September 24, 2003
One of the weird things about this gig is that people who aren't familiar with BP or my work assume that I go to a lot of baseball games. I don't, actually. While I love live baseball, I also love my Extra Innings package and the 10-15 games a night it brings into my home. Given a choice between attending one and watching 15, I often choose the lazier of two paths.
If anything, I've gotten worse about it with each passing season. I'll have to make a greater effort next season, maybe set a goal of N games or to catch one game of each series.
Last night, however, I dragged my sorry ass down to Anaheim to catch the Angels/Mariners game with BP's Jason Grady. I'd been wanting to see the Mariners, anyway (and will do so again today), because their repeat of 2002's second-half fade is an interesting story that I'd like to cover. More on that tomorrow.
Jason and I settled in and immediately read the out-of-town scoreboard, which would become our closest friend on this evening. We noted all the good pitching performances--the Reds, Pirates, Expos, Indians and White Sox were all being shut out as we arrived--as well as the games of significance in the various races. The Red Sox being down 5-2 to the Orioles in the eighth was particularlay important for our game, as a Sox loss would give the Mariners a chance to cut their deficit in the wild-card race to 1 1/2 games.
Just after seven o'clock, however, things took an ugly turn for the Ms. In a span of less than a minute, the "2" next to the Red Sox became a "5," signifying a ninth-inning comeback, and Edgar Martinez killed a first-inning rally by grounding into the longest double-play ever. Adam Kennedy ranged across the 57 freeway, then flipped to Alfredo Amezaga who did a leisurely 720 around the bag before throwing out Martinez at first. (Martinez still hasn't arrived at the bag, 18 hours later.)
The Mariners had gone from two back in the wild-card race with an early lead to 2 1/2 behind the Sox and a scoreless tie. It got worse about 15 minutes later, when "BOS 5" became "BOS 6." The Mariners' tragic number in the wild card race had been whittled to three, and to make matters worse, the A's had an early lead over the Rangers in Oakland.
Freddy Garcia--who looked nothing at all like the pitcher various BP Seattlites complain about--ducked out of second-inning trouble by getting a bases-loaded, no-out double play. A run scored, but a huge inning was averted. The game settled down from there, as two teams without much pop made a lot of easy outs while swinging early in the count. The Ms finally got a hit off Scot Shields in the fifth, ending the dream of seeing history.
Fast-forward to the ninth inning. Jason and I have already watched the AL Central race end via the out-of-town scoreboard (with the highly unlikely "DET 15" terminating the Royals' season), and are carefully following the A's/Rangers tilt, which seems to be running in lockstep with the game here. The Rangers tie it in the seventh and then take the lead in the ninth. With the score in Oakland 3-2, the Mariners mount their own ninth-inning rally, capped by a Randy Winn two-out RBI single, to tie their game at 1. The pendulum appears to have swung back; a night that began with the Mariners getting bad news from out of town and worse on their own field now sees them coming up big in the clutch and getting help 300 miles away.
Until. Garcia starts the ninth by allowing a single to Jeff DaVanon, and is pulled for Arthur Rhodes. Rhodes gives up a single of his own to Garret Anderson--one that John Olerud might well have played for a 3-6-3 double play had he not been pinch-run for in the top of the inning--giving the Halos first and second with no one out. As Bob Melvin calls for Rafael Soriano, the "2" that had been locked in place for the A's for two hours becomes a "3"; the A's have tied their game, and the Mariners are on the brink of losing theirs.
Not yet, however. For maximum drama, we need free baseball. The inning marker in the A's/Rangers game turns to "10," while Soriano pitches well--and gets a big play by Olerud's replacement, Willie Bloomquist--to send our game to extras as well.
The 10th inning in Anaheim is uneventful, but in Oakland, the A's mount their second two-out rally in as many frames. We don't know that at Edison Field, of course; we just know that it's now "TEX 3 OAK 4," and the Mariners are on the brink of becoming the fourth American League team eliminated from contention for a divisional title in three hours.
It seemed like a foregone conclusion at that point. When Tim Salmon blasted a home run off Shigetoshi Hasegawa with one out in the 11th, it didn't feel surprising in any way. The Mariners had lost a heartbreaking game while their two biggest rivals made two-out, ninth-inning comebacks before winning in extra innings. That is a bad day at the office, and a great argument for not having to rely on other teams down the stretch.
With the game over, it was hard to not think back to that first inning, when the Ms had a chance to go up early--with their best hitter at the plate, with the Red Sox down three in the ninth--and think that their fate had been sealed long before this crowd of "37,645" had been thinned to a fifth that number.
From my standpoint, the game brought back for me the excitement of scoreboard-watching. I'm so used to having access to a Web page that provides pitch-by-pitch accounts of every game that I'd forgotten was it was like to sit in the stands and wonder who had the big hit in Boston, or who coughed up the lead in Texas, and spend the entire time between pitches gazing at a four-by-six panel of light bulbs, waiting for some to blink on and others off.
Scoreboard-watching in a pennant race is one of those visceral experiences that makes being a baseball fan fun, and reminds a lazy columnist why he shouldn't be so damn lazy.