When Ken Griffey Jr. was inducted into the Mariners' Hall of Fame in 2013, Griffey gave a heartwarming speech in front of a packed house, including Randy Johnson, Dan Wilson, Jay Buhner, and others. I was at the game, and cried openly as the hero of my youth was recognized for his achievements. He looked at the team assembled in the dugout, seeing Dustin Ackley and Justin Smoak and Brad Miller and Nick Franklin, and told them to trust their coaches, trust the organization, and keep working. The crowd loved it, and we had some reason to believe still, that the youth movement would develop. The mood of the crowd was high.
The Mariners let us down that night. Hisashi Iwakuma, wonderful soul that he is, allowed six runs on nine hits in, somehow, 6.2 innings. Tom Gorzelanny befuddled the Mariners over seven innings and brought us all sadness as the Mariners lost 10-0. It was an extraordinary disappointment that I feared would befall us again tonight. But who was it we were watching?
The Same Old M's™️?
Taijuan Walker did not inspire confidence. He gave up hits and allowed walks and struck out a subpar zero Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Perhaps even more frustratingly, he did all of this with great haste, seeming determined to quash the hopes of the sold out crowd at Safeco.
This time, however, Griffey had planned ahead, and he had a man on the inside.
It would be irresponsible to credit Edgar Martinez with all of the steps forward made by the Mariners offense this year. Mike Zunino was bound to improve at least a little bit. Jerry Dipoto acquired several players who were clear upgrades over their predecessors. Robinson Cano was not playing with two hernias. The baseballs might be a bit juicy. I believe, however, that it was Edgar, at least tonight.
It had to be Edgar, whispering in Guillerrmo Heredia's ear, easing his mind before he demolished a Tyler Skaggs fastball into the seats for his first career home run. Edgar, too, was likely to credit for the preparation of Franklin Gutierrez, who relocated another fastball from Skaggs beyond the fence in left-center. Perhaps it was even Edgar who gave the M's the tools to put two runners on in four different innings, yet these students seemed destined to fail their teacher, as well as The Kid, and for a moment it seemed Griffey had overestimated the power of his surrogate.
But then Skaggs was gone, and instead Jose Valdez entered the game, a right-handed pitcher whose red shirt foretold his minimal importance to the narrative of this night. Shawn O'Malley took a moment after Valdez put a first pitch strike by him. He stepped up to the plate with an 0-1 count and 2 outs and 47,116 eyes surrounding him with a sense of failure slowly drifting down from the retractable roof.
Most people possessing doctorates or wearing lab coats would tell you that "possession" is a pseudoscience with no basis in reality. I would like to offer the following clip as the first irrefutable evidence of a spirit possessing another human being, because the beautiful lefty swing O'Malley unleashed was so sweet and true, it could not have belonged solely to the Kennewick, WA kid.
It cannot be overstated how much the Mariners' bullpen battled tonight. Cody Martin, who is boldly approaching MLB rosters armed with an arsenal of pitches that would make many Division III aces jealous, quieted the Angels bats for nearly three innings. Drew Storen politely walked Mike Trout as any sane person would after his first couple at-bats, then retired Albert Pujols (whose body was, strangely, embodied by the spirit of Kobe Bryant for the evening) to end a threat. Tom Wilhelmsen led the unprepared Angels to the mouth of the dragon's lair, and Edwin Diaz incinerated them with little incident, other than reducing his K/9 to a miserly 17.38.
But tonight was about The Kid, and about the man that made 2001 possible, and made 2004-2016 happen here, at least, and not Tampa. Most remarkably, the Mariners, these Mariners, after so many inconsiderate weekends, and "playoff atmospheres," and "turning points," refused to lose.