Stadler and Waldorf Almost See a No-Hitter
My friend Jim and I are basically the Stadler and Waldorf of Seattle Mariners fans—we sit on the sidelines, disparage the proceedings, and crack each other up in the process. We're not exactly high on this year's team, either. Last year the M's scored the fewest runs in the American League and they didn't greatly improve their lineup in the off-season.
Even so, last week, when the M's were 2-6, Jim agreed to go to a game with me, and by the time we walked through the gates last night they were 6-7, a nice turnaround, although they were still near the bottom of the AL in runs scored with 45. Thankfully the team we were playing, the Orioles, were at the bottom of the league in runs scored with 43. Or as I heard M's broadcaster Rick Rizzs put it when I went to get some Ivars and beers during the third inning: “The Mariners have scored 45 runs this year; the Orioles only 42 (sic).”
When I got back to my seat the M's were in the middle of a rally. The bases were loaded with one out and Franklin Gutierrez, our best hitter, and the only reason Jim's girlfriend watches games (psst: he's good-looking), was at the plate.
“Jack Wilson started things off with a double,” Jim said, as he took his beer.
“I heard on the TV out there,” I said. “Rizzs made it sound like Babe Ruth's called shot.”
Jim laughed and shook his head. “He should have been thrown out by 10 feet but the Orioles misplayed it.
”Really?“ I said. ”According to Rizzs, 'he had that double right out of the batter's box.'“
Jim shook his head again, inhaled a weary and unamused laugh, then looked over at the broadcast booth. ”I should just go down there and punch him in the face right now.“
In the first few innings we'd gone over our many complaints. Was Jose Lopez really a no. 4 hitter? Was Griffey a no. 5 hitter? Shouldn't they move up Casey Kotchman, who has some upside, but is currently batting seventh? We wondered why, in the history of Safeco, with its favorable right-field winds, the M's had never acquired a really solid, left-handed power hitter. We talked how good my Twins were doing and got back to lefty power hitters. ”Thome was a good pick-up for them,“ Jim said. ”He would've looked good here, too, but“—and his voice slowed accusingly—”the DH slot was filled.“ Filled, I should add, by Ken Griffey, Jr., Jim's bete noir. Given our history, I can forgive Junior a lot, but Jim is more hard-hearted and (possibly) common-sensical.
Meanwhile, that third-inning rally continued. Gutierrez slapped a single to left for one run. Jose Lopez grounded into what should've been an inning-ending double play, but the O's third baseman, Ty Wiggington, bobbled it, Ichiro scored, everyone was safe. ”But now you've got Griffey up instead of Kochman,“ Jim said. But Griffey promptly singled to the right side for two more runs: 4-0, M's. Then Milton Bradley laced a double into the left field gap, and for some reason (memories of '95? memories of Wilson's double a few batters earlier?), the third-base coach waved the 40-year-old Griffey home from first. Out by 10 feet.
”Do you think if we were given enough time during spring training we couldn't do that?“ Jim asked.
”Be a third base coach. I've often wondered. It looks like not much.“
We were debating this when Kochman sent a shot screaming into the right-field bleachers. 7-0, M's.
”You think they're going to move him up in the lineup?“ Jim asked, as we stood and applauded. ”I don't think they have the balls.“
”Helluva inning, though,“ I said. ”Plus we got the no-hitter going.“
Indeed. Doug Fister, the M's 6-foot-eight-inch right-hander, had hit a batter and then walked a batter in the first, but hadn't allowed a hit. He retired the side in order in the 4th.
”I refuse to talk about a no-hitter until after five,“ Jim said.
An inning later: ”OK, now I'll talk about it.“
Neither one of us had ever been at the park for a no-hitter. ”I don't think I've even seen one on TV,“ Jim said.
”Me neither. No, wait. I did watch the last five innings of one once.“
”Gooden's against the M's. That was impressive. Against that lineup?“
This led to a trivia question Jim had heard on talk radio: Mariano Rivera has saved games for five Cy Young Award winners (not necessrily in their Cy Young-awarding-winning seasons). Who are they? ”Gooden was the one we couldn't get,“ he added.
After Fister retired the side in the sixth, Jim began to get pumped. ”Hey,“ he sudddenly realized. ”It's only nine outs.“
I looked around at the empty seats. ”And this is the kind of crowd that tends to see no hitters,“ I said.
”I don't know if I've ever seen Safeco this empty," Jim said.
Maybe we shouldn't have talked so much about the no hitter. Maybe we jinxed it. Because with nobody out in the top of 7th, Nick Markakis, who had 45 doubles last season, rocketed a sharp single past Fister and up the middle. We stood, applauded, acknowledged the effort. We talked one hitter until the next hit. We talked shutout and complete game and pitch counts until the O's scored a run. Then we knew that Fister, who'd thrown over 90 pitches, would probably be relieved in the 8th, as he was.
But we did see history last night. Jim called it: the attendance, 14,528, was the lowest ever at Safeco Field. Wucka wucka.