There are some nights late in seasons like these when you literally have to go on a hunting mission to find some type of story that will keep readers awake.
Then, you get tonight, when former bartender Tom Wilhelmsen tosses two scoreless innings before handing the ball off to substitute teacher Steve Delabar. The latter retires the side in only his second big league game, then records his first MLB victory when injury sub Luis Rodriguez belts a walkoff homer in the 12th for a 2-1 win over the New York Yankees.
Did I mention that Rodriguez — maybe we can call him L-Rod tonight and have it mean something — also clubbed two doubles? Or that his mother, Luisa, was in the stands, watching him play for the first time in five years? That she had only arrived in Seattle today for her very first trip into the city? That she gets a 20-day break from her job as a teacher? A job as a teacher at the same school as Delabar?
OK, I made that last part up. Couldn’t resist.
But we all know Delabar taught as recently as April in Elizabethtown, KY, the place where most of the 35 to 40 text messages he’d already received postgame originated from. And that Luisa Rodriguez teaches many, many miles further south than that in the land where Hugo Chavez is king, or supreme ruler, or something like that.
But you’ve got to admit. These are all pretty darned good stories.
“It was an unbelievable day for me,” Rodriguez said.
Pretty unbelievable day for Elizabethtown, KY as well.
“Everybody back home is really enjoying this whole thing,” Delabar said.
As for Wilhelmsen, well, it seems like ages ago that his rags-to-riches bartender-becomes-big-leaguer story was the talk of the town. Now, it’s merely competing for the title of best story in the 2011 bullpen.
But Wilhelmsen was wearing a mile-wide smile when asked whether he got a kick out of seeing what Delabar is going through.
“Aw man, good for him, man,” he said. “It’s just really cool. You know, the only thing you can do is just take a deep breath and know that you’ve done it a hundred times before. That’s what he did and he got at it.”
Delabar hit Robinson Cano with a pitch, but then got two harmless flyball outs. Finally, he saw Trayvon Robinson make a really tough catch of a sinking liner to left field that was one of those in-between shots that tends to handcuff a fielder.
Then, he saw Rodriguez go deep. Next thing he knew, he was taking a beer shower and celebrating his first win.
Wilhelmsen said the pair hasn’t really discussed their larger-than-life background stories too often. They did play together in Class AA earlier this year, when Wilhelmsen told him how the big leagues are the same game as in the minors.
“We talked…about how it’s the same game and not to let it overwhelm you,” he said. “But it’s his second game and against the New York Yankees. That’s a little different.”
And a little special. Like a lot of the stories that unfolded tonight. Michael Sauders making that catch, Jason Vargas finding new success for a second start in a row.
But tough to compete with the Big Three stories of the game. The Yankees, for one of those rare times, could not.