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James Paxton, inches, and a long, long way to go

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Or, the Mariners lose

oh what a night
oh what a night
Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

"I just wish I met you first."

...

The entire game of baseball takes place over a seventeen inch width. That's all home plate spans. Black to black, balls and strikes, strikeouts, home runs, the whole thing, it's just seventeen inches wide. It's rather a minuscule space to invest in. Yet, an entire field, and thus and entire game, a culture, revolves around that small, seventeen inch dish. There are stories told about that plate that stretch generations, borders, lifetimes and wars. Folks get married around home plate if they're especially keen to insert certain metaphors into their wedding night, or fond of memories of a certain ballpark. America's Game stretches seventeen inches wide.

Tonight, like a surprising number of nights before this one, James Paxton was the master of that seventeen inch span and the visiting Boston Red Sox. The live-arm of the large Canadian was up to its new-normal tricks, regularly dotting ninety-eight and hotter on the radar and finding the low corners of the strike zone as if it was a warm blanket on a cold, Wednesday evening. The cutter was nasty, sitting at that dangerous ninety-one and diving straight towards the back knee of the righties. He was, in a word, untouchable. This was the James Paxton we never really knew we had, but the one that shows up on a regular basis now. He doesn't need seventeen inches, he needs a couple. He went eight full innings, struck out six, and walked none, scattering four hits like so many grains of wheat to the wind. Like all humans do, he made one mistake, and it was hit a long, long way by Aaron Hill in the eighth.

...

What is the cosmic version of seventeen inches? The platonic ideal, even? Hell, what's the non-platonic ideal of seventeen inches? Is it a day, a month, a year? Maybe it is a single conversation stretching mere minutes. Whatever it is, whatever we deem to be seventeen inches wide, must, like home plate, be just wide enough to contain the crux of a lifetime. Such as home plate defines the very game of baseball, so too must this definition of seventeen inches within our lives. For me, those seventeen inches just may be the span of time I met J. Yet, I'm sitting in the car, watching tears fall down her cheek, as she has fully lost command of the inches-wide span.

To be quite honest, I, too, have lost control in this moment but it's an internal collapse. As she outlines the multitudes of reasons why it won't work, why it won't last, I become more quiet. It's my safety measure, not speaking. I find her wildly incorrect and she, mostly, is. Yet, the power of will and belief allows certain manifestations against reality, and this is the tunnel I find myself trapped in. How do you hold back the tide of someone else's fears? How do you make well what is already well, what is good. Seventeen inches is a long, long space to tread across.

...

The act of hitting a baseball is a mostly impossible task to place upon a person. Throwing the sphere, with accuracy, around a seventeen inch span from sixty-plus feet is difficult, but squaring the ball up with another round object in hand is next to god-like. Yet, it can be managed, quite well by some. While neither team in tonight's affair is a gleaming example of the more exemplary aspects of hitting, the Mariners managed a run in the bottom of the seventh when the game was tied at zeroes. With Robinson Cano dropping the barrel on a pitch near his ankles and driving it into the gap for a one out double, to be followed by a Nelson Cruz walk, Dae-Ho Lee stepped up to the plate and delivered a double of his own, scoring Cano to make the game a one-run affair. It, at the time, appeared to be all the production the M's would need around the plate.

With Paxton dealing, and the bases loaded after Kyle Seager was hit by a pitch with one out, Franklin Guiterrez struck out. Chris Iannetta followed suit. We should know better than to get our hopes up.

...

It's a strange reason why we're in the car having this conversation. I can't pinpoint the exact reason without a level of contemplation I currently lack time for, but it must be something like what Icarus felt upon exiting the Labyrinth for the freedom of the skies. There is this beautiful, warm thing that draws you, the likes of which you have never encountered before in this form. The acceptance of beauty is often unheralded as earth-shattering. Maybe that's the issue, is we too rarely discuss the things that make us truly feel awe. Maybe we are more scared of the seventeen inches than we'd like to let on. Maybe that's the reason for the conversation, is that beauty can be, in its strongest and purest forms, unbelievably terrifying. Maybe love is one-hundred miles an hour high and tight.

...

The broken record of Mariner fandom continued to slowly spin in the corner as Steve Cishek entered the game in the ninth, the score knotted at 1-1. Just barely twenty-four hours from blowing a three-run lead effectively ending a nationally televised game against the Chicago Cubs, Cishek, not the now-warm Edwin Diaz, was asked, one, last time, to show that he was the man who would close for the playoff-hopeful Seattle Mariners. His first pitch missed the seventeen inches by four times that.

His second pitch to Mookie Betts did just the opposite, meandering right down the middle of the plate, and was driven deep and far into the bullpens beyond the left field wall.

...

I cannot fully describe the struggle and plight of my time within the seventeen-inch space with J. It was maddening in one sense but in another it was entirely beautiful. Imagine a starved desert traveler set down on the bank of a river with a clock in front of them. A limit set upon your time in Eden. The desire to drink and consume overwhelms. The deadly sins overcome you. Greed, avarice, glutton, it becomes your being. Imagine the sound of every second ticking as you drink from the river, your mouth parched, lips cracked and bleeding, your very lungs gasping to be made wet. You forget yourself in your great attempt to glean every piece of satisfaction from the moment's left. You make yourself mad trying to make yourself pleased.

Such was my time with J. It was an eternal, final lap, but a damn fine one.

...

And that's where we are in the season. The healing and sustaining river of May is long-gone as the M's find themselves again at five-hundred. We just simply never saw the clock before us. I cannot speak to the reasons why, not now, that once again we are watching a team fall short in a new and fresh way, just as I cannot speak to the fresh hells that Steve Cishek is pouring over tonight as he tries to get some rest. The seventeen inches can drive you mad.

...

What I can speak to is what it feels like to watch them walk away. How it feels to see everything you had designed your seventeen inch cosmic reality fade into the empty, cold regions of a space you no longer know the coordinates of. I can tell you how it feels to watch them intentionally choose reason over love. To marry someone else. This weekend, I learned how that feels.

I know what a game of inches feels like. What meeting them second means. How little control we have over some of those inches. About how when there's a mistake within those seventeen inches, that there's a long, long way to go.

And just like Steve, man, I don't really sleep.