CHICAGO -- Mariners manager John McLaren jokingly delivered a message during this season's Spring Training when talking about some of the most historic Mariners teams, specifically the ones from 1995 and 2001. "Let's write a script about 2007," McLaren recalled saying. It's no laughing matter anymore.
Seattle is trying to write its way into the playoffs for the first time since 2001, when it won an American League-record 116 games, and although McLaren isn't about to start drawing comparison to any teams of years past, he's noticed something about this season's Mariners that stands out among the rest. As the Mariners wrap up their latest road trip, they remain very much in the thick of the playoff hunt. It doesn't surprise McLaren one bit, though, considering they have all the pieces he sees fit to storm into October. Each player has a unique role on the club. There's star power, provided by players like Ichiro Suzuki, who often jump-starts the team with his speed around the basepaths. Raul Ibanez, Jose Vidro and many of the other veteran players help lead the team. There's even a certain level of attitude, provided by players like Jose Guillen, who brings a fiery intensity into the clubhouse. It comes as no surprise, then, that McLaren feels like this year's Mariners are one of the most cohesive teams he's been around, and that's a promising sign if they want to be playing in October. "They like to have fun, but they play hard," McLaren said. "I know we've had good years in the past years, we've had great chemistry here." The Mariners have clicked throughout the season, and remain in the hunt for October despite suffering three different losing streaks of six or more games. Prior to Sunday's series finale against the White Sox they were in a virtual tie in the Wild Card race, and 3 1/2 games behind the Angels in the American League West. All teams tend to watch the scoreboard in an effort to check out the opposition, it's just human nature. "We know what the other teams are doing, but we know it's about what we do ourselves," McLaren said. "We hope the other teams lose, that's just the natural thing, but for us to go where we want to go, we can't count on somebody else, we have to do it ourselves." With things going well for the Mariners right now, the club continues to grow closer as they bear down for the stretch run. Ichiro keeps things light for his teammates, and reminds McLaren of another famed Mariner in certain ways. "He's like [Ken] Griffey [Jr.] in that respect, when you see him smile," McLaren said. "He's the first guy I see walking off the field every night, and he's got the same nice smile every night. It's real special." And after all 64 wins this season, Ichiro has greeted his manager with a smile and a nod. That's something McLaren hopes will continue through the early fall. "I hope we do it for many, many, many more times," McLaren said. "In October, it would work out great." Fields of opportunity: Josh Fields is killing the Mariners. He has homered three times in two games against Seattle, and although McLaren was well aware of his ability heading into the weekend series, they hadn't figured out a way to combat him. Two games in, not much has changed. "He's gotten pitches to hit, and he's hit them, he's put them in the seats," McLaren said. "We've studied him hard, we don't know a lot about him, and we've spent some time talking about him, but to his credit, when he's gotten a pitch to hit, he's hit it." Those hits, including a ninth-inning grand slam on Saturday that pulled the Sox to within one run with no outs, have not gone unnoticed. "We knew who he was before," McLaren said, "but when you put the ball in the seats a few times, it gets your attention." Thunderstruck-out: The Mariners may have gotten a little help from U.S. Cellular Field's deejay Saturday night. Fields' ninth inning bomb off closer J.J. Putz sent the crowd into a frenzy, and brought slugger Jim Thome to the plate. But as Thome approached the plate, AC/DC's "Thunderstruck" could be heard booming over the speakers at the ballpark. If that sounds familiar, it's because Putz runs out from right field at Safeco Field to the same music. He then got Thome to fly out before striking out the final two batters. Ka-Putz: Speaking of Putz, the Mariners' closer recorded his AL-leading 34th save Saturday in 36 chances. On Wednesday, though, Putz worked yet another unconventional save, tossing 1 1/3 innings en route to his 33rd save. Putz has logged 10 "long saves" this season, in which he's allowed just two hits, one run while striking out 13 in 15 innings. Hit 'em in: Ichiro needs just 12 RBIs to surpass Jim Presley for eighth in Seattle club history. Prior to Sunday's game, Ichiro had 407 RBIs. Coming up:The Mariners return home Monday to play six straight home games, the first three of which are against the Twins. Monday's game features two of the game's top young pitchers, with righty Felix Hernandez (8-6, 3.97 ERA) opposing southpaw Johan Santana (12-9, 2.98) at 7:05 p.m. PT.
Patrick Brown is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.