Around the Horn

The most Mariners ninth inning ever

If ever there was a single inning that encapsulized what it feels like to be a fan of Your Seattle Mariners in long standing, it was last night's bottom of the ninth.

Entering the frame, the Mariners trailed the lowly and pathetic Texas Rangers 3-2; somehow, the M's had not pounded the stuffing out of the Rangers as one might have expected looking at the numbers. But with Texas pitching, there's always a glimmer of hope. Well, "always." But I'm getting ahead of myself.

The bottom of the order was due up, and we all know how anemic the bottom of the Seattle order has been. But new Ranger pitcher Spencer Patton walked the leadoff man, pinch-hitter Jake Bauers and his sub-.300 OBP. Then Patton walked Jarred Kelenic. Cal Raleigh came up, took advantage of sloppy umpiring, and poked a 3-2 pitch into left field for a hit that loaded the bases. Huh. The swell of hope that come with being a Mariner fan was front and center! Then Eagle-Eye Jake Fraley was up, and is his wont when facing right-handers, he also walked. That forced in the tying run and turned over the lineup. Huzzah!

That was the fun part of things, the aspect of being a Mariner fan that revels in the scrappy never-say-die demeanor the team sometimes exudes in buckets, the determined tenacity that leads to comeback wins and walkoff Gatorade showers.

Then came the other part of being a Mariner fan: The jaded, cynical certainty that the good stuff is all a tease, an illusion, just another version of Lucy asking Charlie Brown to kick the football. The cranky, loud "I told you so" of our inner psyches came surging to the fore when the next batters—allegedly the Mariners' best batters—took a gift-wrapped all-but-inevitable win and took a whiz on it.

J.P. Crawford worked a 2-0 count, took a fastball for a strike, and the swung through two more fastballs in basically the same spot. Mitch Haniger followed, took ball one, then fouled off two inside fastballs he could do nothing with to put himself in a hole before waving at a splitter that dropped beneath his shins.

Any sort of decent contact was very likely to plate the winning run. Patiently waiting on a pitcher that had already walked three to walk another would have been an option before the swings. And the swings themselves—all home-run-type cuts.

Going so swiftly from near-certain victory to two outs with no ball in play deflated all the air out of the crowd at TMP as well as the dugout and the team itself. When Kyle Seager stepped in and ran another three-ball count (thanks to more generous umpiring) it didn't matter. The I-told-you-sos had already started echoing in our heads, the futility of the M's in the face of a need to execute fundamental baseball was back to being the overwhelming expectation for us all. Seager flying out was no surprise. Sure, there was still life in extra innings, but really, after that did anyone still think the M's would pull it out?

Not if they'd been following the club for years. No, no, we've been conditioned. We are Charlie Brown and the Mariners are Lucy. Of course they were going to lose, we could feel it even with no ESP of any kind. Sure enough, Texas plated two in the 10th. Seattle came back in the home half to get one back, but come on. We were wise to Lucy's empty promises by then. The crowd at TMP had thinned considerably, and no doubt TV viewers also switched off after the 9th. Those of us that stuck with it to see Kelenic ground out with the tying run at second base to end the game were just knowingly shaking our heads.

Good grief. Rats.


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