August 1st: Yuniesky Betancourt's 12th-inning RBI single gives the Mariners an 8-7 victory over the Angels.
You can thank JJ for the awesomeness that was this moment.
Ahead 7-4 in the top of the ninth, the Mariners were on the verge of taking the series from LA and pulling to within three games of the division. The Angels were sending up their 2-3-4, but against JJ, it didn't really matter - the outcome wasn't the least bit in doubt. Were this a college football game, the fans would've been gathering along the sidelines, just waiting for the opportunity to rush the field.
Then the damnedest thing happened.
The Angels came back.
A double play by Garret Anderson seemed to kill all Angel momentum gained from a Vladimir Guerrero RBI single, but two batters later, Gary Matthews Jr. put a good swing on the ball and set in motion a series of agonizing events that made it seem as if the Mariners were hopelessly doomed.
In the ninth, of course, the Angels scored three runs to improbably tie the game. This was JJ's second blown save of the week (and second blown save of the season).
In the top of the tenth, the Angels put men on the corners with one out for Cabrera and Guerrero.
In the bottom of the tenth, with one out and Willie Ballgame on third, Jose Lopez blew a squeeze play and Willie was tagged in a rundown.
In the top of the eleventh, the Angels loaded the bases with one out against Brandon Morrow. After Nathan Haynes struck out, they still had the bases loaded and Reggie Willits standing at the plate with a full count.
Somehow, the Mariners managed to hang tight. Despite having gone to rather extreme lengths to spoil their own chances of winning, they survived. They got out of the tenth thanks to some clutch pitching by Sean Green, and they got out of the eleventh thanks to the miracle of all miracles: Reggie Willits swinging at what looked like ball four and grounding out. At once, everybody exhaled. That Willits encounter might have been the most stressful at bat of the season. You take one guy who doesn't swing because he's not good at it, put him up against a guy whose Major League career had been defined by frequent acts of social protest against the strike zone, and then you throw in the additional leverage of loaded bases, extra innings, and a chance to gain ground in the division? That's entirely too much. And then for the at bat to go ten pitches...the LL community basically flat-lined. Escaping that inning unscathed felt like genuine rebirth.
Nearly four hours after the start of the game, we made it to the bottom of the twelfth. Mind you, I had to wake up at 4:30 the next morning to catch my flight to Seattle, but by this point the game was far too gripping - and I was far too pot-committed - to even think about turning it off and getting some sleep. I was in this for the long haul, and so was everyone else, be they out west, back east, or somewhere in Europe. We all obviously wanted the Mariners to win as quickly as possible, but if they went twenty innings, then so be it; we had no choice but to remain glued to the screen. All we asked was for a little mercy and a little more good luck.
We got it. In a display of spectacular irony, the bottom of the twelfth looked like every Angels inning that's ever driven us up the wall. Adrian Beltre led off with an infield single to short. Two batters later, Jamie Burke stood still and watched a pitch glance off his elbow. And then Jose Lopez loaded the bases with one of those high infield choppers that doesn't come down until the hitter's already standing on first. The Angels were being force-fed a steady diet of their own obnoxious medicine, and I was loving every second of it. It couldn't have happened to a better team.
All that was left to do was score the runner from third. Of course, against Justin Speier this was no easy task, but invigorated by the debut of Safeco's totally awesome rally jig, Yuni hit - what else? - a slow grounder past a drawn-in infield. Out of both exhilaration and relief, Safeco erupted, and I was so ecstatic that I was even willing to overlook Yuni's copyright infringement and just jump up and down like a crazy idiot. So much tension, so much sweat...for the game to end like this made the entire evening's commitment worthwhile. Before our eyes, the Mariners were making themselves a contender, and the celebration in the infield was unlike any we'd seen in years and years.
I had about five hours before my alarm was set to go off in the morning, but fresh off the win and the breaking news that Adam Jones was coming up from Tacoma, I don't think I actually fell asleep until one or two. If my body was tired the next day, though, my brain was too wired to care. No time to sleep. We had a pennant race to follow.