September 13th: Yuniesky Betancourt whacks a two-run double off the left field fence in the bottom of the eighth, bringing the Mariners all the way back to a tie game after having trailed 7-1 in the previous inning.
When you're in the middle of a total collapse, or when you're dealing with the immediate aftermath, it's easy to forget that playoff baseball isn't the only enjoyable baseball. Fortunately, all it takes is one game like this to serve as a reminder that we damn sure didn't get into the Mariners because of their success, and that there's still a big part of all of us that doesn't care what the team's record is as long as they win the game that we're watching.
On the morning of September 13th, the Mariners stood at 76-68, well out of the playoff race and going up against a team whose CoolStandings postseason odds hadn't touched 1% since April. For all intents and purposes, there was no reason to be particularly excited for the first pitch. It looked like a forgettable matchup between forgettable teams on a forgettable evening.
There was even less reason to be excited when, after an inning and a half, the Mariners came to the plate trailing by five. Jeff Weaver, you see, had been in spring form and got yanked after consecutive bases-loaded walks. Sean White came in from the bullpen and issued another. The D'Rays were starting Greg Norton, Raul Casanova, Jorge Velandia, and Jonny Gomes. I don't think I've ever not cared about a game as hardcore as I did after White came in and walked BJ Upton on four pitches. Had you been sitting nearby, you would've been able to audibly hear my brain screaming at the rest of my body to check out for a few hours. For the next several innings, I sat and watched with vehement indifference, observing, but not so much getting invested as waiting for the final out so I could throw up a WE chart and be done for the day.
Going into the stretch, it was 7-1 Tampa Bay, and while the Mariners tried to claw their way back with a pair of run-scoring hits, a double play by Adrian Beltre with men at the corners killed the inning and any real hope of staging a comeback. Even against the worst bullpens in the league, you only get so many chances to rally, and it felt like the M's had just blown theirs.
What happened in the eighth was magic.
Oh, it wasn't all smooth sailing. RRS struck out the side in the top half and the M's got their first three batters on base in the bottom, but another double play, this one off the bat of Jose Vidro, cockpunched yet another opportunity and all but let Scott Dohmann off the hook for a mess he created. The win expectancy drop after the DP was 15.2%, and all of a sudden we were right back in longshot territory.
K Johjima Single to RF (Ground Ball); Guillen Scores (7-5 TB)
J Reed Single to RF (Line Drive); Johjima to 2B
That helped. Now, for the third time in two innings, there was hope. Not a ton, since Yuni and his miserable OBP still stood between the present situation and Ichiro, but thanks to the wonders of the human mind we found ourselves at least partially buying into the hype over Yuni's clutch hitting, so we turned our undivided attention to the screen. And Yuni followed suit by turning on an inside changeup.
The first thing that comes to mind when I think about Yuni's double is Dave Sims' call. Not because it was magnificently good, or spectacularly bad, but because the way Sims judged the ball off the bat made it painfully obvious that he hadn't been with the Mariners very long. Sims treated it like a home run and elevated his pitch, but Yuni's never been one to hit many no-doubters, and when the ball ricocheted off the fence Sims had to adjust his voice while simultaneously getting the point across that a double was still super great. It was a complicated call of a simple play - Yuni's double had tied the game.
Despite the contest's meager relevance, I don't think there was a single one of us who, at this point, wasn't flipping out. Six-run seventh inning deficits don't get erased every day, and dramatic rallies are always enough to get the blood pumping, regardless of opponent or context. There are few more compelling storylines for even the most meaningless of games.
Of course, that wasn't the end of the onslaught. But what happened next will have to wait for another day.