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Mariners win as Seattle is reminded how beautiful baseball can be

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We miss you, Dave

Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

At some point in the middle of the wasteland that was the 2011 Mariners season, I was feeling really low. I mean, I was emotionally invested in a team that gave significant playing time to Trayvon Robinson, so it wasn’t weird to feel low. But this was lower than normal. As I sat at my computer one night around two in the morning, dully wondering how I was going to wake up at six, I found myself watching this for what must have been the fiftieth time.

As everyone piled on Ken Griffey Jr. as Dave Niehaus screamed in the background, I found myself crying. Maybe it was watching the unadulterated joy from the Mariners, or maybe it was the foreignness of winning as something that “just continues”, or maybe I just missed Dave. Whatever it was, whatever it is, I can’t watch that video to this day without at least tearing up.

I think about Dave a lot. It was his yell that could get me jumping on my bed at 10 PM, long after I was supposed to have gone to sleep. It was his calm narration that made losses not feel so bad.

This game wasn’t a must-win. It was against arguably the best team in the league. The Mariners came in with a 7.5 game lead over the Angels for a playoff spot. The division is, realistically, not likely to be within reach.

But it felt like a must-win. After last night’s game was so eminently winnable and turned so sour, we needed this to alleviate the sting. The Astros won easily, and even if the division probably isn’t within reach, it feels like it might be if the Mariners can just keep pace. And with James Paxton pitching, this was going to be the team’s best chance in the series.

When the game started with Jean Segura immediately committing an error and allowing Mookie Betts to reach first, there was a slight sense of Oh boy. Here we go. It felt like things might go downhill fast. James Paxton quickly quelled any of those doubts, striking out the side and ending with this obliteration of Mitch Moreland.

With no disrespect to Rick Rizzs, imagine a prime Dave Niehaus witnessing this season, and calling that strikeout. He might have lost his voice in the first inning.

The bottom of the inning saw Jean Segura do this to Rick Porcello, and all was right in the world. Jean had atoned for his error and the Mariners were well on their way to getting over the fluke that was last night. They would score two more in the second to make it 3-0 and solidify what felt like a firmly-in-hand win.

Of course, then baseball happened. In the third inning, the Mariners committed their second and third (and what should have been called their fourth) errors of the night. A grounder, thrown wide by Jean Segura. A fly ball, misread by Mitch Haniger. A broken bat blooper, whiffed by Kyle Seager. Suddenly it was a tie game with two runners on. Suddenly James Paxton broke, and Xander Bogaerts hit a three-run dinger. Suddenly, what had been a promising outing from James Paxton had turned to ash in our mouths.

For as amazing as the Mariners have been this year, I wouldn’t have blamed anyone for turning off the TV or the radio and going to do something else with their Friday night, especially after James Paxton was pulled for Chasen Bradford. Dave Niehaus himself probably would have been in quiet disbelief, only continuing to narrate because it was his job.

But, as has been their modus operandi all season, the Mariners kept fighting. It’s a narrative that’s so overplayed in sports, that of a team whose chemistry is so tightly woven that they refuse to give up on the game or on each other, and yet it’s the narrative that seems to apply to this team night after night.

First it was the fifth inning, when Dee Gordon, Jean Segura, and Mitch Haniger put together three straight singles and scraped one run together.

Then it was the seventh inning, when Mike Zunino went opposite field for a home run. Yes, Mike Zunino! Opposite field!

All while this was happening, it’s worth noting, Rob Whalen pitched the game of his damn life. Whalen threw four scoreless innings, without which the Mariners certainly never would have had a chance for what came next.

The eighth inning started out innocently enough. Kyle Seager managed to work a 2-2 count, but struck out. Up came Ryon Healy, the not-so-proud owner of 3.9% walk rate and a .289 on base percentage to match it. I don’t have the stats to back it up, but it seems like Ryon’s been trying to watch more pitches lately. He watched four balls in a row, and ended up on first before being pinch run for by Andrew Romine.

Next was Ben Gamel. It took me a long time to be sold on Gamel. After his scorching start to 2017, his bat cooled off considerably and remained cold to start this season. Gamel has come around over the past month, and for a couple of reasons, it’s a damn good thing he got the start tonight. The first reason is that he hit a sharp ground ball into left field for a single.

The second reason is that it meant Denard Span was available to pinch hit for Guillermo Heredia against a righty. It’s been so, so long since Safeco had a crowd of 44,500 people other than on Opening Day. It’s been even longer since the Mariners had that crowd living and dying with every pitch. The last time was probably when Dave Niehaus had everyone who wasn’t in the crowd living and dying with every pitch.

Denard saw a curveball down the middle for strike one. It wasn’t a bad take, but it looked like that pitch. Maybe it was the best he was going to see. Maybe by taking it, he’d already lost his chance. 0-1.

The next pitch was a fastball high and away, and Red Sox catcher Christian Vasquez let the ball get about 10 feet away from him. Romine thought about running to third, but thought better of it. 1-1.

Denard stepped out of the box and re-adjusted his batting gloves once. Then twice. Kicked his bat, as Dave Sims talked about how smart he was to slow the game down. He took a hack at a fastball on the outside corner and fouled it off. 1-2.

After another eternity of adjusting, another fastball came in high. It’s that kind of pitch that gets so many batters’ eyes to light up, only for the batter to chase. Denard held back. 2-2.

He stepped out. Kicked the bat again. Spat on the ground. Thought about what the next pitch was going to be. There had been three fastballs in a row. There probably wasn’t going to be a fourth.

He got almost the exact same curveball he’d seen earlier. He was ready.

Like that, the 35,000 of the crowd that were Mariners fans were screaming. The thousands more that were watching at home were up, screaming. An entire city, and countless others around the globe with whatever weird connections they have to this city: up, screaming. Somewhere, Dave Niehaus was in our ears, screaming.

Edwin Díaz did make it a bit scarier than it had to be. He issued a lead off single, and later walked Xander Bogaerts, but a strikeout and two pieces of weak contact sealed the deal.

23 years ago, Edgar hit a double that Dave Niehaus etched into our minds forever. It’s what everyone remembers 1995 by, because the Mariners didn’t make it any farther. I hope that most people don’t remember this Denard Span double in 23 years, because I hope this team makes dozens more memories.

For now, though, this double is everything I’ve ever needed out of Mariners fandom. I have no words of my own for these Mariners, so I have to defer to Dave.

I don’t believe it. It just continues. My oh my.