Austin Jackson stepped into the smudged white box, heart pounding, uncontrolled sweat emanating in an all too irritating manner; right above the eyebrows, just enough to sting the eye – affect the vision. The goal is always the same: just succeed. Do what needs to be done, get on base, drive in runs, move the runner over, keep the game alive. However, as humans we attach particular stress and emphasis onto certain events. The world of sports revolves around this notion. A walk-off home run in game seven of the World Series is far different than sweeping the series in four. Jackson stood there, wrestling with his nerves, staying alive on each and every pitch flung his general direction. And then he saw it. Was it as good as it looked? As he started his hips forward he hoped he was seeing the seams correctly. Fastball, right? It felt like an eternity as his bat arced through the zone, and then he felt it – contact.
That at-bat ended up being lost in what Nelson Cruz did next. Not to downplay what the Mariners number one offseason addition is doing right now. Cruz is putting together one of the most impressive offensive performances in Mariners history. However, Nelson doesn’t get the opportunity if not for Jackson. Cruz probably doesn’t get that fastball if Jackson doesn’t drive up Feliz’s pitch count. The same Austin Jackson who’s game changing hit last year looked like this. The same Austin Jackson that had a contingent of fans wondering if he was going to be on this team come the All-Star Break. Line drive, base hit, tie game. Austin Jackson.
This sequence is the reason you never give up on a baseball game. Watching Paxton implode was excruciating, but it provided fans the opportunity to see something else special. I spoke briefly last article about the scales of justice in baseball. You lose games you arguably should win and you steal a few from the jaws of defeat. Clad in black and sporting a thrift store balaclava, Seattle stole one yesterday. The minute Lloyd sighed his way out to the mound wearing his “I’m not mad, I’m just disappointed.” scowl that undoubtedly cuts deeper than any verbal berating he might muster – the game should have been smugly nestled into the win column for Texas.
However, in a complete 180 from the Mariners of yesteryear, the offense never gave up. The mental fortitude of this team is noticeably different. The fearful eyes of unseasoned, untested, out of place rookies has been replaced by eyes that peirce the soul of the opposing pitcher boldly saying “Make a mistake, see what happens.”.
Dave Sims closed out his broadcast urging the fans to mark their Mariners calenders. His unsubtle suggestion – this will be the moment we look back on as a turning point. This was the game the Mariners gelled and started their incredible playoff run. The game that launched the team into first place and they never looked back. It’s a fun notion; hopefully he’s right. The division is wide open as no team has managed to run away with it amongst all the mediocrity. The Mariners face their next obstacle tonight against the always-pesky Houston Astros. SafeCo has been insane the last few nights and if you find yourself without plans tonight, I urge you to head out to the Sodo district on the corner of Dave and Edgar. Grab a Seattle dog, grab that old piece of Mariners gear you have sitting in the back of your closet, and go support your hometown blue. Keep the environment alive.
Are we on the precipice of something special, or are we just still living in the high from yesterday’s all out brawl? It’s probably too early to tell, but just enjoy the moment. Nelson Cruz won’t be this hot forever and I don’t know about the rest of you, but I don’t want to miss a minute.