Wednesday July 27, 2022
Mariners Beat the Heat, Rangers
For the first time in a long time, I showed up at the park early just to hang out.
At first I thought the magic was back. And then I thought, OK, maybe not. Then it was. Or was it? Umps? Guys? Pause... Pause...
That was the roller-coaster ride at last night's Mariners game, played in the 90-degree heat against Texas.
Reminder: Before the All-Star break, the Mariners, my Seattle Mariners, the only franchise in baseball without a pennant and the professional sports team that has the longest active postseason drought (21 years of fun), had been on a roll, winning 14 in a row and 22 of 25. We'd swept Toronto, we'd swept San Diego. We couldn't be contained.
And then our young, fun superstar, Julio Rodriguez, center field, #44, showed up on the national stage for the Homerun Derby and blew everyone away. He didn't win—he lost in the final round to Juan Soto—but he hit more homeruns than anyone; and he lit up the stage. Everyone was like, “Who's this guy? And where can we get some of that.”
And when we returned from the All-Star break, for a weekend series against the Houston Astros, we didn't have any of that. Julio was out. Wrist soreness. From the game last Sunday and probably exacerbated by all those HR swings. And we got swept by the 'Stros: 5-2, 3-1, 8-5.
On Monday, Texas rolled into town and we eked out a victory against them. But no sign of Julio.
Until last night when my friend Jeff and I went to the game. Julio was leading off.
I expected not much. There's talk that the Homerun Derby ruins guys for the second half, it messes with their swing, and besides he'd just missed four games. Well, really, almost 7-8 games. He played a week ago Sunday, did the HR Derby Monday, played a few innings on Tuesday's All-Star Game, and that was it until last night. He'd been out a week. So I assumed rusty.
And in that first at-bat in the bottom of the 1st, he looked rusty. Texas pitcher Dane Dunning got two quick strikes on him, and Julio just seemed off. He worked the count to 2-2, fouled off a pitch, and then rocketed a linedrive homerun into the left-field seats. The magic was back.
The rest of the inning was near magic. With two outs, we drew two walks, the Texas mucky-mucks closed in around Dunning, probably telling him to challenge us, and the Mariners rose to the challenge. Kyle Lewis, our frequently injured 2020 Rookie of the Year, also finally back in the lineup, rocketed a single to left for a run. Then team leader J.P. Crawford rocketed a single to right, but he rocketed it too much and Jesse Winker couldn't score from second. And we left the bases loaded. But we were up 2-0.
And that's how it stayed for six innings. And some part of me kept thinking, “We really should've scored more in the 1st when we had the chance.”
In the 8th it was 3-1, and the game kind of seemed over. We had Paul Sewald on the mound, our kinda closer, who got two quick outs. Then he walked two guys. “Sewald never does good when I'm here,” I warned Jeff. Which is when Adolis Garcia dribbled a ball just inside the bag at 1st and down the right-field line for a WTF 2-run double.
And they weren't done. In the top of the 9th, iit went single, sac, single, and they had the lead. And it felt like the magic had left the room.
Until J.P. Crawford led off the bottom of the 9th with a single, and catcher Cal Raleigh followed with a double in the center-right gap, and J.P., our man J.P., tore around the bases and scored. Then it was our turn to sacrifice. Which brought up Julio again.
“It began with him and maybe it'll end with him,” I said.
Nope. They intentionally walked him. Him and Ty France. “They're walking all of our All-Stars,” I said. That brought up Carlos “Not that Carlos Santana” Santana, who, in a month with the team, has come up with a lot of big hits, and who could hit a deep fly ball in his sleep.
But why did we still have Cal Raleigh at third? That's what I wondered. Didn't we have anyone on the bench faster than our catcher?
“We used our pinch runner in the 8th,” Jeff said.
Yes, in the 8th, after a two-out walk to Winker, we'd brought in Sam Haggerty to pinchrun and Abraham Toro to pinchhit. “Our pinchrunner is hitting 100+ points higher than our pinchhitter,” I said. “That make any sense to you?”
“Maybe it's a lefty-righty thing,” Jeff said.
And now the speed of Cal Raleigh was putting the game on the line.
“If he hits a sac fly,” I said, “I hope it's deep.”
It wasn't. It was midrange, center field. Raleigh began chugging home ... the throw came in ... SAFE! Excitement. Jubilation. Full-throated cries from the people around ... Wait, what was this? ... Why were the Mariners pausing in their celebration? Why were the Rangers not exiting stage right? Why were the umpires conferring? Was there a challenge? Whose? The Rangers were out of challenges.
But there was a challenge. Did someone say Raleigh left early? Did someone say he didn't touch the plate? Or that the throw beat him? Whatever it was, it went for naught. Play stood, Mariners won, and Julio picked up Santana in celebration. I'll take it. I'll take delayed magic rather than none. I suppose Raleigh chugging home was part of the magic. With Haggerty, we wouldn't have been in doubt. With Cal, we had nothing but doubt. It shouldn't have happened but it did. That's what magic is.
I found this interesting: One of the lead stories on ESPN.com is about the game. Except not really. This was the hed: Julio Rodriguez back in Seattle Mariners' lineup, homers in first at-bat. It's been a while since any Seattle Mariner created headlines like that.