Mariners face unusual obstacle in Jays fans

Mariners face unusual obstacle in Jays fans

SEATTLE -- Lots of Blue Jays fans have annually made the trek south from Canada to see Toronto play in Seattle since the two teams entered the American League together in 1977, but the numbers swelled and the volume increased on Monday when the Mariners hosted their northern neighbors for the start of a key three-game series at Safeco Field.

From the moment the gates opened, through the Canadian national anthem that was sung at full roar by the visitors, through a 3-2 win that saw Marco Estrada throw six innings of no-hit ball, Blue Jays fans created a scene far rowdier than most Toronto home games at Rogers Centre.

It appeared -- and certainly sounded like -- more than half of Monday's crowd of 34,809 was rooting for the Blue Jays.

For the Mariners, of course, the solution to preserving their homefield atmosphere and advantage is simple. When the Mariners were winning regularly and Safeco Field was selling out in the early 2000s, tickets were harder to come by and the presence of Blue Jays fans in Seattle was minimal.

But as the years have passed, brokers in Vancouver and Victoria, B.C. -- which are three to four hours north of Seattle -- have scooped up tickets for the annual Blue Jays series and sold travel packages that include bus transportation and lodging to thousands of Canadian fans.

As the Blue Jays ended a postseason drought that dated back to 1993 last season, the popularity of Canada's lone Major League team grew and even more fans in western Canada opted to make the trek to Seattle for this year's series.

"I heard about it coming in, that when we play the Blue Jays it's a little different in Safeco," first-year Mariners manager Scott Servais said before Tuesday's rematch. "But you never really know. You have to kind of experience it to understand it.

"Obviously playing them this late in the season, both teams vying for a playoff spot or Wild Card opportunity, there was a little more intensity in the building last night. But it is much different than I ever anticipated, I'm not going to lie. Coming out here pregame and the gates open up and you see all the blue jerseys come in. But when they sang 'Oh Canada' and it's that loud, I thought, 'Oh boy, this could be a little different than I was expecting.' But it's just part of it and we have to deal with it."

Reliever Tom Wilhelmsen said the raucous atmosphere was good practice for bigger games down the road for a Mariners team that entered Tuesday three games back of Toronto (tied for the lead with Baltimore) in the AL Wild Card chase.

"We listen to it all and laugh," he said of sitting in the bullpen listening to Blue Jays hecklers. "Obviously the most unique part about it is that it's at home, but it's not really that odd to get yelled at or to hear people yelling. It's cool. I imagine that's the way it would be in the playoffs, so it's just getting us prepared."

Drew Storen, a former Nationals and Blue Jays closer, said he enjoyed the loud atmosphere after striking out three former teammates in his one inning of work Monday. But clearly the Mariners would prefer having more of their own fans in the crowd.

"You have to look at what's happened with the Blue Jays," Servais said. "They were in a very long drought before they got to the playoffs. They made a bunch of moves, they got to the playoffs last year and they had a heck of a year. Now they have that kind of support. Also keep in mind that Canadians have one team to cheer for. There are 29 of us in the United States.

"I would certainly hope that when we do get to the playoffs and we have a deep run that things would flip. But you have to get there first and we haven't done that yet."

Worth noting

Taijuan Walker had no after affects from getting hit in the arm by a line drive or tweaking his sore right foot in Monday's loss and is expected to be fine for his next start, which is scheduled for Sunday in Minnesota.

• Left fielder Norichika Aoki wasn't in the lineup against southpaw J.A. Happ on Tuesday, but he's hit .328 since the All-Star break, which is the 11th best average in the AL in that span.

Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.