Less than three short years ago, on August 12, 2015, I was one of 25,661 fans standing and cheering as Hisashi Iwakuma took the field in the ninth inning, just three outs away from a magical no-hitter.
Now, Kuma wasn’t an ace. A very good pitcher, absolutely. A master at his craft, no doubt. But he didn’t overpower hitters; rather, he used his pitch mix to befuddle and bewitch opposing players. As a result, he needed some defensive help whenever he could get it.
And five pitches into the inning, he got that help.
Kyle Seager’s grab electrified the crowd. There was already a buzz going around the stadium, an excitement I’ve never seen before or since for a mid-August matinee that I’ve attended. When Kyle completed his meandering grab, everyone at Safeco that day realized we really had something special going on.
So perhaps that’s why the final out of the seventh inning of yesterday’s James Paxton gem, as Yogi Berra would say, felt like déjà vu all over again.
This was a hot corner maestro showing off his quick reflexes and making a helluva throw to nab Kevin Pillar, a fast player in his own right.
Every no-hitter needs a play like this, a great defensive play that gives life and turns a probable hit into a definite out. It felt right that Seager was around to deliver this one, just like he provided that key out in 2015.
And though the Hot Corner himself made a strong play, the other end of that play was equally important. Ryon Healy had a nice stretch to grab it, which made it his second good play of the inning:
But these plays weren’t the only nifty stops in the late innings — in the 8th, it was the outfield’s turn to flash the leather.
First, everyone’s favorite rock band groupie, Ben Gamel.
One of those fly balls that keeps carrying, keeps carrying, keeps carrying...and right as your heart is in your throat, Gamel eases up and makes the grab. In retrospect, Gamel had it all the way — but that doesn’t stop Dee Gordon from excitedly hitting his arm. And it doesn’t stop Pax from being OVER THE FREAKING MOON.
Right after that pitch, Dee showed that his speed does, in fact, play well in center field. It hasn’t been the perfect transition from second base thus far, but it’s worked well enough, and this showcased that nicely.
Again -- pretty? Maybe not. But certainly effective.
If you’re looking for pretty, then don’t worry, Dee had you covered back in the first:
All that brings me back to Kuma’s no-no back in 2015. At the time, I was an intern for the Mariners, and this was my final home game of the summer. After lunch, I went down to watch a couple innings of the game. Maybe after the third or so, we agreed we’d stay until Kuma allowed a hit.
And then, he never did.
That memory will be forever etched in my mind, as I’m sure yesterday’s game will be for any Mariners fan lucky enough to be at the Rogers Centre in Toronto. It’s a testament to a star pitcher performing at his absolute best, but also to his defense and how they saved his bacon, too.
How appropriate, then, that Kyle Seager, he of the annual slow starts, was the one to make the best play of each game. Seager is the homegrown boy made good. Sure, we will always have love for Robinson Canó no matter his pinstripe origin story, and Nelson Cruz is a Mariner through and through. King Félix will remain a beloved regal figure all the way through his (hopeful) induction into Cooperstown.
But just as the Mariners fly under the national radar, so too does Seager. Just as the Mariners find times to slump and trade fans’ optimism for pessimism, so too does Seager. Still: Kyle is a special player with special talent, and it takes magical moments like this, and like his play from 2015, to really appreciate him.
So thank you, Kyle, and thank you, Mariners defense. You helped the Big Maple reach immortality. You stood on guard for him.