July 29th: In the bottom of the eighth of a 10-10 game, Huston Street fields a sac bunt by Jose Lopez and throws the ball away, allowing Jason Ellison to score from second.
The bunt that Lopez did get down.
What preceded this inning is going to show up later on in the countdown, so I won't go into detail. But here's what you need to know - after storming out to an early 6-0 lead, the Mariners somehow found themselves trailing by three before coming back to knot things up in the seventh.
So, needless to say, this wasn't just any other baseball game. This felt more like f(x) = 100000sin(x), and we'd just reached 2π (shut up). And while any given barnburner is usually captivating enough to grab your attention, this game also took place in the context of a developing pennant race, so by the eighth inning it had taken a pretty firm grip on my balls. There was no going back now. I was completely and utterly invested, and a loss would be heartbreaking. The Mariners needed to win this game; not just for their own sake, but also for mine.
The good news was that, thanks to the seventh-inning rally and 1-2-3 top of the eighth, the M's had all the momentum. If you believe in momentum, anyway. I was already kind of riding the buzz from the comeback, and if the Mariners could score just one run there in the bottom half, I knew it'd send me over the edge, to the point at which I'd no longer care that the same team had just blown a six-run lead earlier that same afternoon. Stirring wins take precedence over worrying about such trivialities.
Things got off to a good start when Kenji neatly placed a double just inside the left field line. This made for an interesting situation. Assuming that Lopez would follow with a bunt, what would McLaren do with Willie? Let him swing away? Call for a squeeze? Lift him for a PH? With Ichiro in the hole, you got the feeling like Bob Geren wouldn't let the Mariners' best hitter beat him, so the heroics would be up to either Willie or Slampig. Weak contact hitters, the both of them. Would weak contact be enough to score that critical runner from third? This wasn't an opportunity we could afford to let go to waste.
The Lopez bunt thing came true. But neither Willie nor Vidro got the chance to be a hero, because after Street dashed off the mound to field the pull bunt, he turned to first and threw wide of Dan Johnson. As Lopez sprinted into second, the pinch-running Jason Ellison came around to score the go-ahead run, and the stadium blew up. I don't know when the ghost of the 2006 Seattle/Oakland season series decided to find another hobby, but I couldn't have been more thankful that it did.
For his part, Dave Sims was rendered...well, not speechless, but the rate at which the play became awesome seemingly exceeded the rate at which he could adequately wrap his mind around what was going on. "Bunt in order, Lopez...got it down...play to third, no...(ball thrown away)...E...here comes the lead run, he's gonna score standing up, Mariners take the lead!" And this isn't a criticism, because I think we were all feeling the same thing. The play happened too fast and too unexpectedly for us to process what happened on the fly, but we knew it was good, and so we responded with glee. It wasn't until Ellison was high-fiving his teammates in the dugout that I thought, "man, I did not see that coming." It was almost like I'd blacked out for ten seconds, and pieced together what I'd missed by looking at the pictures afterwards. And the pictures were happy.
The Mariners went on to score another three runs in the inning, and JJ tossed a perfect ninth to wrap it up. Thanks in large part to Huston Street, I'd just had one of my most rewarding baseball afternoons in a long long time. Matt Kata may have the quantity when it comes to awesome errors by a Mariner opponent, but Street's got the quality, and it's not particularly close.