1. The Seattle Mariners and San Diego Padres are star-crossed franchises. Remember this as you slog through the details of a 16-13 game. The Mariners and Padres complete each other. The Padres came into existence two years after the Summer of Love, when the dream was dead, Altamont was the new Woodstock and everything started to fall apart. The Mariners came into existence during the Summer of Sam, when everything that previously fell apart caught on fire.
The two franchises have played 98 full seasons, combined. There have been two pennants in those 98 seasons. There has not been a championship.
Every year since 1997, Major League Baseball has forced the Mariners and Padres to play together as unnatural rivals. All of the other teams had geographical rivals -- Giants/A's, Dodgers/Angels, Astros/Rangers -- so the Padres and Mariners had to pretend that it wasn't awkward to be paired together fighting over the rights to Eddie Vedder or whatever.
Both cities are on the West Coast. Both are quite lovely. Their new parks both emphasize the pitching aspect of baseball, while minimizing the home runs. They can both be the I-can't-find-the-remote-so-I'm-watching-whatever's-on-screw-it of baseball teams. That might be the default of each franchise.
Vendors sold Giants-A's hats during the 1989 World Series, and they still sell them today, unfortunately. The precedent suggests that it would be more than acceptable to sell split Padres-Mariners hats. There's a cosmic symmetry that's hard to ignore.
2. Except the Mariners are up right now, and the Padres are down. So up. So down. For the last half-decade, the Mariners have been a miserable bunch, doe-eyed Oliver Twists at the plate asking for more runs and making do with the one or two slopped into their bowl. There's your run, Felix. Now go git 'em.
Now they're apparently an offensive powerhouse. Only the Boston Red Sox out-hit them in May, and they've started June even stronger. In 1998, the Mariners hit 234 homers, with Ken Griffey Jr., Edgar Martinez, Jay Buhner and Alex Rodriguez forming one of the deepest lineup cores in recent baseball memory. The team's adjusted OPS was 110. This year's Mariners have an adjusted OPS of 117.
The Padres are the Padres are the Padres, and when you think it's impossible for them to become a deeper shade of Padres, they manage it. Their all-time team of players traded or discarded in their 20s is much, much deeper than their all-time team. They had higher expectations for last season than at any point in their franchise history, perhaps. They did not meet those expectations.
And that leads to an executive saying things. Those things become a headline:
San Diego Padres exec calls his team 'miserable failures'
That is a bad headline! It's the kind of headline that players pay attention to.
One team had all the confidence in the world. The other team had a miserable-failure cone attached around their neck while they sat in the corner. You can't make a direct correlation between that and this game.
You can make a correlation, though.
3. The Padres lost a game, Mariners won it. The raw details are impressive, and the context is not needed. The Padres were leading,12-2. Then they were leading, 12-7. Then they were losing, 16-12. The Padres would tack on one more run, but no more.
It was the biggest comeback in Mariners history. It was the worst blown lead in Padres history. And it happened in front of rightfully impatient Padres fans. The ones who stayed until the end were almost bemused. Can you blame them? You might prefer a 2-1 loss, with the shortstop kicking a ball in the ninth inning. Give me the blimp accident, though. Give me chaos and a loss so bad, only gallows humor can save you.
The Padres happily obliged that portion of their fan base.
4. The Padres have lost a game in which they scored more runs. It was a muggy August night in St. Louis, 15 years ago, and the air was thick with the smell of stanozolol. At the top of the box score, the words "Game was protested by visiting team, but was disallowed" appear.
That's what it should take to lose a game in which you score 13 runs. Humidity. A ballpark that doesn't necessarily prevent runs. A culture of performance-enhancing drugs. Protests. Sluggers and sluggers and sluggers.
But that game was different. That was the Padres making a spirited, too-little-too-late rally. That was a team coming up short on the road. There was no magic in that game. It was a game with Rickey Henderson, Tony Gwynn, Albert Pujols and Ben Davis, but there was no magic.
5. The Mariners have given up 13 runs before. They had done it 141 times before Thursday night. They were 0-for-141 in those games.
It takes a lot to play a game that leads to a shirt a decade later. The Mariners won 116 games that year, but everyone remembers one of the 46 they lost.
And think of those other six one-run losses with 13 runs allowed. All of them needed one more hit, one more error, one more blown call that never came. Those were among the most frustrating games in franchise history, each and every one.
The Mariners had one of these games waiting for them in a trust, then. This win has been rightfully theirs for years. It's been collecting interest in a vault somewhere.
7. After every Padres/Mariners interleague series, Ben Davis calls the clubhouse of the winning team, and a clubhouse attendant puts him on speakerphone. He gives a stirring speech to all of the players, telling them exactly what the Padres/Mariners series means, detailing just how proud he is of all of them for carrying the tradition on.
The rookies soak it up. The veterans nod thoughtfully. They all love it and can't get enough.
This is probably a real tradition.
8. The first six innings were filled with normal baseball stuff. Padres hit the ball around the ballpark. The Mariners countered with a mini-rally to cut the lead to 12-7. Everything was normal. It was just a high-scoring game. Unusual for Petco, sure, but nothing too wacky.
The seventh inning, though. That's where the beauty was. That's the marrow of the game, the delicacy. It's where all the apples fell from the stupid tree, which is why we follow baseball in the first place.
The first out was made by a shortstop with a reliever's name, and the game was going to end just as we all expected. After getting down 0-2 in the count, the second batter of the inning (Nori Aoki) eventually hit a ball 40 feet, which was the opposite of what he wanted to do. It looked like this:
It became the metaphor of the game. It should have been an out. It should have been a throw that the pitcher has practiced several hundred times in his career. Instead it was a futile wave of a hand through thin air. What was supposed to be simple was not.
10. Ryan Buchter is a 29-year-old rookie who was having a good season.
Still is having a good season. Those are not the numbers you think of when you hear about a team blowing a 10-run lead. There was no reason for Padres fans to worry.
11. With the game still in the Padres' favor, when it still looked like this was just a dull June game that nobody would remember in a week, much less a year, the Mariners' postseason hopes were suddenly crushed.
That's Robinson Cano, the Mariners' best player, face down in the dirt after taking a baseball to the hand. You've seen this before. The trainer comes out and feels for broken bones. The player grimaces. The trainer keeps checking because there are 573 tiny little bones in the hand, and he has to check every one. The player keeps grimacing, and then he walks off the field, with the trainer gingerly holding his hand and keeping it level.
It was a pointless loss, and now Cano was gone for the year.
He got up, though. He was fine. The broken-bone test came back clean. He took his base. Now the Mariners could resume losing.
12. After the Cano hit-by-pitch, Buchter was, perhaps, a little rattled. Just how rattled, I can't be sure. But this is the look of a man who was pulled over with a kilo in the trunk.
13. Nelson Cruz had an 11-pitch at-bat against Buchter, and he was taking swings that gave everybody the impression that he wanted to hit a ball farther than Aoki did. The plate appearance was tied for the second-longest of his career, and he's good for about one of them every year. Every swing was oooooooh-worthy.
Buchter won. He struck Cruz out on a filthy, dirty, rotten pitch. There were two outs in the seventh, and the Padres led by five runs.
Right before the strikeout, Buchter looked like the hired goon from Miller's Crossing after Gabriel Byrne hits him with a chair.
14. You know what happens then. Singles. A bunch of them. Seven of them, all with two outs. Some of them were ropes. Some of them were placed well. Chris Iannetta swung at a low ball, and he was way out in front of it. Aoki slapped another single that might have been an out on a different day, with a different fielder.
What got me, though, were the foul balls. There were 18 of them in the inning, all of them with the potential to be a double-play grounder or a lazy pop fly. They were 18 times that the hitter attempted to get a hit and mostly failed, but they succeeded juuuuuuuuuust enough. Any one of them could have ruined the comeback.
The old cliché that baseball is a game of inches has always bugged me. It totally and completely undersells the sport.
15. Dick Enberg was raptured after the inning.
All they found after he sang "Oh, myyyyyyy" was a suit on the ground with smoke coming out of it. We'll miss him.
16. On the Padres' telecast, they kept cutting to manager Andy Green in that seventh inning. I'm talking constantly. He looked like he wanted to climb in the Powerade cooler and dig a tunnel to another country, like you might expect.
I don't know who made the decision to keep showing him, but I'm alternately horrified and enthralled.
It was like watching Theon turn into Reek before our eyes, and I'm so, so sorry.
17. Here's how the game didn't end:
Would there have been anything more perfect than the Padres coming back after that? Would there have been anything more perfect in the history of Major League Baseball? I submit there would not. It would have been so perfect -- every plaque in the Hall of Fame would have cried tears of blood, and we would all make pilgrimages to Petco Park, just so we could run onto the field and eat some of the dirt from the batter's box before getting arrested.
We can't have perfection that pure. It's for the best. We wouldn't be able to handle it.
18. Deleted scene from the director's cut:
19. The Mariners win a baseball game they had no right to win. Look at the FanGraphs' Win Expectancy Chart and marvel at that nice, flat, unreachable plateau of 99.9 percent in the middle of this game:
The Padres have one of these wins in a trust now, too. They have a three-peat in there, a run of championships that discourages the rest of the world. They're going to throw a no-hitter in Game 7, and the pitcher who throws it will also hit for the cycle. We'll all have to sit there and take it.
But, like A. Bartlett Giamatti once said, "Deserve's got nothing to do with it." It was supposed to be a Padres/Mariners game in June, the kind of matchup and game that even hardcore baseball fans usually avoid.
Instead, it became one of the best and worst baseball games in the history of the sport. There were a bunch of singles. There were mistakes and regrets. And there was the cosmic symmetry of two teams that have so much in common, even while they're heading in completely different directions.