It couldn’t be so easy. A script so simplistic as Julio Rodríguez launching the go-ahead homer in the bottom of the 8th off infamous sticky stuff enthusiast James Karinchak would have been poetry in motion, just innings after the 21-year-old wunderkind had had his possibly-career-long contract extension announced midgame ahead of a plate appearance. The tension was palpable from home, with a sellout crowd revving JU-LI-O on. Alas, Karinchak scampered up the ladder like a rat off a sinking ship, sending the Seattle Mariners back on the defensive without a lead for at least two more frames. But tonight could not be wrested from them, a day of celebration that carried late into the night with the Mariners declaring Julio their new Caesar, refusing to send 44k+ home without 24 hours of unblemished glory.
A pitchers’ duel set it off, with Shane Bieber stonewalling Seattle for the majority of the night, faltering only twice in the absolute minute. J.P. Crawford and Adam Frazier each contributed sacrifice flies in the 5th and 7th respectively, knotting and re-knotting the score each time after Steven Kwan and Josh Naylor made similar commitments of themselves by air in the service of runs. 2-2 it remained, despite opportunities aplenty. Seattle was the beneficiary of a bit of regression from a Cleveland lineup riding a wave of good fortune to their solid lines, as their eight hits came to merely to two runs off M’s starter Logan Gilbert in 6.1 IP despite just a pair of strikeouts. Gilbert’s throwback performance was, I’ll go on a limb to claim, better than the numbers, as he overpowered an average-but-pesky Cleveland lineup. We’ve often maligned Gilbert’s overreliance on his four-seamer, which is not quite the caliber of pitch to be relied upon as he does, but he determinedly pumped in changeups at a healthy clip as well, earning four of his five whiffs on the cambio. The defense picked him up reasonably, and the bullpen even more so, with Matt Brash taking his first high-leverage turn as a member of Los Bomberos and quenching what seemed a devastating conflagration due to Bieber’s brilliance and the prominence of Cleveland’s bullpen, holding a first-and-third, one out situation scoreless.
Tonight was flush with moments that could’ve been dynamic. Steven Kwan barreling heedlessly into the left field stands to snag a no-out, two-on pop-up from Cal Raleigh. Dylan Moore laying out to snag an Andrés Gimenez line drive only to see it pop out from his glove as he tumbled, resulting in a double. Diego Castillo springing off the mound with astounding flourish to secure an out on a softly struck chopper and keep an inning out of the danger zone. D-Mo later in the same inning as his dramatic near-Top-10 play snagging a ball at full sprint with one out to keep Gimenez at third following the ejection of Jesse Winker on a strike called (albeit after several more suspect ones) and injury of Sam Haggerty on a bunt. In truth, however, all that mattered was one man, at the end, their champion now as he has been for years.
Without Kyle Seager, this team has two players who remember Ichiro Suzuki not merely as one of the greatest hitters in the history of the sport and one of their franchise’s greatest stars, but as a teammate. Marco Gonzales pitched yesterday, offering a one-run gem as tribute to his former outfielder. Mitch Haniger, however, was right alongside Ichiro for all 15 of Suzuki’s final starts across 2018-19. He saw the shadow of the legend, still vital and worthy of celebration even as his skills faded at last out of the realm of demonstration and into the realm of tales and reminiscence. He did the honors. He brought his team back once more. 3-2, final. Deadgar and Lollablueza and and and... we’ve been primed for disaster, but tonight Seattle stared down their past and chose the best of it. They took on the best their opponent could throw, facing one of the best starters of the past few seasons and one of the league’s best relievers in Emmanuel Clase. They head to bed winners. We do not have days like today in sports fandom often, do not deny yourself the joy.