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The Mariners' playoff hopes come to an end

Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

I was not prepared for that.

I was seven years old and just wanted a baseball video game. My mother, enamored by the sudden development of a passion in her son, happily obliged and drove us to the nearest store. A few weeks prior, I had rented Mike Piazza's Strike Zone for Nintendo 64 from Hollywood Video and fell in love with the game in just a few short days. We searched K-Mart high and low for a copy, but it was for naught: a store employee later confirmed to us that the game didn't exist in their system anymore and the nearest copy was in San Diego, a two-hour drive that my mother was not willing to make. In an attempt to save face, we decided to purchase the one baseball game they had in stock: Ken Griffey Jr.'s Slugfest.

I was not prepared for that.

I just wanted to play with the best team in the game, the one that had Edgar Martinez and Jay Buhner and Alex Rodriguez and the Greek God of Swing himself: Ken Griffey Jr. Slowly getting to know the ins and outs of the team wasn't part of the plan. And when I started watching Sportscenter to catch brief glimpses of my pixelated heroes to see how they were doing in the real world, I really strayed from the plan. At some point, however, the plan changed. I was a Mariners fan. I was seven years old and I was a Mariners fan. I lived in a tiny desert town in Southern California, so the times I actually got to watch the Mariners were few and far between, but they were mine and all was well.

I was not prepared for that.

How could I be? When I was a young kid, I didn't understand the ramifications of baseball. Losses hurt, but there was always another game to be played. And when the season ended, you just hung out and waited for another season to start. I didn't get it. I never would've imagined that seventeen years later I'd be a twenty-five-year-old man slumped on the floor and choking back tears and then giving up and not choking them back at all after a Kyle Seager fly out to end the 2016 season. I was exhausted. I watched the Seattle Mariners, the very same team I fell in love with back in the 90's, fight all year long, only to come up a game short. I knew the stakes were high. I knew that in the end only one team truly goes home happy and the odds are always stacked against you, but it didn't make it hurt any less.

I was not prepared for that.

The Mariners took a quick lead in the game, jumping all over Athletics starter Jharel Cotton in the second inning. Leonys Martin got the scoring started, sending a bullet back up the middle to score Kyle Seager. A few batters later, Nori Aoki would beat out a potential double play to score Adam Lind and make it 2-0, Mariners. Iwakuma looked sharp. The bats were working. They were going to do this. They were going to win. They were going to get to the playoffs.

I was not prepared for that.

Things went south quickly for Iwakuma. Every at-bat seemed to follow the same exact formula: Iwakuma gets to a two-strike count, Athletics batter does absolutely everything to stay alive (including fouling a pitch off by the smallest margin), then Iwakuma makes a mistake and the Athletics batter mashes it for a base hit. Everything fell in for a base hit. Sixteen times tonight, the Athletics hit a baseball that either fell in for a hit or made it over the fence. By the time Iwakuma exited the game, the Mariners trailed 5-2 and were suddenly as vulnerable as ever. Every pitch was the step of a death march. Every pitch was scary.

I was not prepared for that.

Just when you thought things were heading irrecoverably south, Robinson Cano stepped up to the plate and crushed a two-run homer to bring the Mariners to within a single run. There was life. There was a pulse. I didn't know how big of one, but there was a pulse. That same pulse beat two innings later, with the Mariners trailing 7-4 now. Cano sent a RBI single up the middle to score Aoki, pulling the Mariners to within two. With Cano leading off from first, Nelson Cruz stepped up.

I was not prepared for that.

There are so few Mariners plays that have truly stuck with me through the years. There have been several "I'll never forget this moment" moments that have faded with time. It is only the truly special moments that stick with you. And so it was Saturday night, as Sean Doolittle wound up, rocked, and fired.

There are moments that truly stick with you, moments that you know, in that exact point in time, you will never forget. I will never forget Nelson Cruz's game-tying, two-run homer. I will never forget Dave Sims losing his mind and Safeco erupting and my fiancee trying to brush me away as I tackled her in pure bliss. I will never forget that feeling, the feeling of knowing your team was destined for something bigger.

I was not prepared for that.

One inning later, the Mariners trailed again, this time by only a run–the result of an errant pickoff throw and a double surrendered by Steve Cishek. Mike Freeman stepped up to the plate with two outs and no one on. Freeman posted a -17 wRC+ in his big league career up to this point. A part of my brain complained that they weren't putting up a guy who could tie the game with one swing, a Dae-Ho Lee or a Dan Vogelbach. It was fine, however, because the top of the lineup was coming up next inning and they could tie it up then. Mike Freeman proceeded to send a soft liner into left field that rolled to the wall, giving him an easy double. It was the first extra base hit of his major league career. After Aoki worked a tough walk, Ben Gamel stepped up to the plate. Ben Gamel has been bad thus far in his time in the big leagues, posting a 37 wRC+. I lamented his appearance, wishing for just about anyone else. Of course, because the game of baseball is one that will forever pose more questions than answers, things happened. One moment he was a terrible hitter, and the next he was infinite.

I was not prepared for that.

When the Athletics took the lead in the tenth inning on a Joey Wendle RBI-double, I was certain the Mariners would make a comeback once more. When Gamel led off the bottom of the tenth with a single, I was certain. When he advanced to second immediately on a wild pitch, I was cocky. And then it all happened so fast. Cano grounded out to third. Cruz hit a liner back up the middle that caught the pitcher's foot and shot directly over to Yonder Alonso at first, giving the Athletics a lousy, lucky second out. And then Seager flew out and, after fighting all night–hell, all season–the fight was over and the Mariners were beaten.

I watch every sport imaginable. I've had teams I cheer for win championships. I've had teams I cheer for lose championships. I myself have played in championships. I can say, with absolute certainty, that no game has ever left me more exhausted mentally and emotionally than the ten innings of baseball I watched tonight.

We will wrap up the season in time at Lookout Landing. We will discuss the pitfalls and joys and jubilations and shortcomings. We'll discuss it all. Tonight, however, I am exhausted and I love this team far more than I love most things and my heart, body, brain, and soul hurts. You did a hell of a job, Mariners. What started out as a boy wanting a video game led me to tonight, and I'll forever be grateful.

I was not prepared for that.