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The Last Stretch

Burn after reading.

hold down B to run
hold down B to run
Otto Greule Jr

The ball chopped high off the dirt in front of the plate. Because of the extra infielder, Grant Green was playing second where they do in Little League, almost on the basepath. The ball was hit hard, hard enough to get the out at home, but also hard enough to turn two and escape the inning. He turned and hesitated for just a moment before flipping the ball to the shortstop. The announcers, the fans, all sensed some moment of weakness, indecisiveness - why hadn't he just gone home? - but it wasn't that. For a half of a half of a second, deep in the pocket of his glove, his fingernails couldn't find the stitches. The toss was low. It was enough.

Jackson's winning fielder's choice

I'm not good at dreaming. Sharing a dorm room in college taught me to sleep like a rock, and old age has taught me to spring out of bed at the first tremble of the alarm, scattering the ashes of any worries. Even when I do manage to remember a dream, they're not the Technicolor splendors I often hear about; my dreams tend to be one-act plays set in hallways and empty rooms, wordy affairs.

But when I do dream, sometimes they're lucid dreams. It started when I was a kid, learning how to avoid nightmares by simply closing my eyes, hitting the power button, and waking myself up. Later, I began fumbling with the edges of controlling a dream once I recognized it: changing the story, or the characters, or the setting.

But lucid dreaming is hard work, because you have to constantly fight your own brain, keep control over the dream you know to be fake. Hardest of all, especially for me, is that you have to not only want something, you have to be able to imagine it. It probably says something about me, but usually when I dream about playing sports, I consistently fail; my passes sail and my layups seem magnetically opposed to the rim. In one dream, after realizing that I was dreaming, I decided to fly, only to realize I had no idea what that would feel like. That time I succeeded, by hitting on an ingenious plan - I jumped, and then imagined not landing. Then I did it again, faster and faster, until I was flying.

Tonight's game was no lucid dream. But in so many ways, it felt like one: so many little things that went awry that it felt like my brain was just refusing to accept success. Everything failed in fractions. C.J. Cron's single in the second, knocked down by a diving Kyle Seager, that leaked just far enough away to David Freese to sneak home. Seager in the seventh, pulling a weak fastball so cleanly that it had to be a home run, missing the pole by a foot. Brad Miller's called third strike with the bases loaded. Austin Jackson's called first and second strikes. Endy Chavez being tossed around by his own ineptitude on a fly ball. All these things were not only disasters, they felt inevitable, as if "Mariners" had crept into out collective psyche and willed itself into tangible being.

But in the end Grant Green put his fingertips on the wrong part of the baseball, and the Mariners won. For a week the team has dragged itself like an ant that's been stepped on by a child, still moving because it doesn't know what else to do.

But ants are tough. And so this team, so impossible to characterize and so difficult at times to love, is in a playoff game to qualify for a playoff that qualifies for a playoff. After that they have to beat three probably superior teams in full series. And none of that matters, not for one more day.

Let the rest of the world worry about their Jack Z criticism and their ice cream sandwich jokes and their "no one wants the AL Wild Card spot" jabs. Let the other fans worry about their playoff rosters and their kingmaking conspiracy theories and their 2015 prospect lists and their Bud Seligs with their retired numbers which I don't even and the second guessing and the human interest stories and the re2pect and the rosterbation and all the millions of things that make up 99% of being a sports fan when there's no actual, meaningful sports going on. Fight off all the cynicism, the bad memories, the expectations. Forget it all.

Forget this recap. Go to sleep. Wake up tomorrow, have a doughnut, and get ready to watch Felix Hernandez pitch the biggest game of his career. Let the dream last just a little longer. We've all earned it.