Sports are about …
Finish that sentence and I can probably tell you your favorite sport.
If they’re about artistry and beauty, you’re going off the board to judged Olympic pursuits: gymnastics, figure skating, diving … unless you choose soccer, the alleged beautiful game.
If they’re about the violent and physical clash of humanity, it’s got to be football, or something in a ring or octagon.
If they’re about pure athleticism, basketball. If its artistry and violence, hockey. But if they’re about moments and stories …
Maybe you can’t sit through nine innings and still, you’d be lost without baseball, each orbit around the sun not feeling right without the natural rhythms of the game’s 162-game odyssey.
Besides, no other sport’s capable of subtly making less sense.
It delightfully sneaks up on you.
In the moment, there’s nothing like an impossible double play, a crazy outfield assist or every single pitch when it’s all on the line in front of a full house in baseball cities like New York, Boston, St. Louis, Chicago.
It offers fantastic plot and story, too, like what’s happening right now with the Seattle Mariners.
I became a Seattle fan a few days before the July 30 trade deadline, when just after moving to 55-46 by toppling the corrupt Houston Astros, the Mariners — third in the AL West, six games back of Houston, just one back of Oakland for the final wild card spot — traded their closer, Kendall Graveman, to the team they’d just beat.
What the heck?
The Mariners, who have a great ballpark, great fans and a trio of great play-by-play guys in Rick Rizzs, Dave Sims and Aaron Goldsmith, in the thick of the playoff race, traded Graveman and his 0.82 earned run average over 30 appearances and 33 innings, a body of work that included 32 strikeouts, 15 hits and eight walks for a WHIP — walks and hits per inning pitched — of .697, which is fabulous.
“An hour ago, it was great. It was probably better than it’s ever been,” an unidentified player told the Seattle Times’ Ryan Divish the night the Mariners beat Houston but traded Graveman. “And now, it’s the worst.”
“Multiple pitchers emerged from the clubhouse with tears still in their eyes from saying goodbye,” Divish reported.
Even if a better move than first appeared — Graveman was in a contract year, had never experienced the success he was having before and the Mariners picked up Abraham Toro, who can play a bunch of positions, might turn into something and, should he, can’t demand real baseball money until 2025 — the correct takeaway can’t be denied.
Seattle management gave up on its own team, threw in the towel on reaching the playoffs for the first time since 2001 and the fifth time in franchise history and walked away from the season.
Maybe management did it because the Mariners appeared to be a house of cards, of smoke and mirrors.
At the moment the trade occurred, the Mariners were nine games over .500 despite scoring 48 fewer runs than their opponents over 101 games.
At the moment the trade occurred, the Mariners had the 10th best record in the major leagues despite having the 22nd best run differential.
At the time the trade occurred, Seatle’s pythagorean win-loss percentage — what it ought to be given runs scored and allowed — was .450, though the Mariners were actually winning at a .545 clip.
They weren’t making any sense. They couldn’t possibly keep it going.
Only they have.
Seattle entered Wednesday night’s late first pitch at Oakland 82-69, four more games over .500 than the Mariners were the night they said goodbye to Graveman.
Since, they’ve gone 27-23 despite scoring seven fewer runs than the opposition in those 50 games.
It’s like magic.
Though the gap’s a little closer, the difference between their actual winning percentage (.543) and what the numbers say it ought to be (.461) remains historic.
That can happen when you go 31-18 in one-run games and 10-27 in games decided by five or more, but who does that?
Only the Mariners.
Seattle’s still in the chase.
It entered Wednesday with 11 games remaining, tied with Oakland 2 1/2 games back of New York and Toronto for the AL’s final wild card slot.
Not bad for a team with the sixth smallest payroll in the big leagues, who said goodbye to its closer after management became a seller, despite being a contender, at the trade deadline.
You want plot and story?
I give you baseball and the Seattle Mariners.
If they fall short, you can find another great story come the playoffs, be it ancient Tony LaRussa, the White Sox and their No. 15 payroll running away with the AL Central, or St. Louis coming from nowhere to claim the last NL wild card slot. The Cardinals’ victory over Milwaukee on Wednesday made it 11 straight.
It’s a long game and a long season and it can be hard to sit there and watch.
But it has the best stories.
Not even close.