Editor’s Note: The Mariners had quite a decade. Three winning seasons to seven losing ones. Three Mariners no-hitters, including a perfect game, and a combined no-no. Countless disappointments, franchise icons coming and going, number retirements, Hall of Fame firsts, restocking the farm for the next decade, and everything in between. We’ll be recounting some of our staff’s favorite moments of the 2010s before the end of year. They won’t all be positive, but they won’t all be sad, either. We aim to tell the whole story here, as much as we’re able. Won’t you join us for a stroll down (recent) memory lane?
At the outset, the 2016 season had all the markings of a potentially charmed season. A new GM, a new manager, expensive free agents thriving together, and a wild card, mostly unknown slugger from South Korea named Dae-Ho Lee.
I’ve written about Dae-Ho at length here and other places. He is my favorite single-season Mariner, without a doubt. In 2017, I wrote about his walk-off home run as “the moment the tall-tale took flight” and I feel like that statement has only become more true with time. It was so fleeting and so perfect that it has an ephemeral, mythic status in my memory already. There is a sepia-toned, Ken Burns documentary quality to it, even though it was only 3 seasons ago (which feels like a lifetime ago to me).
Dae-Ho Lee in 2016 personified “this guy shouldn’t be here doing what he’s doing right now” and yet there he was, in all his dinger-swatting, full-bodied glory, having himself a fine MLB season for a team that stayed mathematically alive until game 161. He lived out one of his dreams for a season, conquered a life goal, and then returned home. Hard to ask for more out of life than that.
The game on April 13, 2016, was tied 2-2 in the bottom of the 10th, but it may as well have been over in the minds of many fans. The Mariners were at risk of ending the opening homestand with back-to-back sweeps at the hands of the A’s and the Rangers. Jake Diekman and the Rangers were indeed one pitch away from getting another chance at the plate to seal the deal. Those who had stuck around for the entire chilly April day game were probably questioning whether or not to shuffle off back to their lives, but had chosen to stay and witness a pinch-hit at-bat by the tantalizing question mark on the roster, Dae-Ho Lee.
Diekman gave Lee nothing but high 90’s sinkers. Lee watched the first one land for a called strike. The second pitch was in that high, above-the-zone, I-dare-you spot that many sluggers find so hard to lay off of. Lee managed to foul it off. Two strikes. Maybe Diekman saw the risk in throwing the same pitch in nearly the same location again, but figured, hey he’s a rookie, I’m way ahead here, what’s the worst that could happen?
One step-in-the-bucket leg kick with hands-moving-faster-than-god swing later and a fleeting moment of immortality is born.
It’s everything I love about baseball in one moment. It’s snatching victory out of the jaws of sure defeat, when all seems lost. It’s Dave Sims relishing in hollering, “Dae-Ho Leeeee, babyyyyy!!!” It’s Lee’s countrymen losing their ever-living minds on the Korean broadcast of the game. It’s a person doing something unbelievable, against type, in a place no one thought he’d ever be. Except maybe Dae-Ho. Maybe he’d seen it in a dream.