There may be no such thing as perfection, but looking back, I'm pretty sure my day was as close as it gets. Between the glorious weather, meeting those of you who found me in the bar and at the stadium, and the totally awesomely unpredictable eleventh inning, it was a good time to be a Mariner fan in San Diego. The lone blemish was being told by some bar room cougar that the reason I don't get carded anymore is my "receding hairline," but then the old bag's probably just jealous of my freedom from the shackles of a loveless marriage. Happy menopause, you witch.
Biggest Contribution: Raul Ibanez, +52.4%
Biggest Suckfest: George Sherrill, -30.7%
Most Important At Bat: Ibanez funk blast, +35.6%
Most Important Pitch: Kouzmanoff double, -37.4%
Total Contribution by Pitcher(s): +33.2%
Total Contribution by Position Players: +15.7%
Total Contribution by Opposition: +1.1%
Because it's so late I have to fly through this quicker than I intended (late edit: okay, that was a lie). Even the nocturnal baseball blogger needs to lay down and recharge his batteries every once in a while, especially if it means that the evil KhalilBot has to remain in standby mode and wait his turn for the charger. This is sort of a shame, but sort of not, because the feeling after Raul's miraculous opposite-field game-winning bomb can only be approximated so much by the written word. If you were watching, there's nothing I can say to make you smile any wider.
Anyway, every ballpark-goer in the country has his or her own 'thing'. Some people are great at finding cheap parking. Some people know where to find good beer in the immediate area. Some people are able to perfectly time their bathroom visits so as to beat the rush while simultaneously missing a minimal amount of action. Some people can quickly pick out which of the concession lines is moving fastest. Some people buy a program and scorekeep the game perfectly without having to give it a second thought. And so on and so forth. Me, I've developed the uncanny ability to miss the national anthem and still be at or near my seat in time for the first pitch. I can't actually remember the last time I had to stand with my hand over my heart at a baseball game, but it must've been years ago. It's not that I'm against my country, it's that I'm against bad singers armed with needless embellishments being trotted out for a traditional display of patriotism that seems more flagrantly and offensively unpatriotic than anything else. I'm all for talented singers belting out the anthem the way it's supposed to be sung, but I don't think that's ever happened, so it seems foolish to assume that each successive time will be the first. It's not me who hates America - it's these people's voices.
Sitting in the upper deck, the job of an analyst is easy, mainly because you don't have one. You can't. At a weird angle so many feet above home plate, you have absolutely no notion of what's a ball and what's a strike, or what's good to hit and what's good to ignore. It sounds like an annoyance, but I found it relaxing; as I've said a few times before, my life's motto is "ignorance is bliss," and when you have a lineup whose biggest problem is swinging at crap, it's comforting in a way to never know when said crap is being thrown. It lets you sit there and rationalize strikeouts as being "terrific, unhittable pitches," and even if you know you're kidding yourself, there's no available evidence to the contrary, so you get to sit there the whole time and think your team's finally taking the right approach, even if they're having their worst game of the year. It's not who they are, it's who you think they are, and from the upper deck, it's fun to think they're awesome.
There wasn't a lot of action for a really long time, which helps me, because it's totally conducive to a shorter recap. Yuniesky Betancourt extended his hitting streak and put the Mariners on top with a nondescript single to left, and Miguel Batista penned the bestselling novel Mystery Of The Holy Crap I Can't Bunt For My Life, but that was about it for a while. Batista seemed sharp on the mound, but again, from the upper deck, people look however you want them to look, and it's not like the Padres were opposing him with a beefy batting order. In the bottom of the second I could've sworn I arrived to the ballpark later than I thought because there was no way that Josh Bard was hitting cleanup for a Major League baseball team. I saw that and chuckled to myself for however long it takes the average person to go from laughing at the identity of another team's cleanup hitter to remembering the identity of his own. Then I got chills.
The fifth inning was a whole lotta super, but thanks to my being a poor judge of concession stand efficiency, I missed almost all of it. Fed up with waiting ten minutes to pay $4 for a hot dog, I stepped out of line a few seconds before the nearby TV showed Richie Sexson doubling home the third and fourth Mariner runs. I clapped in solitary celebration until I realized that I was that annoying guy clapping for the road team in the concourse, at which point I hustled back to my section before anyone could memorize my face. As I leaned over the railing at the bottom of the stairs and watched Kenji Johjima drive in run #5, I could feel the sinister glares on the back of my jersey, so I kept quiet and decided not to turn around until the third out was recorded and the section got distracted by something shiny on the scoreboard.
As I watched the bottom of the fifth, a girl in a bigger group a few rows back got my attention with a "hey, Mariners fan!" I turned around, and she said "I just wanted to see what you look like," and I didn't think anything of it for a little while until she came down and sat in the empty seat to my right. She explained that it was because I was "cuter than the group she was with," but after I turned around for a quick second glance, I realized she was damning me with faint praise. I think she just wanted to sit with a winner. Of course, that didn't even last; a four-run rally by the Padres in the bottom of the seventh tied the game and sent the girl right back up to her group. Maybe it was some kind of superstitious sabotage that the group had been working on for the first several innings. One of them did seem particularly wild about rally caps, so the belief in powerful invisible forces was there. All I know is that I was happy before I talked to the girl and sad afterwards, so they must've done something right.
It's funny - blowing a 5-0 lead, especially in the way that the Mariners did, is the sort of thing that'd usually feel like a punch in the gut, but for whatever reason this one just didn't hit me that hard. I watched as Betancourt turned another should-be out into opposing momentum, and I watched George Sherrill cough up a huge tying double to the .215'ing Kevin Kouzmanoff (who, by the way, is evidently really popular with the locals, in no small part because his name is fun to say), but it didn't phase me in the least. I'm almost certain this is just my brain's reaction to the Stanley Cup - after that kind of heartbreak, a blown Mariner lead doesn't even show up on my radar. I don't know how long this effect is going to last, but honestly, I'm not about to complain, because few times in life are you given the opportunity to celebrate the good without being hurt by the bad, and tonight happened to be one of those times for me. There's just no shred of sad emotion left in my body.
I wasn't wild about getting into a battle of the bullpens with San Diego, since the Padres have this bottomless pit of quality relievers that they can dredge into whenever trouble's a'brewing, but again, since I was all out of pessimism, I couldn't help but look ahead with unusual confidence. The expression of hope on my face was unwavering, even when Richie Sexson grounded out with two on, when Russ Branyan singled off Brandon Morrow, when Betancourt flied out way deep in the ninth, when Hiram Bocachica made his way to second with one out, when the Mariners went 1-2-3 on seven pitches in the tenth, and when the Padres got two on with one out a few minutes later. Looking back, I actually don't know if I blinked. It was like my body was frozen - with every troubling event, it knew that there was a negative emotion it was supposed to be feeling, but in the total absence of said emotion, it was left waiting for another input that never came. As this war raged on between my ears I sat and stared at the infield with the vaguest hint of a smile on my lips. And each phase of the battle proved futile, as every last bad event was followed by a good one that evened things out.
Then Raul freaking Ibanez took Cla Meredith deep the other way. I barely even had time to react. I didn't see the swing, just a fly ball into left-center that had the outfielders rapidly backpedaling. Being a huge-ass ballpark, Petco has a way of making you skeptical of fly balls, and you never let yourself believe they have a chance until they're actually over the fence, but I watched Raul's ball sail while the defenders ran out of room, and sure enough, it had the juice. The 25,000 or so of us who remained from a sellout crowd (these San Diegans are fiercely loyal) had just seen the Mariners take the lead by possibly the most unbelievable turn of events. It's really gotten to the point where we need to think about sending Cla Meredith a muffin basket or something, because that guy's all charity.
I've officially never been as confident with a one-run lead as I am right now, as JJ Putz might be the most reliable shutdown closer in baseball. It's all business with JJ, and unlike a lot of other guys, he doesn't dick around and "make things interesting" before sealing the deal. He just calmly walks into the kitchen and immediately slams the door on the opponents' noses right as they were getting up for seconds. He doesn't give them a thing. Surrounded by people making "putz" jokes that I'm sure were remarkably clever and 100% original, I stood and watched as JJ got two quick groundouts, and then retired Jose Cruz Jr. with a fastball at his eyes. JJ's calm reaction to closing out what would've been a nail-biter for any other team in the league just speaks to the fact that, if anyone deserves to be pitching at some hypothetical higher level, it's him.
The spectacular triumph was complete, and I walked out of the ballpark through a sea of dejected locals with my chin held high and a spring in my step. The Seattle Mariners are a good baseball team, and it's only now beginning to hit me.
And hey, girl from my section? Drop me a line. Turns out I'm a winner after all.
Long reliever mop-up vs. David Wells tomorrow at 7:05pm.