May 13th: With the tying run on second, JJ puts (no pun intended) the finishing touches on a 3K save by striking out Doug Mientkiewicz.
Firefox doesn't recognize "Mientkiewicz". In its stead, it recommends "Petkiewicz". "Petkiewicz" generates 13,300 Google hits. "Mientkiewicz" generates 446,000. Anyway.
I warned you before that I'm a fan of big strikeouts. What makes a strikeout big, you ask? It depends on who's pitching, who's hitting, and when it happens in a game. Jarrod Washburn striking out Juan Uribe in the second inning? Not big. JJ Putz striking out three Yankees in the ninth? Enormous.
Enhancing the context even further was the fact that we had a lead due to the most improbable of circumstances - against a petrifying lineup, Horacio Ramirez turned in arguably his finest start of the season. Only six of 25 batters reached base, and 17 made outs on the ground. This from a guy who came in with a 7.62 ERA. As much as baseball players are conditioned to shake things off, for New York and Andy Pettitte (the poor soul that Ho outdueled) this must've felt like an utter disgrace.
It was 2-1 Mariners going into the ninth. We were looking to restore a winning record while the Yankees were trying to get back to .500 for the first time in three weeks. While the two teams were far from playing great baseball, though, there was an electric atmosphere inside the stadium, because the Yankees bring out the passion in everyone, and JJ's jog in from the bullpen meant that our triumph over one of the beasts of the east was mere minutes away. This was an appropriate time to go crazy. Having an opportunity to beat New York is always a cause for ebullience.
Up first was Jason Giambi. No match for the heat. Laughable.
Then came Hideki Matsui. Shit. Double. Come on, JJ. Maybe a split? Where's the split? Throw a split. You got really good when you learned the split.
Jorge Posada. This was trouble. Dammit Jorge, stop fouling things off. Fastball. Fastball. Fastball. Fastball. Fastball. Fastball. Six in a row? Seriously? Quit dicking around and just put him away with the SPLIT YES TWO DOWN
That 2-2 splitter that JJ gave Posada might've been the best pitch he'd thrown all year. At that instant - as soon as we saw the ball drop off the table and slide underneath Posada's bat - something clicked. Right then, we knew that all the elbow concerns were a thing of the past, and that the overpoweringly dominant JJ was finally back. Sure, his statistical performance to that point had been fine, but there'd been something missing, something that made us all a little uneasy despite the success. The Posada split assuaged our discomfort. Now it was going to be fun.
You had to feel a little bad for Doug Mientkiewicz. The poor bastard didn't have a chance.
99. 98. 99. 99. Inner black, swinging strike.
Putz in. Game over.