Last night’s World Series win by the San Francisco Giants, a team overlooked by many all season long, got us to thinking “What if?…” Imagine an alternate universe, far, far away, where this piece of fiction takes place…
JOE BUCK: Bottom of the ninth inning here at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, where David Aardsma is now on the mound, three outs away from delivering the city of Seattle its first World Series championship after 34 long seasons. Tim, are you surprised that manager Don Wakamatsu didn’t stick with Felix Hernandez, who allowed just three hits over his first eight innings and had just passed the 100-pitch mark?
TIM MCCARVER: No, I’m not. You have to dance with the folks who brought you here, as long as there’s still a dance going on. And while Hernandez certainly was full value for all he did tonight, you’ve got a 3-1 lead with three outs to go and that means it’s time for Aardsma. There’s a reason all those Mariners fans in the crowd have those dome-tops on their heads. Aardsma is a big part of this Seattle team’s post-season run.
JOE BUCK: As unlikely a run as you’re ever going to see. I mean, we knew they had pitching, with Hernandez and then Cliff Lee fronting the rotation. But then, you had the second-half comeback from that shoulder surgery by Erik Bedard and the emergence of Jason Vargas. Talk about a tough starting four, three of them lefties. And then, the bullpen. We all know about Aardsma. “Scald with Bald” has become the rallying cry of Mariners fans, who love his mid-90s heat. But then you had the rookie, Dan Cortes, who has just been lights-out in the eighth inning since being called up in early September from Triple-A. Before that, Mark Lowe and Brandon League. Talk about shortening the game. And all without a left-handed pitcher in the bullpen!
TIM MCCARVER: It’s like Wakamatsu and his general manager, Jack Zduriencik, are trying to reinvent the game of baseball!
Photo Credit: AP
JOE BUCK: As Aardsma delivers strike one to Jayson Werth. Speaking of Werth, do you think the Mariners will be in the market for an outfielder this off-season?
TIM MCCARVER: I would have thought so back in July. But who would have imagined the power emergence of Michael Saunders? I think a lot of it had to do with that trade deadline pickup of Jose Guillen. Not only has Guillen become a respectable designated hitter in Seattle, even as a right handed bat in a ballpark that kills right handed hitters, but he’s had a real impact on the rest of that clubhouse as well.
JOE BUCK: Of course, it all looked like it might come crashing down with that investigation into the package his wife had received on Guillen’s behalf a few months earlier.
TIM MCCARVER: All that fuss over a box of birthday cookies! You’d think they could just Google the fact Guillen’s birthday was in mid-May.
JOE BUCK: Swing and a miss by Werth. Strike two. You said it, Tim. Google can save you a lot of headaches. Of course, before Guillen, you had Aubrey Huff serving as the DH in the first half of the year. And what a surprise he was.
TIM MCCARVER: And to think, the Mariners actually contemplated bringing Ken Griffey Jr. back as the DH! I mean, talk about a difference-maker. Swap out Huff for Griffey and all of a sudden, an offense that barely gets you three or four runs per game suddenly drops off a cliff.
JOE BUCK: Sort of like the San Francisco Giants.
TIM MCCARVER: Let’s not go there.
JOE BUCK: The Giants, of course, losers of 103 games this past season, firing manager Bruce Bochy at mid-season and then seeing general manager Brian Sabean step down…as Werth goes down swinging! Two outs to go for Seattle! Scald with Bald, indeed.
TIM MCCARVER: The bottom line, Joe, is that you never know how certain moves in baseball are going to pan out. You saw it with Huff in Seattle. Signed as almost a free-agent afterthought when Griffey refused the Mariners’ offer and opted — wisely in my opinion — to retire, he supplied just enough offense to keep Seattle in the thick of things in the first half.
JOE BUCK: That’s right, Tim. I mean, imagine where the Mariners would be without all that power he supplied in the first half. Especially with Casey Kotchman bottoming out the way he did. As Raul Ibanez steps in and takes ball one…
TIM MCCARVER: To finish that thought, Huff was the big reason the Mariners were in a position at the trade deadline to go after Guillen and assume his large contract. Don’t forget, they had just seen Bedard come off the DL and knew he was going to cost them extra money in incentives. We know Zduriencik had to fight tooth and nail with his boss, Mariners president Chuck Armstrong, and his boss, CEO Howard Lincoln, to go and fight the ownership group for a higher payroll. Rumor has it, Zduriencik issued a sort of “Money or me” ultimatum and the rest of the higher-ups caved. Quite a departure from past practices, I’m told, but look where they are now. Guillen coming over to be the DH allowed Huff to slide over to first base and bounced Kotchman out of there. But it’s true that, without Huff to begin with, the Mariners might not have kept pace with the Texas Rangers,and then, who knows? Maybe they trade Cliff Lee at the deadline? Maybe even to the Rangers? Can you imagine that?
JOE BUCK: Yes, I can. And one wonders how the balance of power in the American League might have shifted had that taken place. Not just for this year, but for years to come as well. Instead, now you hear talk of Lee possibly staying in Seattle long-term. You know the Yankees are going to throw money Lee’s way, but after that first-round playoff incident, you never know.
TIM MCCARVER: Never a good idea for fans to throw beer on the wife of a player your team is trying to sign. Especially when Lee wasn’t even pitching that day. Don’t forget, he threw the complete-game two-hitter two days earlier. What she was even doing in the crowd that day, I have no idea, but it might have changed history. I understand the Yankee fans weren’t happy with losing the first two games in Seattle, but you have to keep your head screwed on. Even in the Bronx! Instead, the Yankees get swept in the first round, terrorize Lee’s wife throughout the decisive game, and now, they may not even get their prime free agent target!
JOE BUCK: As Ibanez takes strike one from Aardsma, eliciting cheers from the pockets of dome-headed supporters in the crowd. Speaking of bald guys, what do you think is going through Ibanez’s mind right now? I mean, he leaves Seattle as a free agent following the 2008 season, hoping to win a World Series, and now, he’s about to lose in the finals for a second straight year. To his former team, at that!
TIM MCCARVER: As we used to say on the ’64 Cardinals, what goes around, comes around! But you have to put things in perspective here. That Mariners team in 2008 was absolutely terrible. A horrific experience for all involved. It’s tough to blame Ibanez for wanting to get as far away from it as he could.
JOE BUCK: Of course, the Mariners, having learned valuable lessons from 2008, vowed to never have it happen again. One of the keys has been stability, with Wakamatsu and his staff providing the foundation for a rebuilding process that’s gone a lot quicker than most people imagined. Ibanez swings and misses, strike two…
TIM MCCARVER: It’s called accountability, Joe. All good teams have it. You have to be accountable for what you do on the field. Your teammates expect it of you. And that’s why even a legend like Griffey, who was so responsible for turning that clubhouse around in 2009, was smart enough to realize a guy hitting .214 over an entire season can’t possibly expect to be a full-time DH on a good ballclub. On any ballclub. Because no matter who you are, no matter how good you once were, baseball is a real-time sport. You can’t demand accountability from others if you are no longer capable of producing on the field.
JOE BUCK: Sounds like Griffey saved the front office from itself.
TIM MCCARVER: Exactly. Sometimes, you have to be lucky as well as good. We used to call it “Lucky-good” back in the day. And some things never change.
JOE BUCK: No they don’t, as Ibanez grounds one to the left side. Lopez up with the ball and fires a cannon to first base for out number two. The Mariners, one out away from their first World Series title as bald fans everywhere make their voices heard. They’re rising as one now, even in Philadelphia, oblivious to the taunts of the fans around them…speaking of Lopez, what a Cinderella finish to his season!
TIM MCCARVER: Right now, he’s got my vote for World Series MVP. Senor Sock, they call him. His three-run homer tonight off Roy Oswalt has been the difference so far. We all knew Lopez could hit home runs after his performance last year, but he really fell off the planet offensively this season. Didn’t show any power at all until September and then…
JOE BUCK: …then he took off. Three home runs in the ALCS, helping the Mariners get past the Tampa Bay Rays in five games, and now, with three more long balls and that huge double in a pivotal Game 3 to set the stage for what we’re seeing.
TIM MCCARVER: You said it. The Phillies had taken out Lee in Game 2 and what a boost that was for them. Then, they had Bedard on the ropes with a 2-0 lead in the seventh inning of Game 3, and they’d taken the Safeco Field crowd out of the contest in the first World Series game ever played in Seattle. But when you have Ichiro and Chone Figgins one, two at the top of the order, you’re never out of it.
JOE BUCK: No, you’re not, as Carlos Ruiz swings and misses. The Mariners now two strikes away. Of course, Ichiro bouncing that infield single towards third and beating it out to get that seventh-inning rally going. Then, you had Figgins drawing the walk and both guys pulling off the double-steal. After that, you had Guillen striking out, then Huff walked intentionally and Lopez, after falling behind 0-2 in the count, delivers the clutch double the other way to the right field corner.
TIM MCCARVER: And remember, without the shock element of Lopez going the other way, I don’t think Huff scores the go-ahead run from first base. But there was no fielder within 30 feet of the ball. Turns out to be the final run of the game. That was huge, because the Phillies tied the series by beating Vargas in Game 4.
JOE BUCK: But then the Mariners pulled a fast one on everybody and flip-flopped Lee and Hernandez in the rotation. I guess it’s easy to do that when Lee lasted only two innings in Game 2.
TIM MCCARVER: Yes, that was a shocker. And Lee responded on short rest by tossing six shutout innings to beat Roy Halladay in a 1-0 game in which the Mariners bullpen retired nine in a row. That Lee start allowed the Mariners to use Hernandez tonight. Sounds like a leap in logic, but I’ll tell you, it’s the only way you could have Hernandez pitching in a ficticious scenario like this tonight in a Game 6 given how the rotation originally started out in this fantasy scenario.
JOE BUCK: Yes, good catch there, Tim, and nice improvising on the fly. Fiction writing is never easy…as Bengie Molina catches a called second strike from Aardsma, leaving the Mariners one pitch away.
TIM MCCARVER: Let’s not forget Molina in all of this. You talk to scouts throughout the game and they were all unanimous in pinpointing the biggest weakness this Mariners team had from Day 1. And the Mariners, after getting by behind the plate the first few months, take advantage of Sabean and the Giants one day after the Jose Guillen trade.
JOE BUCK: That’s right, though at the time, in Sabean’s defense, a package of Kotchman, Ryan Rowland-Smith and Ezequiel Carrera didn’t seem too shabby for a veteran catcher from a team headed towards 103 losses.
TIM MCCARVER: Yeah, but Kotchman isn’t a full-time player any more, Carrera, I’m told, amounts to a fourth outfielder at best, while Rowland-Smith, well, he’s still young. A lot of work needed to be done there. You know, call me crazy, but I think he could turn it around in the National League, facing a weaker bottom third of the order. The one thing missing from his game right now, from what I can tell, is mixed martial arts.
JOE BUCK: Come again?
TIM MCCARVER: Mixed martial arts. I really think they could help him. You see, you have to establish the inside strike zone and that means you can’t be afraid of hitting guys once in a while. And when you do, some of them will charge the mound. But if you can take ’em apart like Randy Couture, that might make ’em think twice. So, tell me Joe. If you’re a hitter, what are you going to do? You know that if you get aggressive in crowding the plate, you could get hit by an inside fastball. That’s going to hurt. But you also know that, if you charge the mound to try to prevent the pitcher from ever coming inside on you again, it’s going to hurt even more. So, what are you going to do?
JOE BUCK: Back off the plate?
TIM MCCARVER: Precisely.
JOE BUCK: Sheer genius, Tim.
TIM MCCARVER: As always.
JOE BUCK: And here’s the pitch…swing and a miss by Ruiz! The Seattle Mariners, after a 33-year drought, are World Series champions! The Emerald City is finally the jewel of the sports world!
TIM MCCARVER: They’re lucky-good! Just the way they planned it!