[Ed. note: Please welcome Nick Tucker (@nicktuck3 on Twitter) to the LL staff! Nick will be helping us capture Mariners moments in the About Last Night series—he got a pretty good one to start with, eh? Nick is a lifelong fan and former contributor at Diamond Digest.-]
The “big hit” is one of the things that every fan is waiting for when they turn on a game. The anticipation of the big hit is a powder keg, whose eventual blast radius gets larger as the game gets longer, and as the calendar nears October. The big hit can come at any time. If you win a game 1-0, and your only run of the game was a solo homer in the third, then you got your big hit out of the way early without even knowing it. The big hit can be hit by anyone. The Mariners, just this year, have had plenty of unlikely heroes at the dish: Luis Torrens, Sam Haggerty, Carlos Santana, Abraham Toro, Sam Haggerty again, etc. Typically speaking, there is only one big hit per team, per game. The big hit is valued for its exclusivity in that regard. There are big hits, and then there’s the big hit. For example, Adam Frazier’s bases-clearing triple in the fourth inning was a big hit, but not the big hit.
All this to suggest that the big hit is a product of circumstance. The previous big hit usually gives way to the next, building off its predecessor to label itself a cut above that which came before. The factors can vary depending on who you ask, but usually there is little debate on what the big hit of a game is. It’s universal. When we see it, we know it, and we collectively latch onto the joy of it and gleefully ride it into the next game to start the cycle over again, perpetually unsatisfied with just one. We baseball fans are a greedy bunch.
So what happens when two teams, both in the middle of tight playoff races, get the big hit multiple times in the 9th inning of a late season rubber match of a weekend series?
Entering the 9th inning with a 6-2 lead, Diego Castillo didn’t need to be perfect to secure a Mariners win. The Braves, seemingly aware of this, did absolutely nothing to help Diego as he issued two straight walks before the Braves got the big hit.
Michael Harris’ second homerun of the day was a two-out, three-run rocket off the front of the Café that pulled the Braves within one. Mariners lead still intact, but definitely the big hit for the Braves to that point.
Castillo’s day unceremoniously done, the chad Scott Servais said “it is time for Sewald to pitch,” and so it was. However, two batters later, the existential dread that had been building in Mariners fans throughout the duration of the inning struck, and struck hard.
We were down 4 runs with 2 outs in the 9th. Update: pic.twitter.com/71QuuzsiP7— Atlanta Braves (@Braves) September 11, 2022
The big hit of the game. With two outs in the ninth inning, Robbie Grossman blew apart the Mariners lead, and confirmed all our existential fears to be true. A terrific start from Marco Gonzales effectively erased. A leadoff bomb from Julio now just a distant memory. All those years of watching better teams than the Mariners wondering “why can’t that be us?” has rudely reinserted itself into the front of our brains. We all watched dejectedly as the inning from hell finally ended, knowing a one run deficit, facing one of the league’s premier closers, may as well be a million.
With one out in the bottom of the ninth, Julio hit a 1-1 pitch so hard that his bat briefly became a defibrillator, granting that lucky baseball the opportunity to be the first of its kind to experience the joy of sentient existence for all of 3 seconds before it bashed into the hand operated scoreboard so hard that its light was instantly extinguished. Truly the work of a god-like being by Julio.
The big hit of the game. Simply all in day’s work if you were to ask Julio himself.
117 off the bat? Julio shrugged his shoulders. “Sometimes it just happens like that.” pic.twitter.com/MfAorLURKl— Adam Jude (@A_Jude) September 12, 2022
For us fans, we see this team in our own personal entireties. Depending on how long you’ve watched for, the unfortunate truth is that most of us have only seen this team in one form or another on the wrong end of the question “why can’t that be us?” Watching other teams celebrate their achievements and get their big hit is gratifying in some small way, but there is no reward in it for you. Maybe in the back of your mind, you were happy for those men in the unfriendly uniforms that they were able to climb their mountain, but you still wish that it didn’t have to be at your expense, and the expense of your Mariners. You always hoped someday, maybe soon, a Mariners team could make you ask the question “why can’t that be us?” because you genuinely thought with your heart of hearts, “that could be us. It should be us!”
Eugenio thought so too.
I think even Dave Sims didn’t quite believe what he was seeing at first. There’s a moment of hesitation after the ball goes flying off Geno’s bat before Dave collects himself to deliver the call, anxious at first as Acuña tracks the ball to the wall. But without Inspector Gadget around, he can’t bring this one back. The ball is in the Mariners bullpen. Geno pulls out his binoculars to look for it. Around him, 45,000 fans who all rose to their feet watching, waiting, have exploded. The dread is gone. That old familiar feeling is a forgotten relic and is relegated back to its bygone era. It has no place in our minds anymore. “Why can’t that be us? Pish posh. That is us.”
The dugout has emptied. Jubilant Mariners are crowding around home plate ready to embrace a hero. The man who delivered the big hit has a big hug on deck. He earned it, but not because he delivered a surprising walk-off, but because he did what he knew he was capable of, and what they knew he was capable of.
We’ve all seen this team’s magic this year, and while this may have been the most surprising win yet, maybe it shouldn’t have. After all, why can’t that be us?