September 3rd: Yuniesky Betancourt and Jose Lopez combine on a 6-4-3 double play that stifles a potential big inning by the Yankees.
Who says a game can't have more than one top moment? Minutes before Ichiro came up and delivered his memorable 200th hit of the season, King Felix was in a bit of a pickle. The Mariners had just tied it up 1-1 in the top of the second, but in the bottom, Felix was threatening to give it right back, as a single and a walk gave the Yankees a pair of baserunners to lead things off. With so much on the line and a gigantic monkey on their back, the Mariners needed a break, something to bounce their way to give them the confidence necessary to finally win an important game.
They got it from their middle infield.
On the first pitch of the subsequent at bat, Robinson Cano grounded a 92mph two-seamer sharply up the middle. What looked like a run-scoring base hit was nabbed by a diving Betancourt, though, who flipped the ball to Lopez, who then made a barehand catch and throw to Ben Broussard to complete what Geoff Baker termed 'the double play of the season'. Felix pumped his fist and Mariner fans everywhere bathed in the glory of the first good news in a week and a half. It was a critical situation, and between Felix's pitch, Yuni's dive, Lopez's barehand, and Broussard's jump to save a high throw, all four players involved passed with flying colors. For the first time in forever, everyone had something to smile about.
The Mariners went on to win that game 7-1 (and, of course, followed that with four more losses), but while the final was a blowout, there's no telling what might have happened had Cano's grounder sneaked through. At the time, it was the biggest play imaginable. If Cano singles, it's 2-1 New York, and they've got runners on the corners with nobody out for the 9-1-2. And we all know what happens when Felix gets a little frustrated. After coming back to erase an early deficit, the Mariners absolutely needed this play, because to let the Yankees instantly re-take the lead would've surrendered all the good vibes they'd just worked so hard to create. It really was the double play of the season, even if the season went on to be a clunker.
Defense matters. More than even I might give it credit for sometimes. For one inning, for one day, good defense saved the Mariners' season. Thank you to Yuni and Lopez for reminding us that there's so much more to this game than throwing a ball and hitting it.