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The 2015 Mariners Advent Calendar of Joy - Day Nine

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Or: What Could Have Been

Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Day IX- A team shamed - Sunday alternates - Extras - The Man awakens - Navel gazing - Hope shipwrecked

  • The Box Score
  • The LL Recap
  • And they are dancing. Towering over them all is the man, and he is dancing, his huge arms beckoning chance like a wild cat flaring its teeth at awaiting prey. He is dancing, his frame strong and terrifying. He never sleeps. He says that he will never die. He is dancing, dancing. He says that he will never die. Or at least, never lose another baseball game again.
  • The Manager Quote
  • They're a gritty bunch. They're built for this--they're tough...I don't know what's going to happen. But I like where we are.
It was April 19th and the Mariners were 4-7 and there was fear, fear and lots of it because it wasn't supposed to be that way. Not with all the analysts predicting a scorched-earth American league, riddled with the corpses of Felix's changeup, and Cano dingers, and maybe a few doubles from Nelson Cruz, or something (for chris'sakes, we all know what Safeco does to right handed hitters). Not with those great sepia-tinted photos from Spring Training which reached back into some yesterday which never actually happened in order to paint the whole thing in shades of legitimacy, as if they were meant to be there all along. Not with the memory of Felix stepping off the mound, one run away from his franchise's first playoff appearance in over a decade, and with Lloyd wiping the tears from his eyes as it all fell just barely out of reach. But these are the Mariners we are talking about, and they were then, still are, and always will continue to be, confounding.

What we didn't know then is that 4-7 would be too big of a hole to climb out of for this unstoppable force of a baseball team. That three games under .500 was big enough to blot out the sun. This team, with the best pitcher in the AL and an All-Star third baseman, closer, and second baseman, had already ended its season. And the irony of the whole thing is that it happened before they even had a chance to wear their new Sunday alternates, a visual palate cleanser after years of obsolescence and misery.

The Mariners had won the night before with Felix on the mound, and by Sunday it looked like things were finally going to start breaking in the right direction. The uniforms looked great. Safeco was nearly sold out. The Mariners got two quickly in the first. A perfect opportunity to dump it all in the lake and then set it on fire and also why not, lets jump in too:

paxtonline

There were boos, there was disbelief. People gave Dave Sims a lot of shit this year for phoning it, in but I can't imagine being on the play-by-play for this kind of a thing without saying words that would send Yahoo commenters flying to the Opinion Machine feature offered through their email accounts. Which is to say nothing about what that clubhouse must have felt like by June.

But then something happened.

It was a strange kind of something. Usually in this kind of scenario you would expect some sort of feel-good story about a speech in the dugout, a lucky break on an infield grounder, or a team finally rallying together with dirt under their nails and on the fronts of their chests and in their blood, falling into some kind of rhythm which had been missing until then and which would carry them forward into immortality. That's not what happened. I mean, yeah, sure, the Mariners unbelievably went on to win this baseball game. But no strange, new shiny reified capital-T Team emerged from the whole ordeal. No.

You see, Nelson Cruz woke up on the morning of April 19th, and went to sleep that night as Nelson Cruz.


We've all seen louder, longer, and more impressive home runs than this. But that's not what this one was about. Something happened when Cruz' bat hit this, his second home run of the game--a cut in time offsetting everything which came before and all that had yet to be. Something was born in this moment, and something died. Something terrible was loosed into the world.

The air was cold and clear and the country there and beyond lay in a darkness unclaimed by so much as an owl.

cruz look

A pale green meteor came up the valley floor behind them and passed overhead and vanished silently into the void.

meteor

Only now is the child finally divested of all that he has been. His origins are become remote as is his destiny and not again in all the world's turning will there be terrains so wild and barbarous to try whether the stuff of creation may be shaped to man's will or whether his own heart is not another kind of clay.

In the course of about three seconds, the Mariners went from being down 7-2 to having a chance at winning the ballgame. And it was all because of this blast from Nelson Cruz--the mistake of the offseason, the overpay for that traditional Jack Zduriencik marble statue, that one-tool player who was about to meet futility on the face of a padded green outfield wall. Nelson Cruz stared right into that reality and spit and rubbed his feet on the part of the ground where the spit fell and said the man who believes the secrets of the world are forever hidden lives in mystery and fear.

But the problem was that Nelson Cruz was playing for the Mariners. The Rangers put a few more runs on the board, and after going to extras, blood, dirt, despair, it was up to Cruz again to stand up and say he had had enough. After putting runners on the corners, Cruz came into the batters' box and blooped a walk-off single--yes, a single, I don't even need to hit dingers to be terrifying--and the Mariners won. He was mobbed at home, dancing like The Judge, and for one, brief minute, we thought this could really mean something.

As Cruz was wading through an ocean of astonished faces, Dave Sims thought back to the previous weeks of futility and knew, he knew he had just witnessed something important. "On your Mariners calendar," he said, "you may want to circle this date as we move forward through the 2015 season." There was hope, there was shock, there was a blanket of incredulity just as surreal as anything out of the pages of McCarthy's masterpiece. We thought by god, if this game could be a metaphor for this season...

Except not only was it not a metaphor for the 2015 season, it turns out it wasn't even a metaphor at all. For that, you have to go to Lloyd's quote up there at the top. This was a year which was supposed to give us what we had always wanted--a playoff appearance, a Felix gem in late October, relevancy. Instead, we got things we didn't even think we needed: Nelson Cruz finally realizing Jack Z's dream, Franklin Gutierrez, an old friend watching batting practice every day, a young pitcher to watch so you'd forget about Felix' struggles.


The funny thing about putting this all through a McCarthian lens is that that book gives you absolutely nothing to hold onto, and Cruz was, if nothing else, exactly that: the only consistently terrifying presence in the Mariners' lineup all season. Almost mocking us for letting him go to Baltimore the year before. In the two weeks following his second dinger here, Nelson Cruz hit five more--good for one every other day--slugging .807 with a wRC+ of 223. We thought that comeback was going to be about something bigger, but it actually was, in a way.

And that's the weird thing about baseball. You play it so much that every single action becomes so devoid of meaning in the aggregate that we have to start making shit up to give it any purpose. Without a playoff appearance, this game is exactly what it is: a testament to the absurdity of this sport and the excitement surrounding a player starting to fire on all cylinders. With a playoff appearance..who knows.

All we can say for sure is that he was dancing, dancing he will never die. And by god, we had better hope that last part is true.