Caught Looking

Believe?

Well, that was brutal. 

Last night was my sixth Mariners game of the season but the first where the park was packed—sold out even. And it was sold out because this young, surprising Seattle Mariners team was suddenly tied for the second wild card spot with three games to play:

TEAM RECORD GB PAYROLL 
Yankees 91-68 +2 $203M
Mariners 89-70 $82M
Red Sox 89-70 $182M
Blue Jays 88-71 -1 $150M

Yep, this scruffy team of cast-offs and no-names was up there with the big-money crowd. I've written about this before. Yesterday even. It's been fun.

I think I got too excited writing about it, to be honest. I think I felt I had to be there for this final weekend series. I wanted to be part of a baseball crowd where, you know, there was electricity in the air, where something was possible, where amazement at what was happening might wash over you like a wave. Like on Wednesday. Or like in '95.

Initially I was looking to go Sunday: day game, sunny, last of the season. Perfect. Then I thought like the true Mariners fan that I am: “What if we've already blown it by then?” So I opted for last night. Splurged on good tickets, found a friend, was excited.

And worried. I'm a germaphobe, we're still in a pandemic, it's been eight-plus months since my last vaccination. 

Did the M's require vax cards? No. They did for a bit, but no. You had to be masked unless actively eating or drinking. That was the rule. And in the past that rule seemed fine. The game I went to in early September seemed fine. Plus we would be outdoors, sitting close to the field, away from indoor-like structures. In expensive seats, too, so surely away from the anti-mask crowd. Surely, people in expensive seats would behave responsibly. Surely.

I don't know what I was thinking. 

In section 120, I'd guess 30-40% of the crowd went regularly unmasked. There were more than a few Nosenheimers, too. Many were just not taking it seriously. Pandemic schmandemic.

And how did the Seattle Mariners organization and/or T-Mobile Park police this sudden huge crowd in the midst of a pandemic? Here's how. In our section, every other inning, a diminutive sexagenarian hobbled down to the first row and silently held up a small sign that said wear a mask. 

I loved that diminutive lady, by the way. She did what she could. She was tough, considering. But the crowd was big, excited, and 30% didn't give a fuck. Looking around at all these folks, I thought, “Oh right. I hate humanity. What am I doing here?” I'd forgotten. This Mariners team made me momentarily forget.

I wish the game made up for all this but it wasn't to be. We scored in the bottom of the 2nd on a double by (who else?) Jarred Kelenic, who plated (who else?) Abraham Toro, scoring from first. All with two outs. Nice.

The Angels got it right back in the top of the 3rd. Our starter, Marco Gonzalez, lost control of the strike zone and the bottom half of the Angels lineup. Their number eight hitter led off with a single, followed by a walk to their number nine hitter. “Not good,” I told my friend Erika, who had joined me despite not being a huge baseball fan. I tried to explain that these guys were the lesser hitters and the better hitters were about to come up. “So,” she said, “statistically, these guys at the top of the lineup have a better chance of getting a hit?” At which point their leadoff hitter doubled to left, scoring both men. “Yes,” I said.

But that was it. Marco stopped the bleeding.

But that was also it. For the scoring. For the game. Final: 2-1, Angels. Our best hitter, Ty France, kept grounding into double plays, and the team kept blowing opportunties. Bottom of the 7th, Luis Torrens led off with a triple in the right-field corner that just missed going out and everyone went crazy. Toro followed with a walk and everyone went crazy. That brought up Kelenic, Wednesday's hero. And that brought in Jose Quijada, a portly left-hander with an ERA over 5.00. And it went: strikeout swinging, strikeout swinging, strikeout looking. And just like that a lot of the air went out of the stadium. I didn't want to think it, I still wanted to BELIEVE, as the Mariners were telling everybody, in homage to “Ted Lasso,” as if we were a ragtag Ted Lasso-type team with a cinderella story that had already been scripted, I didn't want to think it but I did: that inning felt like the end. That was the opportunity. You don't blow opportunities like that with the season on the line. Whooooosh. There it went.

Except we got another opportunity in the bottom of the 9th: Kyle Seager led off with a ringing double down the line, and we had three not-bad guys coming up: Torrens, Toro, Kelenic. Guys who had already delivered in this game. But Torrens grounded out and Seager couldn't move up. (At that point, he was replaced by a pinch runner, which maybe should've happened before Torrens' at-bat?) Then a pop-out to short. Then a fly ball to center. It was the sac fly we needed Kelenic to hit in the 7th. And that was that. Overall we got five hits, three walks; they got four hits, two walks. They won.

Was it us? The crowd? I was wondering about that from the get-go, when I heard that Friday night's game was sold out, and Saturday and Sunday's games were close to sell-outs. The players aren't used to this. They're used to what I'm used to: sparse crowds making tepid noise, with fans of the opposition team often making more of it. I was wondering if maybe that wasn't a driving force for these kids: We're playing well, and yet no one is showing up. We'll show them. Then we showed up and they lost that edge.

Now the standings look like this:

TEAM RECORD GB PAYROLL 
Yankees 91-69 +1 $203M
Red Sox 90-70 $182M
Mariners 89-71 -1 $82M
Blue Jays 89-71 -1 $150M

We're still in it, just less so. Every team is within two of each other with two to play. Ya gotta believe. Or, as I suggested as a team motto in July: Ya never know.

This article is cross-posted at eriklundegaard.com

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