Saturday June 24, 2017
M’s Game: Two Major League Debuts, two Grand Salamis, and Some Pride
Rye bread, mustard
Thursday night, even though the M’s were riding a 4-game win streak and the forecast called for low 70s and sunny, I couldn’t give away a ticket to the game against Detroit. As a result, my companion for the game was The Grand Salami, the alt program sold outside the stadium, which is published by Jon Wells and produced by my friend Tim, and for which, 15 years ago, I wrote the player profiles. Note to Jon: You need to update those suckers more regularly.
I did find out from the Salami that a biography of Dave Niehaus has been written: “My Oh My: The Dave Niehaus Story,” by Billy Mac and edited by J. Michael Kenyon. Apparently it was crowdfunded? At least in part? It’s being excerpted in the Salami over the next few months. The part I read Thursday night, sitting with a beer in the sun in the right-field bleachers before the game, was informative but not exactly Robert Caro. But fingers crossed.
I moved to my regular seats, section 327 row 9, before the first pitch by M’s starter Andrew Moore. The kid was making his Major League debut, against a pretty good lineup, too. But Moore’s fastball had pop (it seemed faster than the 91-93 it registered), and he threw his mid-80s slider for strikes, and he kept getting ahead of hitters. The first five guys he faced, including future Hall-of-Famer Miguel Cabrera, and two guys with OPSes over 1.000 (Alex Avila and J.D. Martinez), all saw first-pitch strikes, and all went down accordingly. It was the sixth guy, their tall, goony, white-shoed third baseman, Nicholas Castellanos, who normally can’t even buy a walk, that Moore lost: ball, ball, strike, ball, double in the gap. But he retired Alex Presley and the M’s scored 3 in the bottom of the 2nd, and all looked good.
Second time through the lineup is the tough part, and Moore got behind leadoff hitter Ian Kinsler; and on a 3-1 count, Kinsler deposited one into the left field bleachers. So it goes. Welcome to the Majors, kid.
I thought manager Scott Servais would pull Moore after five innings, particularly since the 5th was a bit nervewracking. By this point we had a 5-1 lead, but Moore gave up a leadoff single to—who else?—Castellanos, retired Presley, then John Hicks hit a rifle shot to third base. Handled cleanly, it might’ve been a double play. But it skipped past Kyle Seager and into left field for a double. Now it was 2nd and 3rd with one out. A grounder to Cano plated one, and a Kinsler plated another. But Moore got the final out and seemed done. Good game, kid.
Servais had other ideas. Moore came out for the 6th, where he faced Cabrera for a third time. Smart? Whatever, it worked. Moore kept ahead of the hitters and they went down 1, 2, 3. He came out for the 7th, too, and did the same. By now he’d thrown 101 pitches, which definitely signaled the end, and he left the game to a small ovation from the small, sparse crowd.
By this time I was sitting on the third-base side, near the seats we had when Safeco Field first opened, eating Ivar’s fish and chips. It was “Pride Night,” anticipating “Gay Pride Weekend.” I like that they do that. Between innings they flashed PSAs urging civility and tolerance. But not much pride—the M’s variety—was on display at the park.
From me, too? These days, I tend to be a “leave early” guy, and was leaning in that direction when Detroit went to their bullpen in the 7th. They brought in Francisco Rodriguez, K-Rod, a beloved Yankee killer from 2002 who currently has the fourth-most saves in baseball history (437), but who came in sporting a devilish 6.66 ERA. He hit Heredia with his fifth pitch, then got Mike Zunino to pop out. That’s enough, I thought. Time to head home, I thought. But by the time I made my way down to the 100 level, the M’s had loaded the bases on a single and a walk, so I hung with a group of people at the top of the stairs on the third-base side as Cano batted. He’d hit a 2-run homer earlier in the game, a shot that barely went over the right-center-field wall, and I was hoping for anything but a double play. His swing on the second pitch looked at least like a sac fly. I couldn’t see its arc—the overhang from the second deck got in the way—but I heard the cheers and I saw Cano nonchalantly rounding the bases, blowing bubbles, and everyone in our group, all strangers, were whooping it up and high-fiving one other. A grand slam! When was the last time I saw a Mariner hit a grand slam? I thought of Niehaus, of course, and his ringing rye-bread-and-mustard call, and I decided to stay for the rest of the game. Why not? 100 level was open. Every half inning, I moved closer to home.
Gotta say, Servais made it interesting. To relieve Moore, he brought in 23-year-old Max Povse, another pitcher making his Major League debut. Maybe Servais thought newbies were good luck that night? Sorry. After two quick outs Povse lost Avila on a ringing double, then lost Miggy on a more-ringing homer to center (No. 454). Martinez doubled and Justin Upton singled him in, and suddenly the blow-out was 9-6. That was it for Povse, whose career ERA is now 40.50. The Bengals actually brought the tying run to the plate before we escaped. In the 9th, they went down 1, 2, 3, and another game was in the books. My season record is 3-1.
Twenty-five years ago, thanks to my friend Mr. B, I saw Nolan Ryan’s last game in the Majors, in which, at the Kingdome in September, he didn’t get an out and gave up a grand slam to Dann Howitt. Did I see K-Rod’s last game, too? Afterwards, the Tigers released him. Is that how all pitchers careers end—not with a whimper but a grand slam? I’m sure he’ll get picked up, though. There’s always a need, always hope.
Same with the M’s? They won again last night, 13-3, against Houston, the best team in the A.L., and our win-streak is now at 6. It’s the right direction anyway. A little bit of pride as we head into Pride weekend.
UPDATE: Yes, the Nationals signed K-Rod to a minor league deal a few days later. But June 22 is still his last official game as of early July.