There's a certain word for when your most tightly held dream begins to manifest itself. Baseball is the sort of game that, for Seattle Mariners fans, has often made the dream needing secrecy. Why ever actually believe in elation coming from 162 games of meaningless ball? For years and years, this franchise has provided lessons in staying in your lane, of coasting through a day without any needed excitement. Yet, for twelve of the past fifteen seasons without playing a Game 163, there has been one man who has broken up the stinging monotony of poorly-built teams and under-performing rosters. His name is Felix Hernandez.
Both Felix and Verlander w/ Ultra Quality Starts (7.0 IP+, ≤ 2 ER). Updated leaderboard, since 2005:— Aaron Goldsmith (@aaronmgoldsmith) August 11, 2016
In the marquee match-up of the three game series between two playoff hopefuls, Felix Hernandez took the mound against Justin Verlander with a Mariners sweep in the balance. Parts of that sentence may resonate stranger than others. Baseball fans old and relatively new would all agree that Felix/Verlander is a hell of a match up, maybe lessened of late. They'd even nod when the word "playoffs" and "Detroit" collided. The stirring phrase that might give them pause after checking the date on their watch would be that the Mariners were the other team in the "playoffs" conversation. Having already taken the series by winning the first two contests, the second having ended at midnight of the same day, Felix Hernandez, The King, took the mound with more than a single tally in the win-loss column in the balance.
It's something we're all keeping our eyes on at the moment. What is this 2016 version of Felix? With a second straight season of velocity decline, and reoccurring control issues, we've yet to see that 2014 Felix that absolutely baffled hitters for six months. Yet, what we saw tonight, if this is who Felix is now, is still one of the guttiest, filthiest pitchers in the league. Sure, the fastball and the change up are, at best three ticks different. The curve comes and goes. Yet, when the arsenal is reigned in, it's damn near unhittable. And that's how the Tigers proved Felix to be for seven full innings. The King struck out eight, walked four, and only allowed one run over seven innings by scattering three hits. It was masterful, but in a different way. It was the quarter-behind-the-ear trick, with a different ending. In this version, you just chuck the quarter into the ocean. Never to be found again.
Yet, like so many games we've seen Felix throw before, he left the game with only one run backing him, tied at 1-1 after gutting through a seventh inning where he entered the frame at 103 pitches. Tonight, however, the M's bats were stifled for good reason. Justin Verlander was throwing an absolute gem after a rocky start. Flashing 97 MPH with the fastball, dropping a devastating curve, and scattering seven hits, Verlander managed to go seven-full innings as well, despite giving up a first inning home run to Robinson Cano. His six strike outs tell only a portion of the story as he kept Mariners bats uneasy all evening.
Eventually, though, we all knew that Detroit was going to have to use a depleted, and already not-that-great bullpen. After Arquimedes Caminero worked another 1-2-3 8th, it was time. Justin Wilson was given the ball, and a game tied at 1-1 was suddenly ripped apart by one, violent swing of maple.
Justin Wilson, mournfully, learned the lesson of Nelson Cruz, just as he had learned the lesson of Kyle Seager the night before. The solo shot to dead center would end up being all that Nick Vincent and the M's would need to take home the win in the ninth, but the scoring wasn't over until Leonys Martin plated Kyle Seager with a single into left, giving the M's a two-run cushion heading into the final frame. And that's how the game would end, 3-1, the Mariners extending their winning streak to six games and gaining another game in the Wild Card standings.
It's a funny thing, how following a professional baseball team has so many parallels to how one lives a lifetime. You can let each game crush or lift you, suspend emotion entirely, remember only the past, live hoping for the future, or you can simply enjoy the singular moments you are within. Baseball allows time for all that contemplation. It's the appeal of it, I'd think, to many fans. There's always a few seconds, between the maddening action, to chew on things. For instance, the current state of affairs in the Wild Card race.
Oh, and that word, the word describing what it feels like to see your wildest, deepest, dream start to come to life. That dream you were always too afraid to believe in. That making come true would take too much good fortune and good faith to see light. The word for when you work so hard and finally cut through? That's a simple, little word.