It didn't even sound that loud off the bat, but it was moving fast enough and was walloped hard enough to go up and up, and then over the head of Danny Valencia like a bird blotting out the sun.
Birds are tiny. The sun is not. But you get close enough, boy, and what you see is nothing, what you see is shadows what you see is this:
After hanging in the air for 5.27 seconds, the baseball finally came to earth right inside the Mariners' bullpen, which is kind of ironic considering that's the very spot where just about all his value came from.
It landed, and it bounced back into the field of play because it didn't know what it was doing there, and nobody heard Dave Sims' voice crack because they were all yelling themselves, incredulous over possibly only the second least likely home run in franchise history which used not the names Hernandez or Santana but instead the name of another broken prospect, currently residing twenty three minutes down the freeway.
But even before the ball landed, he was jogging between first and second base, a smile carved into his flesh like a birthmark waiting for him since the day of his birth. And then it did touch the ground, and Jesus Sucre laughed. He jogged and jogged, and then jogged some more and then he touched home base and Robinson Cano laughed too. And you, you joined them.
After everything which had been burnt into his memory this year, from loss to frustration, from chewing sunflower seeds six days a week to getting chewed out by Lloyd McClendon a mere five minutes earlier, Jesus Sucre had seen it all. But for a brief moment on Saturday, he was invincible. He was ablaze, radiant, aglow. He had hit his first major league home run.
Jesus Sucre was alive.
But he did not win the game for the Seattle Mariners.
Sucre's first dinger gave the Mariners their second run of the game, following a sac fly off the bat of Seth Smith in the first that was erased moments later by a 40+ pitch second inning off the left hand of J.A. Happ, who gave up three runs before finally being yanked by Lloyd, fully realizing that the Mariners are about four days away from flushing their season down the toilet or going on a run to save it all. Little did any of them know just then that it wouldn't matter in the least. But the concern was noted, I guess. I guess.
So yes, Happ was shaky at best, and Lloyd went to Nuño with an out to go in the second, who promptly got Joey Bats out swinging on some 85mph junk which really shouldn't have turned out to be as solid as it was. But then the Mariners watched as Sucre hit the aforementioned dinger, and then again as the middle of the order put up another one an inning later, after Cano, Smith, and Logan Morrison combined for a productive force-out-run-scoring bit that you kind of expected them to be swinging out at least twice a week before this season started. Suddenly, the game was tied at 3, and for--quite honestly--the first time in a year, you had to feel like something could be afoot.
And afoot it was. After two quick outs, Sucre's dinger quickly faded into the back of your memory--in that same place which stores wherever you put your keys after wearing pocketless shorts during a beach day--and then it was suddenly time for something new. Something like a single from Kyle Seager, a shoulder-worn baseball by Nelson Cruz, and holy shit, it's 2010 again, motherfuckers:
The Mariners were quickly up, 6-3, and it honestly felt like a page had been turned. A real page, not some dumb-ass metaphor about like when Frodo and the gang conveniently go their separate ways in the last chapter of the first book, causing you to look at the remaining 2,000 pages sitting next to you in the box set as you realize wait, this has all been planned from the start. Which, on the receiving end of the whole thing, probably feels just incredible.
But not in Seattle. No, instead, these guys turned a page and then what they found waiting for them was a portrait of Fernando Rodney, leading a weary bullpen regressing to the mean (and then some) into battle against those very same slimy orcs that shouldn't exist in our world, except they do, and they are called Unmet Expectations and they don't really give a shit which party they are crashing because they are just gonna do what they do whether you want them to or not.
So first today there was one run given up in the sixth by a Tom Wilhelmsen put in to back up Nuño in long relief, a Tom Wilhelmsen who just maybe has found that deadly curve from 2012 again:
If you recall, the first thing Tom lost before his job was the feel for his goddamned dagger of a curve, and in the years since, he's kind of returned to being a 96MPH hurler setting up late innings for some Platonic closer who just may never come. And yet since June, he's started to mix in his curve just a bit more, raising his usage up from a May low of about 7% to 10% of all the pitches he throws in his arsenal. And he's locating it. He's hitting his spots. It's becoming a plus pitch again. It all may be far from the useful 30% usage we saw back when he was bending Alexi Ramirez' knees to the pleasure of every social media intern across baseball, but if he's actually locating it again, you kind of have to wonder where he could go from here, again, again.
And locate he did--but today poor Tom was in long relief thanks to Happ being pulled in the second. And while we can handily complain about Fernando Fucking Rodney and Carson Smith running into luck (he's been too good, admit it), the reality is that none of this would have gone the way it did without a depleted bullpen spending eight innings simply running out the clock and hoping to roll a seven with every wind of the arm. So by the time Tom was giving up back-to-back doubles in the sixth to Devon Travis and Jose Reyes, you could complain but you also kind of had to just realize he wasn't supposed to be out there. Which is why Lloyd brought in Fernando Rodney two innings later.
I'm so tired of this, but look. Here is your team's closer. I don't even need to tell you speed because what matters is where it's all landing. And here's where it all landed, facing his first batter in the eighth inning of a 6-4 game in which he thankfully was not the go-to-guy for the ninth, but was harrowingly still forced to see time because he's just...there:
That's, on paper, your closer.
A minute later, Ezequiel Carrera walked up to the plate, representing the tying run, and didn't do anything, anything at all. He didn't do anything because he was facing Fernando Rodney, and he knew that if you actually swing at anything Fernando Rodney tries to give you towards the beginning of an at bat, you don't deserve to be in the major leagues.
So Carrera watched as a fastball clipped the top of the zone. Strike One. This could have been a time to get worried, but no, Ezequiel Carrera is no fool. He placed his bat upon his shoulder and watched as a 95mph fastball skirted the outside edge of the zone right in between his body and the chalkline drawing a border between the plate like a border on some old world map containing the words Soviet Union or Czechoslovakia: words which mean very little anymore outside some historical referent which has been buried into the abscess of your memory. You know, that place where Rodney used to be able to throw pitches. Ball One.
Then, another ball. And then a strike. And then another ball. Ezequiel Carrera is a very smart person. That's because despite having one of the best pitch framers in all of baseball calling the game behind the plate, Ezequiel Carrera knew that Fernando Rodney would promptly look at a target here:
and throw a baseball here:
so that he could put it here:
And the game was tied.
Later, in the ninth, Carson Smith ran into trouble that was less his fault rather than simply watching as his peripherals began to return to Earth just as everything you throw all high up there eventually does, except for Icarus, who burns up like an idiot. Smith ended up giving up two runs in the ninth after an intentional walk, and while that's what lost the game on paper I think we all know how it really ended.
Meanwhile, a 27-year old Venezuelan man watched as the best day of his life turned into just another X on the calendar, and a former Mariner prospect, received in the initial Franklin Gutierrez trade, tied the game for his new ballclub which now sit one game above .500 and are on their way to possibly taking advantage of the most wide-open Wild Card race in the American League since it was invented during the mid 1990's. Two people who have each worn uniforms with the word Mariners across their chests, to people to whom that reality means two very, very different things.
One returns to a hotel room with joy, and another with less joy, although joy nonetheless. And while Jesus Sucre assuredly feels let down that his team was unable to walk back into the clubhouse and change dirt-stained uniforms for collared shirts with smiles on their faces, he couldn't help but smile somewhere there, deep inside without showing it to any of his assuredly frustrated teammates, realizing that what once looked like a radiant dawn was nothing more than the reflection of a comet over the rippling water, inaugurating another twenty-four-hours of darkness. It's cold up there, in the north, they say.
So as you watch the 'L's pile on, as you watch as starts are given up for dead arms and begin to plan outward to the fall and the winter and beyond, you have to kind of stop for a minute and realize that somewhere, someplace, there's gonna be an adult man wearing a silly costume, fulfilling a dream he had held since childhood, and he's going to do it on your television in front of your very eyes.
You have to think about that, and you have to wonder what actually matters--hearing Joe Buck say Your Guys' name while being able to brag about some piece of gilded metal on Facebook, or watching grown-ass men smile like they are three years old again, using up the last of their able years to achieve something that only a miniscule percentage of humans in the history of civilization have ever been able to do. And smile--smile, smile out and in like they actually mean it.
To be perfectly clear, you can choose to do whatever the hell you want to. But if you can't watch this without feeling just a little tug in your heart, then I don't know what the hell you are doing watching any of this in the first place. Because we've got quite a ways to go, and I refuse to let it all turn into a pile of dirt stuck in the creases of my sole.
So to you, Jesus Sucre: enjoy your day. Live it, remember it. Sometimes we only get one. And one, I'm sure all of you would say, is better than none at all.