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Mariners triumph over Astros through haze of nostalgia (and smoke - lots of smoke)

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“Um, this doesn’t really feel believable.” - Karen, while workshopping the story of this game

Houston Astros v Seattle Mariners Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

A smokey haze hung over Safeco Field, weighing down a team and its fans who were already filled with despair. The smoke coated their throats and lungs; it made their eyes water, and threatened to choke them, much like the team’s recent struggles fought to snuff out a once-promising season.

The smoke cast everything in a sepia hue, creating a nostalgic tone as once-great-now-aged star Félix Hernández took the mound. He wasn’t supposed to be there - his own incompetence had finally toppled him from his throne - but the smoke wasn’t supposed to be there either.

The former King wasn’t sharp, despite the encouragement of his Court, who sacrificed their own wellbeing to support him, but he battled through the adversity. In many games his four earned runs (on just five hits) would have suffocated Hernández’s outing, but he pushed through six innings and, though he wasn’t quite a breath of fresh air, he kept them competitive.

For 80 games the Mariners survived without Robinson Cano. Sometimes they triumphed, but rarely did it feel as though they thrived. Close games were their calling card, thanks to a bullpen that rarely quit, and the final out of a win often felt as though they were fleeing the scene of a crime. Canó’s return was much-hyped but, though he’d put up good numbers in his first week, he had yet to record an extra base hit or to truly have a “wow” moment. He took care of the first order of business during his first at-bat, doubling to right field and tying Willie Mays for 47th on the all-time doubles list. He did it again in the bottom of the sixth, this time tying Ken Griffey Jr. at 46th. Despite his best efforts, the game was tied going into the bottom of the eighth.

Maybe it was strategic - designed to light a fire under the team? Maybe the call appeared much more egregious from the dugout? Or maybe it was simply the build-up of pressure after a long weekend? Regardless of rationale, Scott Servais erupted in the midst of Dee Gordon’s at-bat, and was ejected and sent to cool down in the clubhouse. Play resumed. Gordon singled, Mitch Haniger walked, and then the once-absent Canó strolled up to the plate.

The ball carved through the haze, and suddenly it was easier to breathe. A three-run cushion offered stability, but still gave Edwin Díaz an opportunity to tie the Mariners’ season saves record. Where there’s smoke there’s fire, and the team’s young flamethrower recorded his 100th career save while staking his claim on the franchise record books.

The smoke still lingers in the air, but now it feels lighter. Blue skies are on the horizon.

***

If this game had appeared in a movie, or as some other fictionalized narrative, it would have been reviled for its heavy-handed symbolism and imagery. A returning hero coming up big in a late moment? A once-beloved figure getting a second (238th) chance to help his team, while cast in a nostalgia-inducing sepia haze? It all just seems to line up too perfectly, but that’s part of why we love sports, right? They’re our modern-day Greek dramas, setting the stage for heroics we’d be scoffed at for imagining.

Tonight, in a post-apocalyptic setting, the Mariners played a game even better than fiction.