It was the summer of ‘04. I’m in the eighth grade and playing the last of Little League before trying out for varsity baseball. I was going through probably the worst hitting slump in my life, with zero clue how to fix it. I went to the batting cages after games, tried becoming more aggressive with my approach at the plate, but nothing was working. So like any other sensible baseball player, I concluded the only way to break out of my funk was to shake up my pre-game ritual. I needed momentum back.
There are some sportswriters who don’t think momentum is a real thing. We’ve all heard baseball broadcasters say something along the lines of. “Isn’t that amazing? Cameron just made that incredible play and, sure enough, here he is leading off the next inning with a base hit.” From Nomar Garciaparra's batting glove taps, to Ichiro treating his tamo wood practice bats like a chef treats his knives: you fuck with a baseball player’s good vibes, you fuck with their momentum. Here’s Nomar, with his infamous routine:
And how I got my “momentum” was to make sure I got the same pre-game breakfast before every game. A Sausage McGriddle with a small orange juice. Nothing more, nothing less. We had a McDonald’s down the street from my house in Hawaii and my mother had no problem swinging by the drive-thru before my games to get me that $1 breakfast sandwich featuring those soft, warm griddle cakes — with the taste of sweet maple syrup — holding that savory, sizzling hot sausage.
Matt Brash’s outing wasn’t necessarily a juicy hot sizzling McGriddle: six walks and a hit batter in 5.1 innings. Brash couldn’t find the strike zone pretty much the whole game. His stuff looked to match his hype, including a couple of strikeouts off his signature sliders:
But his pre-game breakfast looked like it consisted of dry scooping pre-workout with a couple of hype self-face slapping. Brash started the first 3 innings with a leadoff walk. And each time I looked over at Mikey sitting on my couch with the “this is about to be a bad inning” look. But each time the Astros started to build any momentum, the Mariners responded with baseball’s biggest momentum killer — the double play.
He had a strike ‘em out, throw ‘em out in the first inning:
A ground ball double play in the second:
Another ground ball double play in the third:
And then another ground ball double play in the fourth:
Brash had the sweet griddle fortune of getting double plays in his first four innings. Did he deserve to walk back to the dugout after the first half of the fourth, having given up zero runs? Probably not. Was the fact that he still hadn’t given up a hit yet a little skewed due to the lack of hittable pitches thrown? Probably a little.
Here’s a pitch chart from Brash’s outing:
My mom was shocked when I stopped her mid-order and told her that there was no McGriddle today. It’s probably been 3 straight years up to that point — 5 All-Star teams, 2 batting titles, illegal letters from high school coaches — McGriddle’s before every game. But it was time for a change. So without thinking through what my new “good juju” pre-game meal would be, I rushed a Big Mac order with a Sprite and welcomed the change.
I was convinced my pre-game breakfast change should’ve given me my momentum back. But six innings in, I was still hitless with one at-bat left, and at that moment, I wasn’t really focused on that. I was focused more on the bubbling coming from my gut. Oh shit. I realized the slump-breaking Big Mac I had that morning wasn’t settling in my stomach too well. And no matter how much I tried to ignore the feeling, I knew what was coming without any invitation. A massive mudslide out of my butt.
I begged my coach to let me run to the bathroom, but I was on deck and we were out of pinch hitters. So I sucked it up (pun intended) and got up to bat. My strategy was to swing like I didn’t give a shit (no pun intended) and you can guess what happened next—I swung at the first pitch and smacked a ball in the right-center gap. Fuck. With zero expectations and without thinking, I suddenly found myself on second with zero outs and I had to take a giant shit.
Not caring about the results of your at-bat because all the pressure has gone to your sphincter is pretty much like having a new six-run lead heading into the fifth. The momentum had now fully shifted with the help of a couple of RBI singles and a Ty France three-run dinger:
Following the rush of run support in the fourth, Matt Brash entered the fifth with the pressure lifted and threw easily his best inning of the night, with two strikeouts and zero hits on 13 pitches. The command issues didn’t completely subside, but he kept it together enough to get through five complete innings at 85 pitches.
The Mariners have a lot of pressure this year: the longest active playoff drought, a lineup featuring MLB’s top-ranked prospects, T-Mobile opening up a Marination Station (!!!). And the new young faces of the org are clearly feeling their sphincters clench. Julio and Jarred are a combined 9 for 61 to start the season — with Kelenic telling Ryan Divish that he was “thinking too much” — and the argument that Jesse Winker is more than a glorified platoon hitter is off to a rocky start. But the Mariners' fifth inning was a glimpse of what their fans have been waiting 20 years for – a true contender. If the M’s can score 18 runs over a three-game series against the ‘Stros (including a Verlander eight-inning shutout) I think they’re in good shape — especially if they can do it without Haniger (out, COVID IL), arguably their best hitter, with Winker going 0’fer.
I had a realization as I stood on second with cold sweat dripping down my face. I broke my slump by caring a lot less about the slump I was in. I had zero expectations. It was straight old school see the ball, hit the ball. It took me a bad breakfast Big Mac to figure that out, but it led me to have the best year of baseball of my life and make the varsity team my freshman year. If our rookies can learn how to also not give a shit and to just go out there and play the game they love, I believe Seattle is in store for the best year of baseball we’ve had in a long, long time.