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MLB: Los Angeles Angels at Seattle Mariners Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

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If it all goes right

Baseball’s so cool

There are two things that I really like about baseball.

The first is hard to put into words. It’s the something special that happens very occasionally during a game. For the majority of the three and a half hours of a baseball game, nothing happens and most people on the field are standing still.

But once in a while the fates will say “now,” and the something will happen. Maybe the batter will slap a ball into the hole between short and third, scoring two runs and giving his team the lead in the eighth inning. Or maybe a pitcher dots the inside corner with a beautiful breaking ball to secure a perfect game.

Baseball is a sport of tension and release. The tension builds up over innings, hours, games, months, and seasons.

The moments of release are shorter. They are brief instants of pure emotion and passion. Jubilation or despair, baseball is the best at inciting intensity.

Nowhere is that more true than in Seattle, and if I had to choose one word to describe the 2022 season, it would be “tension.” Everyone who follows the Mariners knew the potential that they had to cause some real trouble in 2022. Julio coming up was obviously a factor, and everyone kinda realized that the M’s had serious potential in their bats, even if that potential didn’t always translate into hits and runs. The expanded playoff format meant that if the M’s could reproduce the magical times of Chaos Ball throughout an entire season, they were almost certain to break the drought.

It didn’t always look like they would.

Some days they went out there and just got clobbered. The M’s got no-hit in a 5-1 loss in Detroit in August (back-to-back-to-back errors scored that run, thanks Tigers). They lost six games by double-digit runs. Sometimes, the M’s just laid down and started thinking about the next game.

But not all the time.

Nearly every other game was a one or two run game. The Mariners consistently played up or down to the level of their competition. And while that may not always be a winning baseball strategy, it certainly was exciting. I remember staying up late into the night one Monday in May to watch Toro drive Julio in from second in the bottom of the 11th. I had taken over the study lounge, and I swear my cheering must have woken up my roommate across the hall.

Of course, that night was cancelled out a week later by Kelenic stranding the bases loaded, down by one, by striking out on a killer slider. For his part, Jarred never let stuff like that get to him anymore. Eugenio’s philosophy of “good vibes only” must have reached JK too, as he learned and adjusted. Next time Kelenic saw that slider he sat back on it and ripped it for a triple down the first base line.

In 2022, the Seattle Mariners found a way to make every at-bat, every pitch meaningful and stressful, and they did so by simply playing solid, fundamental baseball. This may be the era of three true outcomes, but the M’s didn’t seem to notice. The lineup was built around two speedy guys, followed by a power guy to drive ‘em in, and it worked. J.P. and Julio racked up killer OBPs, and with guys like Toro, France, and Kelenic batting behind them, the speedsters were typically able to take an early lead. Toro, in a surprising turn, became an exclusively lefty hitter, and started hammering doubles into the gap, hitting line drives like his life depended on it. He still ran funny, though.

By the time September rolled around, it was pretty clear that the M’s were likely going to make the Wild Card. Through the last two weeks of the season, though, they kind of imploded. Two of those 10-run losses came with fewer than 10 games left.

But it didn’t matter. Thanks to the new format, the Mariners snuck into the third Wild Card spot by two games. They handily won in the first round, beating the White Sox in two games to go to the ALDS, where they faced another team that snuck in on the Wild Card: the New York Yankees.

The second thing I like about baseball is the community. I am thousands of miles away from T-Mobile Park. The closest the Mariners typically get to me is 200 miles. If I wanna talk about Mariners baseball in person, my best bet is annoying my girlfriend or else being the weird guy on the bus.

When the Mariners made the postseason, I was just about ready to burst. I can only inflict so much baseball chatter on my friends, who have no reason to care about the Mariners - my forcing them to watch the Dorktown doc notwithstanding. So, of course, I turned here, to the next best place to chat about Mariners baseball. We were all electrified. The drought had been old enough to buy a beer, and then it just ended. It was felled by the most magical and weird collection of baseball players Seattle had seen in a long time.

Hanging out in the comments after the Wild Card series was fun, but it could not match the level of intensity of the ALDS game threads. It had been so long since the Mariners had come this far, and for them to be facing the Yankees...well, to everyone, it just felt like fate.

Two things bring communities together: Triumph and despair.

In the beginning of the ALDS, the Mariners had plenty of the latter. Dropping the first two games to the Yankees sucked, and Game 2 wasn’t even close, a 14-5 blowout in New York. And while there were folks proclaiming the end of days in the comments and threads, it was hard for most of us to give up.

That faith was rewarded by Haniger and France going back-to-back in Game 3 to walk it off in the 9th, and then again when the M’s batted around in the 7th inning of Game 4, scoring seven runs. Paul Sewald put the finishing touches on that one to send the ALDS to Game 5 for all the marbles.

I wanted to be there. I wanted to be there so badly. Watching the last two games in my living room, I could feel the electricity and excitement of the crowd through the airwaves. I was desperate to join in. So I did the next best thing.

I dragged some of my friends to a sports bar downtown, and had them show the game on one of the TVs behind the bar. I just had to watch it somewhere. At first it was just the four of us watching. But as I got my friends excited, and we became somewhat annoying, other folks started to look over at the TV.

And that’s when something magical happened. Other people, Texans who had never spent a single brain cell ever thinking about the Mariners, recognized the specialness of the event happening up in Seattle. And then, they started cheering. People sitting around the corner who couldn’t see our TV asked the owner to put it on their screen. Slowly, a random sports bar in Austin took on the atmosphere of T-Mobile Park.

As the game stretched on into extras, you could feel the tension in every pitch. Every ball Sewald threw, every swing and miss by Kelenic, caused winces throughout the bar. Particularly stressful was a Toro AB in the 11th that went on for fourteen (!) pitches. Yeah, he popped out in the end, but it forced New York to trot out the very, very back of their bullpen for the 13th.

I will never know what it’s like to be Julio Rodríguez, to have the pressure of an entire fanbase on his shoulders at such a young age. He stepped into the box with two outs in a tie game in a winner-take-all situation. He must have wanted that AB to be over quickly, because he ripped a first pitch fastball into the gap for a two out double.

After that, I knew it was over. Batting behind Julio was Toro, who did his job to work the count full. Julio took off as the pitcher went into the stretch. It was a changeup that missed too high. And Toro, with everything he had, sent it down the first base line. He was celebrating the win before he even got to first.

Yeah, the M’s lost the ALCS to the Blue Jays, but who cares. That instant, with Julio sliding in to score the winning run, with JK dumping Gatorade on Toro, with M’s fans threatening to cause an earthquake with their cheering, with me and my new compatriots causing a noise disturbance, that moment was, and shall always be, perfect.

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