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El rey ha muerto, viva el rey

you can and can’t go home again

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim v Seattle Mariners
el rey
Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

Last week, as we were making the unconscionably long trudge from Cheney Stadium to where the car was parked, my dad fell and broke his collarbone. It doesn’t need surgery, but he is confined to the couch, arm in a sling, dependent on me or my mom to make his food, drive him around, remind him to take his medicine. As a result, we’ve watched a lot of baseball together lately, the silently agreed-upon ground between politics and golf and the house shows my mom loves but frustrate him to no end (although secretly I think he loves mocking the wide-eyed naifs who think they’re going to somehow make a 1930s bungalow open concept).

Watching baseball with my dad is sort of a painful experience now. He doesn’t know what BABIP is and, despite being an engineer, doesn’t much care for advanced stats; he believes in the “hot hand” and thinks pitching matchups based on handedness are stupid. And yet he is the man who sat me in front of our first TV—it had dials and there was no channel changer, I think he might have been using me for that function—and taught me to love baseball. He is the one who helped me cut bases out of tagboard and assemble a miniature Kingdome on the living room floor, the bases populated with My Little Ponies. He is the one who took me in hand and taught me how to navigate the byzantine walkways of the Kingdome, much as I now show him where the good spots in Safeco are, when we make it down there, which isn’t as often as I’d like. Tonight, sitting on the couch with him, watching the Mariners in their throwback uniforms, I felt like I had one foot in the 90s and one in the here and now; if I squinted, I could almost turn the 22 on Canó’s jersey into a 24. The blue of the caps was bluer than I remembered, or than our tiny TV could transmit, which was comforting: maybe our memories don’t blur and fade but instead brighten over time.

If there was any question as to whether one could go home again, tonight’s first inning seemed to provide a definitive answer. I missed most of Félix’s early years, living back east. Mostly I knew Félix from a remove: when I called home on Sundays, my dad would condense the games from the week. He called me the night of the perfect game to tell me what was happening, and then the next day to go over every single pitch (he took notes. We should see if he wants to recap sometime). Everyone knows by this point that Félix is not the Félix of old, but the Angels came in determined to punish his pitches. The very first pitch of the game was drilled by Yunel Escobar, aka my least favorite player in baseball, for a double. Then Ckole Kcalhoun, escaped from his other job teaching Cross Fit at the North Pole, looked at four straight pitches that ranged from “low” to “gift for the molemen.” Then Mike Trout came up and well, you know, you can’t really

Oh man that’s a bad pitch. That pitch is so bad. That pitch is the person in front of you buying the last breakfast sandwich from the case and so you have to settle for a croissant and it turns out the croissant is stuffed with dung beetles and gasoline. And because I am a glutton for punishment, I hopped over to Twitter, where the comments ranged from resigned sadness to expletive-laced anger with the common refrain: the King is Dead. At one point in the inning, Félix had thrown 9 pitches, and only 3 strikes, and of those three, one was a double and the other was crushed into the upper deck. After giving up three runs in the first inning, it looked like the 40,000-plus at Safeco would be going home disappointed tonight.

But the Angels were putting up their own nostalgia project tonight in the form of Tim Lincecum, who used to be terrifying but now kind of looks like an extra from a Kevin Smith movie tangentially about baseball who has somehow found himself in a game situation. Aoki started off with a base hit, because Scott Servais has heard your complaints about his managing and written them down, folded them into tiny tablets and eaten them. Then, with Seth Smith batting, Aoki stole second because he is trying to become the player he was supposed to be all at once. Seth worked a full count, because that’s what he does, before singling into LF. Canó followed that up with a single into right that scored Aoki, for his 69th RBI (nice), and suddenly the Mariners had runners at the corners with no one out. After a swinging bunt from Cruz (!) the bases were loaded, which is something normal fans of baseball enjoy but Mariners fans do not. Sure enough, Kyle Seager popped out, shallow enough that the run couldn’t even score. Bad Kyle! And then up came Adam Lind who was 0 for 7 against Tim Lincecum, with the bases packed full of some of the slowest humans in baseball, and this doesn’t sound good, right? But Adam resisted Lincecum’s splitter and scorched a ball to right field that would have scored two except Calhoun has a cannon for an arm and Manny Acta wisely held Canó at third. Leonys Martín than flew out to deep RF; this time, Manny sent Robi and the throw was beautiful but came in too hot, skipping past the catcher. Tie game. Mike Zunino time.

Look, you can have your doubts about Mike Zunino. Probably he will regress, if only because an OPS of 1.180 is...I’m sorry, what was I saying?

Sorry that isn’t embedded but you should be able to click on it and see it. If you haven’t, it’s so worth it. Mike takes a pitch way in the bottom of the zone and just uses his sheer strength, plus the combined will of everyone in the building, to float it out of there. Mike Zunino’s resurgence is one of the best stories about this team right now. After he hit this bomb, ROOT had a nice Mike Scioscia reaction shot and my dad yelled SUCK IT SCIOSCIA, YOU BIG TOMATO and maybe you can’t go home again but you can go somewhere that’s different, but also good.

After the fireworks of the first inning, things settled down, by which I mean the Mariners continued to hit Lincecum and get on base, but frustratingly not be able to score. Lincecum was lifted in the fourth inning in favor of José Álvarez and then Fernando Salas, who I may or may not get mixed up with Telly Savalas. The Mariners wouldn’t be able to score off José or Fernando or Telly, and if Félix had chugged along as hittable, mortal Félix, this would be a very different recap. Instead, Félix, buoyed by his run support, remembered that he actually owns the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim California Angels, and started striking fools out. After a nine-pitch second, Félix recorded his first strikeout of the night, getting Trout on a nice fastball located right on the outside corner to end the third, and after that he was locked in. After walking Pujols in the 4th, he struck out the side, showing the command that had been absent in the first inning. A little bit of fired-up Félix—the Félix we thought we’d lost— started to peek through:

In fact, considering the painful loss last night and the relative pressure of HOF weekend, spirits seemed high:

Man, have I missed those two goobers.

Félix would give up one more run, on a weird home run to...Bandy? JETT BANDY? Wow, I can’t believe that name escaped my notice before now. I have so many questions we don’t have time for (did they mean to write Jeff and forget the tails on the F’s?). Anyway, Bandy did his best Zunino impression and went digging way low in the strike zone to golf that shot out, because the Safeco Dinger Gods were not sated for the evening. And that was it. Félix made it all the way through eight innings, despite the Angels doing their best to put a hurting on the ball. His final out came on Kole Calhoun, who seems to always be at bat, who he had in a 0-2 count. The Court was screaming—K! K! K!—and you could tell he wanted to give it to them, wanted to make a good pitch, and instead sent a ball high before getting Calhoun to ground out. A strikeout is viscerally satisfying, a groundout less so, but they both put an out up on the board. It’s different. But that doesn’t mean it’s bad. Félix sure didn’t seem to think so:

Edwin Díaz came in to finish off the Angels and I’m not going to say too much about it here because it deserves its own recap, really. But, in short: Díaz is otherworldly. He sliced through the heart of the Angels lineup like a hot knife through butter.

In a lot of ways, this team isn’t the team we thought we’d have in April or May, which is in some ways painful and in some ways exhilirating. It’s a team that carries old wounds and fresh ones, and old heroes and ones that are just emerging. It is a team that still has a king, but no longer a king who is asked to do it all himself. The King is dead. The kings live.