On the heels of last night's 14-inning marathon, and with news of Mike Cameron's horrifying injury this afternoon, it seems like a good time to turn back the clock five years to visit the longest home game in Mariners team history, a game that came ever-so-close to reaching the fabled 21st-inning stretch.
(Trivia: the Mariners have played two 20-inning games in their history, one on August 3rd/4th, 1981, and again on April 13th/14th, 1982. Both games were stopped due to curfew and resumed the next night.)
Coming into the day, the Mariners held a three-game lead over Oakland and a five-game lead over Anaheim for the division lead, with two months left to play. The A's were playing well, having won three in a row, and after John Halama his team in an early 4-0 hole, the Mariners had to feel like their lead was starting to slip away. Sure enough, the A's would go on to beat the Blue Jays, keeping the pressure on Seattle.
However, this being one of the Mariners' good years, the team responded to the early challenge, scoring a pair of runs in both the fifth and sixth innings to tie it up. Halama bounced back after his ugly third inning to throw a pseudo-complete game, lasting nine frames (which would turn out to be less than half the amount of innings thrown by Mariner pitchers on the night), and the lineup rode Stan Javier, Alex Rodriguez, and David Bell to climb back into the game.
After Javier's game-tying single in the sixth, though, everything fell silent. There were 24 hits in the game, but only ten - in 82 at bats - after the bottom of the sixth. The Mariners would get Mark McLemore to third base with one down in the seventh, but Rickey Henderson popped out and Al Martin went down on strikes to end the threat. And that would quite literally be all for a while, as Henderson's out kicked off a span during which 16 consecutive batters were retired, and 19 of 20. Seattle would get two more on base in the tenth with two down, but Edgar whiffed, and with Mike Cameron standing on second base with one down in the eleventh, David Bell lined into a double play to keep things going. Looking back, I remember taking that double play as a sign that some greater force didn't want the game to end. And, looking back, I'm amazed at how stubborn I was, refusing to go to bed until some decisive conclusion was reached.
Each bullpen was different shades of spectacular that night, combining to throw 20 innings of one-run ball. You got the feeling like the longer it went on, the more it favored the Red Sox, as Arthur Rhodes had thrown a lot of pitches the previous night, Kaz Sasaki had pitched in three of the last four games, and Jose Paniagua had appeared in four of the last five. Sure enough, the Mariner bullpen began to show some cracks, as Jose Mesa was called on to throw three innings of hair-raising relief over which he struggled to find the strike zone, and Rob Ramsay followed with some excitement of his own. It looked like the game might finally be coming to a close as Boston loaded the bases with just one out against Ramsay in the 19th, but Sasaki came in and struck out Manny Alexander (with an incredibly dramatic forkball), then got Jason Varitek to pop out to first to end the threat. As Stan Javier gloved that final out of the inning, it was difficult to discern between sighs of relief and murmurs of frustration emanating from the thinning, anxious crowd.
-and that's when the magic happened. Jeff Fassero was summoned from the Boston bullpen and walked off the mound as quickly as he strolled towards it, having allowed a Mike Cameron home run to lead off the bottom of the 19th. Fittingly, it happened in unlikely fashion, with Cameron going the other way to deliver a souvenir to a fan in right field. The exuberance that ensued was just as much out of alleviation as it was the thrill of victory, as Cameron was mobbed at home plate and the seven remaining fans in attendance all hugged each other. At 12:39am, Mariners fans who had stayed up to watch the end went to bed content.
The Mariners would go on to lose the division lead, thanks to the first of several summer runs by Oakland, settling for the Wild Card and losing in six games to New York in the ALCS. Despite the disappointing conclusion of the season, though, people would still fondly remember and appreciate Cameron's late-late-late-inning heroics, one of many moments that endeared him to the entire Mariner fan base during his stay in Seattle.
We all wish Mike the best for a speedy recovery.
Biggest Contribution: Brett Tomko, +52.4%
Biggest Suckfest: David Bell, -42.8%
Most Important Hit: Cameron homer, +35.1%
Most Important Pitch: Lewis homer, -18.6%
Total Contribution by Pitcher(s): +131.0%
Total Contribution by Hitters: -91.7%