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Luis Rodriguez, Mariners Turn Worst Game Ever Played Into Best Game Ever Played

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Like every other Mariners fan on the planet, all I can think coming out of that game is, man, that's what makes it all worth it. That's why we keep following along. That's why we keep watching, or why we never leave early. A moment like that is a moment you print out and hang on the wall. A moment like that is a moment you paste in your scrapbook. During what I thought were stressful days in college, I used to wish I were the one person who never needed to sleep, thereby achieving the dream of remaining productive 24 hours a day. A moment like this can keep you awake. A moment like this can keep you awake, even if you don't want to be. If I'd had a moment like this every day I could've graduated in a year and a half.

But think about what we had to go through to get it. Around the fourth inning I came up with my angle for the recap, and by the seventh I basically had it all written out in my head. This was, in my estimation, a candidate for the Mariners' most unpleasant and unwatchable game in at least recent history. All the elements were there.

(1) The Mariners had lost seven in a row and already fans were dreading having to sit through the rest of the season.

(2) The game was being played in front of the smallest crowd in Safeco history, meaning there wasn't any environment.

(3) Felix was pitching, but Felix was getting hammered, which is so much worse than watching anybody else get hammered.

(4) Jesse Litsch was pitching, and Jesse Litsch was taking his sweet ass time working around all the trouble he got himself into. The box score says Litsch threw 111 pitches tonight, but all I remember are pauses and pickoffs. We were approaching the two-hour mark in the fourth inning.

There wasn't any excitement, the team looked terrible, and the game was dragging. This was, for a time, absolute torture, in that I would've rather had a car battery hooked up to my nipples than watch Jesse Litsch face Jack Wilson with a runner on first. I knew full well that the healthy thing would've been to turn the game off and decompress, but I also knew full well that I couldn't, which only made everything worse. Not only did I have to sit there and watch this disaster; I had to do it while thinking about all the other things I could've been doing instead, like reading a book, or quitting my job and becoming a fire lookout in the woods.

Thankfully, things livened up in the later innings. Milton Bradley's home run was a start, but this only got interesting in the eighth, when the Blue Jays bullpen decided to stage a bloodless coup against the tyranny of the rule book strike zone. With one out and the bases loaded, the Blue Jays issued an unheard of three consecutive RBI walks, narrowing the score to 7-4. Justin Smoak then grounded a two-run single through the hole to put the tying run in scoring position, and suddenly the comeback effort felt real. It felt legitimate, like even the Mariners might be able to pull it off.

But Miguel Olivo grounded into an inning-ending double play. With Dave Sims exclaiming "BASE HIT!" when the ball left the bat, Miguel Olivo grounded into an inning-ending double play, leaving the Mariners a run behind.

And still that wasn't all, because Michael Saunders renewed our hope when he doubled to lead off the ninth and made his way to third on a bunt. All Adam Kennedy had to do was hit a fly ball or a grounder towards a hole. And instead, he hit a sharp grounder right to a drawn-in Yunel Escobar, leaving Saunders at third with two outs.

It was deflating, because as soon as Escobar scooped the ball up, I think we all figured that was the ballgame. One way or another, the Mariners would make their last out, and we'd all get to reflect on more missed opportunities. We'd had seven and a half innings of torture, followed by one and a half innings of a very different sort of torture, and in the end, we'd look upon the game as more of the usual agony for 133% the usual time commitment.

Ichiro came up, but we figured they'd walk him to face Luis Rodriguez instead. And while Ichiro stood as the winning run, making this a risky gambit on paper, there was that acrid air of inevitability. Rodriguez would strike out, or mis-hit the ball and pop it up, and the Mariners would file silently out of their dugout while some of the few dozen fans that had remained would hear their boos echo through an empty ballpark.

And then Luis Rodriguez worked the at bat of a lifetime. Rodriguez quickly fell behind 0-2, putting him in the deepest of holes, but he fouled off a tricky pitch. He took a ball. He fouled off another tricky pitch. He fouled off another tricky pitch. He fouled off another tricky pitch. He took a close ball. He fouled off another tricky pitch, drilling a low-inside slider but pulling it well foul.

And on the tenth pitch of the showdown, Shawn Camp threw Rodriguez a low changeup out of the strike zone, and Rodriguez slammed it so far over Corey Patterson's head that the center fielder's pursuit slowed from a sprint to a jog to a trot in the other direction. Luis Rodriguez - the guy who'd earlier come off the bench to replace an injured Chone Figgins - the guy given next to zero chance of making this team out of camp - had delivered the decisive blow in one of the biggest, most unlikely comebacks in Mariners franchise history, as Jay Buhner cackled in the broadcast booth.

It was somebody smart, or maybe an episode of Scrubs, that said nothing worth having comes easy. We all wish these things came easier. We all wish these things came more often. We all wish that we wouldn't have to sit through so many instances of miserable failure for every one miraculous rally. But the inescapable fact of the matter is that this moment - this moment, that we'll remember like Ichiro going deep off Mariano Rivera - is so special because of all those other moments, because of all that other misery. It wouldn't feel the same if the Mariners hadn't lost seven in a row. It wouldn't feel the same if the Mariners hadn't gotten ripped in their home opener. It wouldn't feel the same if the Mariners hadn't been trailing 7-0 just an hour before, and if they hadn't so recently blown opportunities to knot things up.

A big part of what made this moment so special is that the Mariners had been struggling so bad, in the game and in the season. Obviously, I would prefer that the Mariners play better baseball, and obviously, I'd rather follow a good Mariners team than a mediocre Mariners team that pulls the occasional unicorn out of its ass, but tonight - tonight, the mediocre Mariners made it fantastic. Tonight, the mediocre Mariners provided an experience I'm not certain a good version of the Mariners could match. It was just that weird, and I can't wait to find out what influence it has on my dreams, because last night I dreamed about getting caught in an avalanche, and I can't help but feel like the Mariners might've had something to do with that.

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It's so damn late, and I'm so damn tired, that I don't have it in me to write out a bunch of long bullet points. So this time you're getting the lightning round.

  • I would kill to know what Don Wakamatsu is thinking right now.

  • Even throughout the losing streak, the Eric Wedge Mariners battled. They rallied back from early deficits and even in the home opener, there's a popular story going around about how Wedge was pacing back and forth encouraging his hitters to have good at bats, even when they were behind 12-0. I don't know how well that effort's going to hold up over the course of a long season, but holy shit did it ever pay off today.

  • I don't know what was wrong with Felix Hernandez, but I suspect he grew frustrated by the middle innings. He says it was simply a matter of leaving too many balls up, and his stuff was there at the start, so I'm not going to get worried until or unless this becomes a pattern. He seems to have a game or three like this each season.

  • At one point Root Sports flashed a graphic comparing the Mariners' overall and situational hitting statistics to those of the Orioles. The graphic looked a lot like this post by Dave, in graphic form. What this means is that somebody with Root Sports reads the blogosphere, so dear that guy: please keep it up with the cocky broadcast promos. I'm dead serious when I say they'll only get better as the season wears on.

  • Tom Wilhelmsen loaded the bases before getting a big strikeout in the eighth, and Josh Lueke allowed a couple well-hit balls in the ninth. Those guys barely survived, but they survived, and now look how important it wound up being! Lueke even got his first big league win. I wonder if this is a game he'll never forget, or a game he'll forget immediately since he only threw 12 pitches and all the attention was on the Mariners lineup.

  • The Mariners drew 11 walks tonight. It isn't the highest total they've ever drawn - they actually drew 16 in a game against the Blue Jays in 2002 - but it is the highest total they've drawn since June 2004. The Mariners had a team OBP tonight of .468.

  • Chone Figgins left because he took a line drive off his thumb and then aggravated the injury diving back on one of the insufferable Jesse Litsch's countless pickoff attempts. It's been ruled a contusion and it shouldn't keep Figgins out of the lineup very long, if at all, but the nature of the injury could temporarily sap Figgins' power.

  • Milton Bradley's home run was an angry home run. An angry home run is either a towering mammoth fly ball or a low line drive that threatens to take a fan's head off. Bradley's was the latter. I'd like to see Bradley really get a hold of a pitch one of these days, but I'll settle for a dinger like this for now.

  • Michael Saunders drew a walk, hit three balls to left field - two of them hard - and roped a double down the line in right in the ninth. Over the last two days, he's shown patience, he's shown power, he's shown the ability to hit to left, he's shown the ability to hit to right, and he's shown good defense. It's amazing what a few good games in a row can do for your confidence in a player, and Saunders has lately been playing with a purpose.

Michael Pineda goes tomorrow. Tomorrow may end up eclipsing tonight as the smallest crowd in Safeco history, but at the very least there are going to be a lot of eyes on the television. Like obsessing over changeups? Have I got the game for you!