Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Revenge in the Sixth

A long time ago in a baseball galaxy far, far away ...

Back in 2001, the Mariners' unofficial slogan was "two outs ... so what?" due to their penchant for comeback victories regardless of inning, situation or score. The joyride ended in the A.L. Championship Series, but the memories of that magical season are something Mariner fans will always cherish. Expectations were ultimately unrequited, but they were higher than this franchise had ever seen, by a longshot.

What a difference four years makes. Venturing to the Safe tonight, my personal expectations were discouragingly low. The M's had just lost two in a row to the Yankees, the second game a dispiriting 6-0 whitewash in which our greatest amusement came from the stunned look on a New York fan's face (along with a "that's just wrong" quip) when we repeatedly shouted the Big ... Sexy! chant. Saddled with the third worst record in the American League, the M's faced a brooming by the surging Yankees. A look at the Mariners' lineup for tonight's game seemed to confirm the inevitability of the sweep:

Big Sexy

Ugh. After the first five hitters, you have a no-power rookie hitting sixth, followed by three baseball equivalents of the conventionally-theorized galactic black hole (instead of no light escaping the densely-packed mass, it's no base hits) hitting 7-9. Meanwhile, the evil empire Yankees arrogantly boast a $200 million payroll with arguably four potential cleanup hitters interspersed throughout the lineup -- and that's without their second-best home run hitter (Tino Martinez), who had the night off. One could almost hear the booming Darth Vader theme as New York sent its stormtroopers to the plate.

Da da da, da da-dah, da da-dah ... one-half inning in and it's already 4-0, Empire. I start making mental notes about the drive home and imagining with guilty pleasure Moyer retiring. Aside from my bellicose "BOOOOOOOOOOO!" upon A-Rod's arrival to the plate in the first (making two teenage girls in front of me jump and cover their ears), this has been a joyless beginning to yet another dreary and seemingly inevitable M's loss. Where did that magical 2001 team go, the one that epitomized "two outs ... so what?" A long time ago, in a baseball galaxy far, far away ...

The gloom diminishes in the bottom of the first as Ibanez and Boone plate a run apiece, narrowing the lead to 4-2. My wife turns to me and astutely says, "At least it's a game now." I nod my head, saving my pipes for another salvo at A-Rod in an inning or two. In the third, hopes diminish again as the Yankees score twice. Now the game seems out of reach. I'm thinking about changing my 401k contributions while simultaneously annoyed that I'm not getting my money's worth out of the free tickets I received.

In the fifth, Olivo and Valdez ground out quickly. If some doltish fan had stood up and shrieked, "Two outs ... so what?" I might have turned around and taken a swing. This is the 2005 Mariners, not that historic 2001 club. Two outs ... so what else is new? is more like it.

But the M's rise off of the mat in the fifth inning and score twice on three straight hits (Ibanez's double scoring Ichiro and Winn) to trim the lead to 6-4. My mind momentarily drifts away from my daydream about dumas as I watch with renewed interest. Big Sexy skies out to center to end the inning (evidently uninspired by our Big ... Sexy! chants), but at least there's a pulse.

And then the pivotal sixth inning rolls around. Boonie flies out to right to start the inning. Reed works Tanyan Sturtze for a walk, and then Greg Dobbs predictably pops out. Hey, it's two outs. They've already used up about a month's worth of two-out rallies just one inning ago. No way they're doing it again. If Tad's around, I'm betting a buck at 10-1 odds against it. Maybe 100-1. Heck, I might even think about 1,000-1. It ain't happening. Maybe I should head toward the bathroom now and avoid the rush. Two-thirds of the black hole troika are due up in Olivo and Valdez. Two outs ... so what else is new? The evil empire is about to crush the rebellion.

Only this time, the empire hands the blueprints to the Death Star to the rebels themselves. Olivo strikes out but the ball gets past Posada and he reaches first base. Valdez then strokes a single to right that scores Reed and when Sheffield's throw hits Olivo, he scores. We're tied! Down by four runs twice to the hated Yankees and now it's anybody's ball game. Mariner pitchers hold the Yankees in check for the next two innings and, completing the remarkable comeback, the M's score in the eighth on a Reed double and an Olivo single. 7-6, Seattle! The crowd goes wild.

Sans Eddie Guardado, Jeff Nelson and Ron Villone do their best collective Jose Mesa impressions (two hits and two walks, combined, in two innings of work) but do not give up a run, preserving the improbable Mariners' victory. With the win, the M's split the six games against the A.L. East's two preseason powerhouses. Let's see ... 37,000 plus at the Safe, a thrilling 7-6 win over a stud Yankee team, improbable heroes and two-out rallies. When was the last time we saw that?

A long time ago, in a baseball galaxy far, far away ...


At 7:43 AM, Blogger Tad said...

Does this make Giambi Jar-Jar Binks?


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