Seattle wasn’t going to catch Houston in 2019, but management believed that by the time the rebuild was done, the Astros would have faded.
In fact, they said just that.
“They’ve got a fragile amount of time,” chairman John Stanton said at the time. “I think we will be in great position to win the West.”
Only thing is, the Astros have been able to sustain that success thanks to a player development system that has produced an assembly line of talent to keep the team on top even as George Springer, Gerrit Cole, Carlos Correa and others departed via free agency.
Now about the bad blood.
Astros reliever Héctor Neris threw behind Mariners first baseman Ty France and nicked him with a pitch back in June. Both benches cleared. No punches were thrown, but words were exchanged on the field and between the dugouts.
“Sometimes a little emotion and playing on edge helps,” Servais said that night.
“They threw a ball behind Ty France,” he said that night. “Pretty clear. All I know is that our best hitter is in there, there are two outs in the ninth and they throw the first pitch behind him? Pretty obvious.”
Rodriguez followed with a two-run home run and yelled as he rounded the bases.
“It appears there’s some bad blood brewing, even from last year,” Dusty Baker said.
July 26, 2021, to be precise.
The Mariners rallied from seven runs down to win on a go-ahead grand slam by Dylan Moore off reliever Brooks Raley, who then drilled shortstop J.P. Crawford.
Benches cleared again with lots of yelling and finger pointing. Astros first base coach Omar Lopez was ejected for jawing from the dugout after the field had been cleared.
Back to that clubhouse scene last Saturday in Toronto. After 21 years out of the postseason, the Mariners were back.
“It ain’t gonna be easy,” Servais told his players, referencing the Astros.
He raised his hand, waved a victory cigar around the clubhouse.
“Are you ready?” he asked.
“We’re ready!” third baseman Eugenio Suárez yelled.
What a ride this season has been for them. The Mariners were 10 games under .500 on June 19. They then won 61 of their next 94 games to go 18 games over on Oct. 5.
Guess who they didn’t beat? They lost six of seven to the Astros during the stretch that vaulted them into playoff contention.
Their 14-game winning streak was snapped at the start of what would be a three-game sweep by the Astros in July.
“We’ve played some crazy games (in Houston),” Servais said. “They’ve had our number for a few years. We played a little bit better at times this year. They’re really good. We understand that. We are really good. We respect everybody in the game. I know I certainly do. I know how hard this is.”