It was the twenty-third of the month when it happened, the ball flying off the bat of a once-unheralded prospect now just as exciting as his hairline had allowed him to be: which was, enough to get the job done. Then, there had been eight in a row, carved in the back wall of the jail cell as if they were all that was, is, and ever will be.
There was a lot at stake on that breezy April afternoon. Not only a losing streak, but a slow start for a steady player, a potential failure of a behemoth free-agent signing. If not momentum then well...just keeping their heads above the water. Or at least the mouth, so they could suck in just enough air while the rest of the body sunk down below the depths because let's be honest, that's exactly what was happening.
Now, I don't mean to insinuate that what just happened this afternoon is anything like this. No, in fact that's exactly what went wrong last season after Nelson Cruz hit that walkoff in their brand new Sunday alternates, when Dave Sims said on your Mariner calendar you may want to circle this date as we move forward through the 2015 season and then the windows all burst outward and the car caught on fire and the tires melted and the crash-test dummies crawled out of the wreckage begging for life.
Jesus, ok that was dark but seriously: when Kyle Seager hit that walk-off dinger to save the 2014 season, it sparked something magical, something altogether impossible that nevertheless resulted in the most success the franchise had seen in more than a decade. And as he rounded third to the awaiting mob at home plate, Blowers said well I can say this, it's *about time* they walked somebody off and then Dave Sims later said it's over, it's finally over!
But not this time. Whether it be reticence, measured resolve, or just the connection between the heart and the brain collapsing despite years of attention to the contrary, it just...kind of...happened.
But first, how we got there.
Today's getaway day started not unlike the rest of the four games the Mariners had lost in a row, which consisted mainly in WhatsHisFace from the Texas Rangers just blooping some dam baseball into the gap half an inning before every single Mariner hit a ball 220 MPH directly into the glove of SomeOtherRandomAss wearing a grey Rangers uniform. Taijuan was fine, mostly just fine, making his way through the first couple of innings managing some bad luck while still throwing about 98% fastballs.
In the top of the third, Walker took six pitches to get Delino DeShields to put the ball in play. It was a beauty from Walker, starting with an 86MPH cutter to alternating 95, 86, 92 fastballs in and around the edges of the plate. Finally, DeShields hit the ball allmost foul, which was gloved by Seager behind the bag, then tossed softly across the diamond to just get him out at first. Except he was called safe. And then it was challenged. And then we sat. And then we waited. And then we waited some more. And then some football writers tweeted about lol boy sure is a lot of time spent waiting around in baseball and then the goons at MLB headquarters decided there wasn't enough evidence to overturn it (wrong) so they called him safe anyway. You know, just the fucking cherry on top of a week's worth of a Mariner shit sundae which was full price because it turns out the coupon was expired. One of those.
Anyway, the M's got one back in the third after Nori Aoki reached on an outfield bobble, followed by The Professional himself sending Aoki home on yet another bobbled play in the grass. It was the first signs that luck would eventually start to even out after so much to the contrary, that one team couldn't have so much go their way for so long that didn't wear white and dark navy pinstripes. And it continued into the fifth, when Robinson Cano walloped his first Safeco dinger of the year, bringing the M's up a run and putting them in position to FINALLY put a halt to the five-game losing streak that was threatening to tank the season, if not in the standings then at least in your attention.
But because Servais had run out Tony Zych--arguably his best reliever--in meaningless innings last night, it was suddenly Joel Peralta giving up a dinger to tie the game in the eighth. And then it was DeShields again--that rat bastard. Last night Nomar, today the twenty-three-year-old you keep mistaking for the forty-seven-year-old because nothing ever goes the way you want it to. In any case, the game was notched at two, and any hope you or any of the 15,000 fans playing hooky inside Safeco's friendly confines had felt up until that point had been shoved back into the hose and then blasted back out into the murky dump where optimism goes to die.
And it was precisely at this point that Jaycen had it.
Jaycen Stewart, who according to his desperate step-father, had "acute bronchitis" this morning and would thusly not be able to learn about Antebellum politics during Mrs. Peterson's fifth grade American History Class in Bellevue. No, today, Jaycen was "getting to know" Tim, who had purchased him and his sister tickets to see the Seattle Mariners despite the fact that Jaycen didn't want to see stupid boring baseball why can't we see football? because football season doesn't start until--GODDDDDDDDUUHHHHHHH baseball is SO SUCKKKKYYYYY GODDDduhhhh.
Anyway, so poor Tim bought these kids tickets to the baseball game, and the damned weiner kids didn't even thank him once. But wouldn't you know that by the time Cano hit that dinger in the fifth, little Jaycen was actually, by goodness, into it. He really liked baseball! And while he did his best to still perform just enough exasperation over the situation so as not to give Tim the precious victory he so deserved, he decided to pout in a seat, all alone, while the rest of the gang went to the ledge to "try and catch a foul ball."
Little Jacyen didn't even realize that while he sat there, pouting, the Rangers had tied the game with an errant dinger off the bat of Delino DeShields. Little Jaycen didn't know the depths of anguish stirring in the minds of each of the 14,999 people surrounding him at Get Out Of History Class day, and to be honest, little Jaycen didn't even care. Which is precisely why he felt like he deserved to catch the foul ball that Adrian Beltre hit right at him.
A shooting star, spelling out his name in firmament above.
But then, the unthinkable.
As the ball bounced between the green plastic cushions, Tim realized that dammit, it was now or never. Cradling hope in his hands, he offered the worn ball, selflessly, to the snot-stained fingers that had earlier smudged up the window button during the entire ride to the stadium UP DOWN UP DOWN UP DOWN ARE WE THERE YET UP DOWN UP DOWN............and he didn't even want it. So up he left.
And it was then that Tim realized he didn't need any of this in his life.
And it was right then that Jaycen knew he had never been more wronged, never in his life.
But it was also, in a deeper way, the moment we all saw what had been brewing inside us all--from that first Chone Figgins eruption over the lineup card to the last Justin Smoak flyout, from every Hector Noesi dinger to whatever the hell it is we want to call last night's three-hour performance on the Safeco grass.
It was Jaycen. But it was also, you, and me.
When all is said and done this game is going to bring back one memory. We are going to go back to seeing Dae-ho Lee hit that 0-2 fastball up and out of the zone to put it over the outfield fence. We are going to think about that second when our stomachs twisted just ever so slightly, when we realized that a four-game losing streak didn't have to mean a seventeen-game losing streak, that inevitability doesn't manifest itself in single, everyday slights but rather at the end of a road at which we will never arrive.
We will think about the Korean rookie, and we will think that was the day it all started. We will look at a relatively competent platoon player with an irritating penchant for strikeouts, and we will extrapolate from that the team's destiny: a team that wasn't built for dominance or failure but a team which nevertheless tested the road to competency, that in and of itself worthy of a parade while wearing these particular uniforms.
We might also look back and think what could have been, while Lee bounces around waivers after carrying a mid .100s batting average into May with a penchant for buckling at anything that bends. Like Cruz' walk off etched with meaning by Dave Sims' all-too eager pen, it will hurt, it will make us want to follow Jaycen back up to that single seat, all alone. Bury our faces in our mitts.
But either way we will look back at this moment and we will think about what it felt like. We will think back to the moment the ball left the bat, and we will think back to the moment that guy right in the center of this frame stood up before anyone else, and then we will think about everything that happened in the fragmented space in between.
We will do this because we still remember what it felt like when Kyle hit that dinger and what it sounded like when Nelson Cruz saved a James Paxton meltdown last spring. We remember those moments not because of what came after but because of what happened in those little spaces between--before the ball landed, before hopes were confirmed. When possibility bulged at the excess and we thought to ourselves what if.