August 7th: Leading by one in the top of the seventh, the Orioles call on LOOGY extraordinaire Jamie Walker to retire the slumping Raul Ibanez with two outs and a man on. Ibanez takes him deep.
At some point in our lives, we've all felt like idiots for saying something, only to be confuted soon thereafter. We've all excitedly dragged friends to movies that turned out to suck. We've all made restaurant recommendations that wound up giving someone else a bad experience. We've all suggested - nay, demanded that a coworker come out with us on a Friday night to get a few drinks and unwind a little bit, and then when he's walking back to his car he jaywalks across an empty street right in front of five cops, and even though there's no cars around they insist on writing a ticket, and as much as you plead for leniency they reply that that's why they're there, and that your coworker should've waited the ten seconds for the walk signal because it would've saved everyone a lot of trouble, and then your coworker is left wishing you'd never insisted that he come out in the first place. And on this particular night, we were made to feel stupid for cursing John McLaren.
Coming into the day, the Mariners were 60-49, four back of the Angels for the division and one back of the Tigers for the Wild Card. While their schedule was about to get lighter - their next 19 games were against Baltimore, Minnesota, Chicago, and Texas - they couldn't afford to take any of these lightly; every game was important. When you're gunning for the playoffs, the only way to control your own destiny is to win, especially against the doormats of the league. The Mariners were getting set to take on a series of doormats. How would they respond?
You can imagine how we felt when, in the bottom of the sixth, a Ramon Hernandez RBI single gave the Orioles the lead. It's one thing to lose to Boston as the M's had over the previous weekend, but Baltimore? Steve Trachsel? There was no excuse for this. Fortunately we still had nine outs to work with against the incendiary Oriole bullpen, but this was nevertheless a situation in which we didn't anticipate finding ourselves.
Things had to be fixed in a hurry, and an infield single by Jose Guillen with one gone in the seventh gave us a little hope. A wild pitch even put him in scoring position, but when Adrian Beltre struck out against the ageless Paul Shuey, our hearts sank. The Orioles were calling on Jamie Walker to end the threat. And McLaren was sticking with Raul Ibanez.
The idiocy was so flagrant, so overpowering that I could hear my own blood boil. Yeah, Raul had already hit a homer in the second, but that came against (A) a righty that (B) sucks. Raul was mired in the worst slump of his career (his OPS since the All Star Break was .508), and already being a guy who can barely hit lefties when he's firing on all cylinders, what hope did he have now, with his lights flickering and the engine running on empty? Walker is a highly competent situational reliever, and an awful matchup in a critical situation. This wasn't a time for McLaren to show how much he believes in his veterans. This was a time for McLaren to make a move to possibly win us a game.
He didn't. With the newly recalled Adam Jones watching from the bench, Raul walked up to the plate and flailed awkwardly at the first pitch, falling behind 0-1. Everybody still sober and conscious let out a groan like a death rattle. How on earth could McLaren be so agonizingly stupid? Letting Ibanez bat against Walker was going to spoil a vital chance to get back into an important game. This was unforgivable.
Two pitches later, Raul deposited a hanging breaking ball into the right field seats to give the Mariners a lead they wouldn't surrender. Mouths agape, we were astonished, ecstatic, and terrified all at the same time, wearing facial expressions like a few dozen complete opposites of Adam Corolla. Nobody understood what had happened, and there's nothing more unsettling than an event of unknown cause.
As it turns out, that night would be the beginning of Raul Ibanez's wacky renaissance. But not knowing that at the time, all we could say for sure was that, for the first time in far too long, Raul had won us a game. It felt unusual.