10/3/21 - 11:00am
Going into Saturday’s game, fans knew the Mariners were in quite the predicament. With the east coast games wrapped up and tied with a bow for Toronto and Boston, it was clear that a win was absolutely necessary. Game 162 would mean nothing if they lost. With a win, they could live to see another day. Although over forty-four thousand were on hand again, tonight’s crowd was a little less ecstatic from the get-go like they had been for Friday’s game. Everyone was aware that the Ms chances diminished significantly after Friday’s loss combined with the Red Sox and Blue Jays big wins earlier in the day. Unbeknownst to everyone in the park, it was a good thing they were rationing their energy - they were going to need it.
Flexen, the Mariners most reliable starter, took the mound and was as effective as he’s been all season. An early RBI double by Haniger after France doubled to get in scoring position gave Seattle a 1-0 lead. Going scoreless through four, the Angels nicked Flexen for a run as Rojas drove a ball into the right field seats. Mariners fans wanted none of it, and threw the ball back.
No one needed to worry though. Another Ty France-Mitch Haniger combo was due in the order. A second double from France set the stage for Haniger to drive in another run. But why not make it two? Haniger lifted a pitch off Angels starter Diaz into the bullpens out in left center. With a comfortable 3-1 lead, all the Mariners needed was for the bullpen to do what they do best.
When Paul Sewald came in for the 8th, everyone figured he would shut the Angels down. He’s been lights out, and after seeing him strike out Ohtani the night before he seemed rather unstoppable. But nothing is a guarantee, and certainly not in the game of baseball. After losing the first two batters to walks and only one out on the board, the security of a two run lead that fans were riding since the fifth was replaced by a state of catatonia. In an instant the Angels took the lead as Sewald gave up a no-doubter to right field, making the score 4-3. Fans were speechless - grabbing their skulls thinking hands could contain their head if it exploded due to shock. Feeling stuck in a nightmarish rerun, the subsequent two strikeouts seemed mute.
Then the home 8th. The things backyard baseball dreams are made of. The Mariners managed to get themselves into a bases loaded, two out, 3-2 count situation with none other than Mitch Haniger at the plate. How did they get there? Kelenic took one for the team and Bauers drew a walk to get runners on first and second. With nobody out, a sac bunt was called into action. Not only was that the correct managerial decision, it was actually executed perfectly. Hats off to Fraley’s bunting abilities, as there are many who are baffled when a major league athlete who gets paid millions of dollars cannot lay down a bunt. The Angels countered by putting Crawford on, hoping they could induce a double play. Ty France, due up, had hit into two double plays in the previous night’s contest. With a grounder not making it off the infield grass, Mayfield threw the ball home to prevent the game-tying run. Called out, the fans could not believe it. Seattle wanted another look. But as it was a simple force out, the call stood. Down to the last out of the 8th, all loyal fans braced themselves for another unbearable end to an inning. Walking up to the plate was Mitch Haniger. Already three RBIs on the night, there are two ways to look at it: He’s gotten his statistical allotment of run productivity and is due for an out, or he’s red hot and could get hotter. Bases loaded, two outs, 3-2 count, down by a run. White knuckled fans waited, watched, not sitting on the edge of their seats but standing. Then the stadium went absolutely wild. Mitch took a pitch at the bottom of the zone and ripped it between short and third. Bauers scored, followed quickly by Crawfod and just like that, the Mariners were back on top. White knuckles turned to high five strangers in nearby seats, standing turned to jumping, and faces grinned with relief. Another bloop hit to center from Seager secured an additional run, making it 6-4 by inning’s end. In a matter of 15 minutes fans went from sudden-onset depression to absolute joy.
Even after such a miraculous comeback inning, everyone was still weary to trust a two run lead (clearly it was not enough earlier in the game). Three outs were all that was needed to stay alive in this strange, down-to-the-wire wild card chase. Steckenrider, who Seattle has used as their closer the last few days, stepped out of the bullpen gate to finish the game. No dramatic entrance, no theme song, no nothing for the elected closer. A fly out to right, and a line out to left put the Angels down to their last out. Fletcher, one of the best Angels hitters, beat Steckenrider and lined to left with what would have been a single, but a diving Fraley granted an extra base. With the tie run at the plate and a looming Ohtani on deck, Steckenrider had no other choice but to get Marsh out. On a 1-1 pitch, Marsh lined the ball into play and it went straight to Toro at second for the final out. The Moose came out onto the field with his Believe flag, the lights flashed, and Hendrix blared from the speakers. The crowd roared as hugs and high fives signified the sheer relief throughout the stadium. It was one whirlwind of a game. Heartstopping and heart-pounding all at once. Haniger deserves something for his five RBIs in such a critical game. His teammates better be thanking him as he operated as life-support for the entire team.
So what happens now? In the final game of the season, each team - The Mariners, Yankees, Red Sox, and Blue Jays - still have a chance. A spreadsheet of potential win-loss combinations between these four teams shows how incredibly absurd the wild card chase will be on the final day of baseball. Does anyone want to send some gift baskets to the Nationals or Rays? It’s clear these Mariners haven’t given up hope. Like they’ve been able to do all season, they bounced right back from terrible loss and took care of business. With so much out of their control, they can only keep their head focused on their own game and sit on their hands to see how the rest plays out.