As with the six-pitcher no-hitter last season, the Mariners have proven adept at providing the two-headed-calf style of entertainment. What Seattle fans would prefer is a grand finish that has a happy outcome. That isn’t part of Mariners theater yet, and despite the stunning twists in the 5-hour, 42-minute Safeco saga Wednesday, they have to play four games starting Thursday against the resurgent New York Yankees knowing they let escape an immortal victory.
Had they pulled off the win and the three-game sweep of the Chicago White Sox, they would have facts to back manager Eric Wedge’s relentless contention that the Mariners are a good team to whom breaks will come. In a 10-game home stand that has the material to swing the season, the Mariners instead failed numerous times for an easy win to back starting pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma’s splendid eight innings, then could not sustain Kyle Seager’s one-in-a-million moment — a grand slam of a kind never seen in Major League Baseball history — and failed, 7-5 in 16 innings.
“We had so many opportunities and didn’t execute,” said Wedge, repeating a familiar theme and this time referring to a hit in each of the first 10 innings, part of 16 overall, as well as seven walks, that didn’t turn into a run until the 14th inning.
By then, it was 5-0, after the White Sox blistered end-of-the-pen relievers Danny Farquhar and Hector Noesi for five hits and two walks after the five previous pitchers froze the worst offense in the American League.
“It would have been real easy to cash in right there,” said Wedge, ever in pursuit of cheer amid the gloom. The Mariners indeed strung together five consecutive one-out singles to left field off Addison Reed, the White Sox’s premier closer who had saved 17 of 18 chances this season.
One run was in and the bases were loaded for Jason Bay, who whiffed for the second out. Then the few hundred fans remaining from the original crowd of 20,139 implored Kyle Seager to do what fans always wish in such moments, but so rarely happens.
Seager was down quickly 0-2. Then he hit a foul ball off his foot that had him hopping one-legged from the batter’s box.
“It was a change-up, right off the toe,” Seager said. “It was throbbing there pretty good. I tried to walk it off a little bit.”
Gingerly, he stepped back in, took a fastball from Reed and then: “I was able to hit the slider.”
Yes, he hit the slider, on a majestic arc toward right center, improbably carrying the hopes of the hardy few customers who likely had never witnessed a similar moment, and probably never will again.
The ball dropped into the first rows of seats — a man appeared to collide with his own young son in pursuit, knocking him down upon the concrete, creating a video lowlight already gone viral — and Seager made MLB history: The first player to hit a game-tying grand slam in extra innings.
“Definitely a very exciting moment,” he said. “After being down five, it was really big. I wasn’t trying to hit a homer there; (Reed) is a closer for a reason. I was just try to put on a pretty good swing and not strike out.”
The moment climaxed another MLB first: The only time each team scored five or more runs after going scoreless through nine innings. And it was only the second time in Mariners history to have gone scoreless through 13.
Another rarity was that White Sox manager Robin Ventura wasn’t around to finish the game. He apparently took off early for the airport to catch a flight home, reportedly for his daughter’s graduation. His sub, bench coach Mark Parent, was flabbergasted for him.
“I knew it was out, but I had to double-check and count the guys crossing home plate,” he said. “It wasn’t good. He had just fouled one off his foot, then wasted one. He got feeling a little bit better.”
Unfortunately for the Mariners, they had two more zeroes in them, while the White Sox against Noesi — the last available reliever, putting in his third inning — in the 16th strung together three singles for two runs to conclude an epic drama with the stalwart satisfaction of breaking an eight-game losing streak.
The Mariners took some solace that they won the series 2-1, but that was more than negated by the fact that they exhausted themselves in a loss with the Yankees coming to town after a three-game road sweep of the Cleveland Indians.
The Mariners played their nine position guys all 16 innings, mostly because outfielder Mike Morse and catcher Jesus Sucre were injured and infielder Carlos Triunfel had been shipped out to Tacoma. Only a rookie third-string catcher and infielder Alex Liddi didn’t play.
The Mariners used the six relievers besides closer Tom Wilhelmsen, who was unavailable after pitching in five of the previous seven days.
“Exhausted,” said Ryan, when asked how he felt. “But it was pretty awesome to come back and put up a five-spot on a premier closer.The game went so long because of how nasty these two bullpens are. That’s why you have to take advantage of every opportunity early.
“Probably, we all need to collectively get in a cold tub and get after it tomorrow.”
It was the only way a player could look at it. It remains for everyone else to calculate the cost of going so hard so long to come out with only a thrill instead of a W.