Saturday at ye “olde” Safeco Field in Seattle was a beautiful night for baseball. Temperature in the low 60’s, a large crowd lured by Robinson Cano Bobblehead Night, and a father and son spotted in full Montreal Expos regalia. There was a lovely version of the American national anthem by a sweet-voiced choir of elementary school girls, and, thankfully, God Bless America was missing from the seventh inning stretch.
Our seats were 11 rows up, just past third base. The crowd was the usual mix of odds and sods. Two twenty-something girls took the seats beside us around the third inning. The one next to me immediately hauled out her iPhone, barely glancing at the field. Then, they talked. Then, they left in the fifth inning, never to return. This freed up two seats for an older couple a row ahead of us, anxious to escape the loud, beer-soused louts in Row 9. “Real rocket scientists,” I observed scornfully to the kindly gent now sitting beside me. “How did you know I was a rocket scientist?” he responded, mishearing what I said. “I worked at Boeing, designing missiles.”
The game, itself, was also delightful, a great example of “small ball”, as the banjo-hitting, hometown Mariners scratched out a victory against the powerful Detroit Tigers, sporting two of the best hitters in baseball, Miguel Cabrera and clean-up man Victor Martinez, who could be on course to a remarkable rarity of homering more often than striking out. So far, Martinez has 13 homers and 14 whiffs.
Wily M’s manager Lloyd McLendon, who once hit five straight home runs at the Little League World Series (you can look it up), fielded a line-up full of right-handed batters, some barely hitting their weight, to face Tiger lefty Drew Smyly.
That produced some unlikely heroes. Take Cole Gillepsie…and many clubs have. On four different teams in four years, he’s totalled fewer than 50 hits. Yet, getting a rare start for the Mariners, Gillepsie knocked in the first run by lashing a slow roller past the pitcher’s mound. “Looks like a line drive in the box score!” I shouted. Later, the same Gillepsie scored a classic “small ball” run. Another infield hit, a steal of second, and across the plate on a single by much-loved, little-used veteran, Willie Bloomquist.
Nor was that all by Gillespie. He also made two terrific catches in left field: a falling forward, diving catch of a line drive, and a game-saving grab against the wall in the top of the 7th inning, with two on base and the M’s up 3-2. All hail the conquering journeyman.
I also enjoyed watching the Mariners’ skyscraper of a starting pitcher, 6’ 10” Chris Young, the second tallest player in big league history. Young’s been everywhere, man. A succession of grim arm injuries has had him drifting through the majors, trying to regain the elusive form that once made him an All-Star. Seattle signed him to a one-year contract, and he was terrific on Saturday night, holding the Tigers to just three hits and two runs over six innings. One of the runs came on a vintage, line drive home run by Miguel Cabrera that rocketed into the stands before I could gasp “Holy Moly!”. What I loved about Chris Young was the fact that, despite his imposing height, his “blazing” fastball never rose above a paltry 87 mph. Instead, despite his prodigious height and 255 pounds, he bamboozled batters, expertly nibbling the corners of the plate with curves, change-ups, sliders and slow-moving fastballs. A 6’10” junk baller. What will they think of next?
You want more about Chris Young? He is married to the grand-daughter of legendary Hockey Hall of Fame pioneer Lester Patrick! It was Patrick, who co-founded, with brother Frank, the Pacific Coast Hockey League that produced the Vancouver Millionaires, winner of the city’s only Stanley Cup in 1915. It’s a small world, after all.
And finally, yet another unexpected bonus: Endy Chavez, one of the few former members of the Montreal Expos still playing (sigh), was in the starting line-up, after spending the first two months of the season down the road in the minors with Tacoma. Every time he came up, I yelled: “Expos!”. People looked at me strangely. But then, I’m used to it.
So we went home happy, walking the many blocks through the balmy night to the groovy Ace Hotel in beautiful Belltown.
One more unforeseen treat followed on Sunday afternoon: a three-hit shutout by the Mariners’ rookie Cuban southpaw Roenis Elias. It was the first complete game tossed by a Seattle pitcher this year, and the first shutout by an M’s rookie since 1999. How impressive was the 25-year old defector, who not that long ago had been playing for the likes of the Pulaski Mariners, Clinton LumberKings, High Desert Mavericks and the Jackson Generals? Cabrera and Martinez, the heart of the Tigers’ lineup, were held hitless in the same game for only the third time all season. You can read about Elias’s dramatic “escape” from Cuba here.
Oh yes, and Endy Chavez got two hits, the mighty Mariners drove last year’s Cy Young award winner, Max Scherzer, from the mound in the seventh inning, and the first Seattle run was knocked in by the pride of Victoria, B.C., Michael Saunders, who’s been on a tear, recently.
All in all, a wonderful weekend. Thank you, baseball.