Ordinarily I don't like to write while there's a game going on. But in this case I'm making an exception, because I just remembered that I had to write this sponsored post by the end of the week. I know you see the words "sponsored post" and tune out but this one isn't like the other ones, I promise, in that this one has a payoff. I was supposed to get this written up earlier in the week, but I didn't remember about it until just a little while ago, because when I'm writing a story I just click on "New Story" and I never go through the main editorial dashboard, and - you know what? Let's not talk about the details. I'm writing this now, and if you're looking for the game thread, it's posted below. I'm not linking it directly because this way you'll have to go back to the front page and I'll get an extra hit. (Internet business.)
This sponsored post instructs us to write about our favorite sports highlight, or something along those lines. Presumably having to do with our teams. So I could sit here and write about my favoritehighlight, but all of us of at least a certain age have the same obvious favorite Mariners highlight, that being The Double. Nothing against The Double and and the 1995 Mariners, but enough has been written about those to last us a while.
So I decided to make things a little trickier by limiting myself to highlights from the past handful of years. I didn't specify how many a "handful" is because as soon as I started thinking along those lines I stopped having to think because I knew where I was going. You know exactly where this is going. If The Double is the most obvious all-time favorite Mariners highlight, I think this is the obvious recent favorite Mariners highlight. Take it away, Dave:
There were other contenders. Ichiro blasting a walk-off home run against Mariano Rivera fought valiantly, and there were other Felix highlights. I personally still vividly remember J.J. Putz freezing Barry Bonds in the ninth, and I remember standing with friends in a bar watching Ryan Langerhans propel the Mariners to a miracle meaningless victory. Even bad versions of the Mariners have generated awesome highlights, only a few of which I've mentioned, but none of them compare to Felix hitting a grand slam. When you think about the best Mariners moment from the past several years, nothing rockets from your memory cortex quite like Felix going deep off of Johan Santana.
It's important to remember that this wasn't just about Felix punishing Johan Santana with a grand slam. The 2008 Mariners were supposed to be something, and then they entered the day of this game 26-49. They had the worst record in baseball, and they had the worst record in the American League by six and a half games. Those Mariners were a catastrophe, and they were difficult to stomach. Whatever goodwill there might've been lingering from 2007 had long since deteriorated, and people were tuning the Mariners out, or not tuning the Mariners out and just getting angry at them. So many things about those Mariners were nightmarish, and come June we were just beginning to understand the full scope of things.
There was nothing good going on, pretty much at all. We were waiting for a new front office and new players, waiting for almost everything about the organization but the jerseys to be replaced. That was where we stood when Felix closed his eyes and went deep, and that was where we were coming from when we lost all of our shits.
The 2012 Mariners have been playing decent baseball lately, and they have a lot of young talent. Given that, 2008 might feel like a distant memory. But when you have a team as hopeless as those Mariners were, your best bet is to go numb. With a fan base that's just waiting for everything to be over, it takes something extraordinary to make people care about an individual moment in an individual game. Felix didn't do something that excited Mariners fans - he did something that excited Mariners fans in June 2008. That's a challenging thing to do. That's one of the most challenging things to do.
Felix was opposing Johan Santana in an interleague matchup in New York, and that probably gave Felix a little extra adrenaline. It was scoreless in the second when Felix came up with the bases loaded and two outs, a David Wright error having allowed the inning to continue. Santana decided to throw a first-pitch fastball, and it clocked 93 miles per hour. Felix decided to swing at it.
Maybe that doesn't quite do it justice. Here's an actual video grab:
The pitch was elevated, out of the zone. It was over the inner half of the plate, but Felix was so far back in the box that it was effectively away. That's not a bad pitch to throw Felix, or any aggressive hitter, in that situation, because it isn't a particularly hittable pitch. But Felix hit it, and he blasted it over the fence the other way.
Bear in mind that in 2008, Santana was healthy and one of the very best starting pitchers in baseball. Bear in mind that Felix's grand slam was hit to the opposite field, indicating the ferocity with which he swung. Even today, I might be doing nothing, and then for no reason I'll think "Felix Hernandez hit a grand slam off of Johan Santana," and I'll smile. It's such a perfect moment for reasons I can't possibly get down in words.
Felix said he closed his eyes when he swung. After he arrived at home plate, he winked. Later in this game, of course, Carlos Beltran took Felix out at home plate, sending Felix to the DL and sending us into histrionics. When Felix threw that brilliant game against the earlier that Brandon League subsequently blew, I worried that League's effort would retroactively diminishing the lasting memory potential of Felix's effort. Felix's grand slam would be evidence against. The injury Felix sustained tarnished this game at the time, but now it means nothing. That was just a baseball game, and Felix came back healthy. Felix's grand slam transcended everything else. It was a Moment in a season full of moments, good and bad and in-between.
They wanted me to talk about my favorite highlight. My favorite recent Mariners highlight is Felix drilling Johan Santana for a grand slam. Without hesitation. To this day Felix can't stop reminding people that it happened. To this day Felix can't stop showing people the highlight, and to this day Felix considers himself a power hitter. Felix isn't a power hitter, or a hitter, but lots of other guys have never hit a grand slam against Johan Santana. He's only allowed five grand slams in his entire career. One of them was hit by a developing ace who came away convinced that he can do anything. There are probably limits to what Felix could do, but at one point I would've assumed such a grand slam would be beyond them.
Felix Hernandez hit a grand slam off of Johan Santana. He didn't hit a home run off of Johan Santana. He didn't hit a grand slam off of Phil Coke. He hit a grand slam off of Johan Santana in a year in which Santana led baseball in ERA. No, we don't have a recent memory of the Mariners going to the playoffs or winning the World Series. But there are more people with memories like those than there are people with memories like this.