BOTTOM OF THE TENTH: M’S 4
2 – 2 RANGERS
Before I get into this, Seattle, What’s going on with your team??
A five-game losing streak. A promising 2-1 lead that gets lost in the 8th. City-wide head-scratching bordering on heart-ache.
As I’ve kept up over the years all the way from Chicago, the Mariners have been the great team of Ichiro, Griffey, 116 wins, a young A-Rod and a solid history of replayed moments—then a long, mostly idle period of mediocrity: Raul Ibanez. Richie Sexson. Chone Figgins. Kenji Johjima.
Then a bold new strategy waltzed into town, backed by the desire to sincerely compete, with the signings of Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz coinciding with Felix Hernandez’ peak years and the remaining pieces of a once-promising farm system.
Problem is, they haven’t yet figured it all out. The team has by no means been bad, but the word I keep thinking is stuck—with no clear path forward but no clear reason to abandon all hope (for all ye who enter Safeco Field).
So maybe they’re stuck, maybe they’re in trouble. Or maybe, as I knock on wood here, something’s on the horizon. Maybe…just maybe…things will change for the better tonight.
Enter Dae-Ho Lee: 33-year-old Korean/NPB transfer of high-end but not legendary status in East Asia, signed to a minor-league deal with Seattle earlier this year—an under-the-radar venture arranged with a hopeful nod to the realized potentials of Jung-Ho Kang and former Mariner Shin-Soo Choo.
He came up to bat tonight with the biggest of his so-far scarce early-season opportunities, with a tied 2-2 score and a plummeting spot in the standings in desperate need of a reboot.
First up in the 10th, Cano pops out to right, to the second “Nomar” in MLB history—Texas newcomer and Garciaparra imitator Nomar Mazara.
Now Nelson Cruz.
Before tuning in, seeing the final score before anything else, I took a guess at how it must’ve all gone down: Cano draws a crafty walk, Cruz comes up, works a long at-bat, the pitcher throws over to first, Cruz fouls off several pitches at two strikes, and then, in the end, hits a drive up high over the fence in left-center with the Seattle fans going nuts, in an instant the first home win of the year secured.
Didn’t play out like that. But Cruz does get on base.
Hard ground-ball up the middle, right at Rougned Odor in the exact spot with a shift on, but…he stumbles a little…and it’s off his foot! Skips past Odor into the outfield. Cruz jogs into first base a lucky man. Safe at first. One out.
Now Kyle Seager, a weak bouncer to third, as Beltre—to the chagrin of M’s fans who watched him for years in Seattle—slots a throw to second for the force-out. Two outs. Still one on, and the game looking like it’s becoming a long struggle to pull out a once-again elusive win.
The Seattle moose mascot is pacing back and forth atop the dugout, thinking Is this all we’ve got? as the man inside starts recalling the attention-getting tricks he might need all year in a ballpark that (at the moment) is looking quiet, blue and expecting very little in the way of down-to-the-wire summer baseball.
So they go with a pinch-hitter. Why not?
Dae-Ho Lee comes in off the bench, stretching and taking half-swings in the on-deck circle, his badly disguised paunch awkwardly a-jiggle up under a baggy jersey shirt. Whatever his stats in the Japanese and Korean leagues, the guy doesn’t quite look like a gamer, more on par with the Kiradech Aphibarnrats of the world than the Mike Trouts, the Giancarlo Stantons, and really the rest of the league (sans the Sandoval/Fielder weight-gain tag team).
A few cheers ring out from the stands, a few yawns, a few I’ve know what’s coming next’s muttered from the veteran fans stocking up on food for the next set of extra innings.
And then, just at the right moment, the PA System echoes out the classic “Daaayyyyy-oh!” call-and-response from Harry Belafonte’s “Banana Boat Song,” immortalized by both the sound crews of nation-wide MLB stadiums and the dinner scene in the classic, under-remembered “Beetlejuice” movie. And then it hits me: this guy is named Dae-Ho?? That’s got to be the most appropriate all-time playing of this song clip. Has to be. A guy named Dae-Ho? An overplayed refrain of “Day-Oh!”?? Match-made in Mariner heaven. Dae-Ho come and he wan’ go home….
He digs in, adjusts his over-sized helmet, and wags his bat up and down atop his shoulder as he waits for the delivery from Diekman.
First pitch strike, fastball down the middle.
Lee steps back in. Hard foul on another fastball. Looks like we’ll soon be on to the 11th , the fans in the front row wrapped up in conversation and distraction as the next pitch comes in. They wasn’t readyyy!
On the next pitch he unfolds his bat, plants his foot, and smacks a high fastball way up into the indoor Seattle air, left-fielder Ian Desmond sprinting back to the wall to see if he’s got a chance…
The Mariners’ TV guy jumps out of his seat, going crazy as the ball sails over the fence—“Giddy up!! It is GONE!!”—and an entire league of west coast baseball editors start clacking away frantically at a litter of absurd, cringe-inducing headlines soon to be posted online: “Ho Lee smokes!” “What a Dae for Lee!”
Dae-Ho’s paunch, now seeing its first exercise of the day, escorts him neatly around the bases, arriving at home just ahead the rest of his body, as the whole Seattle team runs out to celebrate, spraying water and launching into a group-hug just half-assed enough to suggest that Lee’s not yet one of the guys. But after today he’s in the club.
Game: 4-2 Mariners. Walk-off. Momentum. A win!
— WBC Baseball (@WBCBaseball) April 14, 2016
They’re off to New York now, and with a new secret weapon in tow. Let’s just hope Yankee Stadium has its Harry Belafonte soundtrack ready, sending good-luck waves back into the magic late-game swing of the great Dae-Ho Lee.
And, finally, the leaked transcript for tomorrow’s pre-game speech, from manager Scott Servais: Let’s listen up! We won a game yesterday… we win one today, that’s two in a row; we win one tomorrow, that’s called a winning streak. It has happened before. So let’s see some HUSTLE, let’s JACK IT UP a little!! I’ve got a feeling things are about to turn around for us…