Let’s say you’re in hell. Who knows how you got there.
In hell, most people are isolated. They spend eternity as solitary individuals, never relating to another person. Never opening themselves up, never being opened up to. Alienation, not pain, is the punishment.
There’s one guy in particular who catches your eye. He’s down in a massive canyon, all alone. You observe him for a few hours. He seems to be focused on a simple task. There’s a boulder down in the valley with him, and he’s trying to roll it up and out. But he sucks. You watch him try for what feels like a lifetime, and he never makes any progress.
Eighteen innings is too much baseball. Doubleheaders are hard enough on a team, and they at least get a break in the middle. Tonight the Mariners and the Astros played eighteen straight innings, scoreless until the end. How did we get there?
Well, pitching, obviously. Both starters were nails tonight. Lance McCullers Jr. enjoyed tearing through the Mariners lineup for 6 innings, striking out 7 while allowing just two hits and two walks. He was good. Good for him.
George Kirby’s day was different. He went 7 innings, and only racked up five K’s while allowing 6 hits. But, crucially, he got out of what he got himself into.
The Kirb became just the second pitcher in Mariners history to pitch at least seven scoreless innings in the postseason. Joining, of course, Luis Castillo who pitched 7.1 scoreless back in the first Wild Card game in Toronto. As will become a theme, there is so much to be excited about for the Mariners’ future.
This dude cannot push a boulder to save his life. Finally, after 18 straight painful (and hilarious) failures, he starts mounting a serious push right when it all seems lost. He makes a spectacular showing and gets over a particularly steep section. And then promptly loses his footing and falls. The boulder rolls over him on the way down. It doesn’t matter. You can’t die in hell.
Still, he gets right back up, and keeps pushing. But then, he as a revelation. He moves to a different part of the hill, thinking that to be the solution he needs.
Recapping a game is a tall order. Recapping 18 innings of a game is very difficult. When the bullpens took over, neither team was willing to give an inch. And here I was so tense and drained that I can barely remember specifics of what happened. So here’s the vibe.
The Mariners got the winning run on base 6 times against the Astros. Every single time, the baseball gods conspired to take it away.
Like in the bottom of the 12th for example, the Astros turned a 3-6-3 double play, notoriously the most difficult kind.
Or in the bottom of the ninth, where with runners on first and second, Carlos Santana ended a 9-pitch at-bat by swinging over a curveball 300 feet below the zone.
Or in the 12th and 13th, where Hunter Brown, who MLB.com tells me is 23, but looks 16, embarrassed the M’s by staying off barrels and inducing weak contact.
When Luis Garcia, a starter, came in to start the 14th, it really felt like a brand new game. Suddenly, with a starter on the mound, the M’s had to contend with a Serious Dude. It didn’t go well.
By now, others have joined you. They just have to know why you’re so enthralled with Bad Boulder Rolling Man. After watching a few of his attempts though, they start to get it.
It’s not because of his skill at pushing a boulder. He’s bad, terrible. He’s only sniffed real success a handful of times.
It’s his spirit. It’s that he keeps trying. Over and over and over and over and over, never yielding and never succeeding.
Perseverance is enthralling and intoxicating.
The M’s offense couldn’t get anything going. The box score can tell you that. So what about the pitching and defense? Well, just like every other game this season, except for one pitch, it was stellar. It takes a very, very special staff to force the Astros to make 51 consecutive outs without scoring a run.
It takes an exceptional staff to keep Jose Altuve and Yordan Alvarez to a combined 0-15. Let it be known across the world that the Mariners gave nearly as good as they got in terms of pitching.
In terms of defense? The Astros were certainly outclassed. For example, I present to you what should be one of the most iconic catches of the decade:
If the Mariners had won this game, this catch would be taught in schools for all time. Instead, it will likely be forgotten except as part of Julio’s future endless highlight reel.
So yeah, the M’s were good at limited runs and getting out of jams. You knew that. It was a scoreless game for 17 innings.
What encourages me the most about this game and this season is how solid the foundations are. Almost all of Seattle’s core is locked up for the next five years. These are the Mariners of the 2020s. And even though they got swept by the Astros, every single one of these games came down to the very last pitch. And remember, they ended the drought this year. Who knows what’s in store for 2023.
Although it may not feel like it, the Mariners have just put the rest of the baseball world on notice.
As for 2023? Well, I’ll let Jay Buhner answer that.
Now there are thousands of you. Perched on a cliff overlooking the valley, with bated breath to see if this time is The Time. In unison, you cheer for his successes, and groan for his defeats. Of course, he’s taken notice. Now you’re certain that he pushes not just for himself, but for you as well.
You take a step back and observe your surroundings. You’re still in hell, that much is obvious. But now you don’t mind so much. Sure the terrain is monochromatic and the temperature is high, but it could be worse. At least it’s a dry heat.
You realize, though, that you’ve beaten hell. The point was to alienate you, to isolate you for eternity. To be lost as a loner in one’s own mind is the worst possible fate.
But now you aren’t alone. You are among thousands, a whole community. And together, you can find the sublime joy of belonging.
The man prepares to push the boulder yet again, and you hold your breath. Waiting.