Since the purpose of the James Webb Space Telescope’s advanced resolution and sensitivity is to view objects in the universe that previously have been too distant, faint or weird, it was gratifying for the Northwest to learn that NASA pointed the $11 billion device back toward Earth recently to explain the phenomenon of the Seattle Mariners.
Early returns from the data indicate the presence of a cyclical anomaly. The development so far has no known cause, purpose or threat, but over the weekend became an object of intense curiosity.
The working theory is that every 15 to 20 years or so around Puget Sound, the relentless, magnetic pull of baseball mediocrity gets disrupted by a burst of mysterious energy.
Data shows that after the 1977 Big Bang, in which the Mariners were born after suing the bejeezus out of the American League for allowing the hijacking of the Seattle Pilots to Milwaukee, energy was merely a low hum. A spike was detected in 1991 when the Mariners finally had a winning season (83-79). The doldrums quickly returned until 1995, when the Mariners made the playoffs and thwarted the fabled New York Yankees.
The subsequent energy spike was substantial, and sustained through 2001, when a record regular season of 116 wins provoked a burst of such intense astonishment that it tore the time/space continuum. The implausibility for Seattle burned so hot that even the fossil record, beyond the cosmic one, contained no evidence about origins and subsequent demise of the energy cataclysm.
So, mediocrity, darkness and foul balls off the groin prevailed for 21 years. Until Saturday.
Since all information from the JWST is still being downloaded, conclusions await. But evidence so far suggests that the two-game sweep of the favored Blue Jays in Toronto in the MLB playoffs compares to success, but in a way previously unknown in the baseball universe (and the regulation cosmos has nothing compared to the sub-atomic particle accumulations inherent in baseball data).
Ahead 1-0 in the best-of-three series but down 8-1 in the sixth inning of game two in the Rogers Centre hothouse – the only place Canadians are permitted to scream publicly — the Mariners won, 10-9. The degree of improbability is nearly radioactive, which may explain why there are reports that some despairing Canucks are considering volunteering for the Russian army.
According to STATS, a baseball data provider, via Jayson Stark of The Athletic, 242 MLB teams have trailed in a postseason game by seven runs or more in the sixth inning or later. The record: 3 wins, 239 losses. Further, STATS researched the Mariners’ all-time record of any games they trailed by seven or more in the sixth or later. Their record: 2-693.
In other baseball research dating to 1903, Saturday’s outcome was unique – the biggest comeback by a road team in MLB postseason history.
One more ounce of the unlikely: To close the game in the ninth inning, manager Scott Servais turned to a rookie, 24-year-old George Kirby, who never in his major- or minor-league career, had pitched in relief. He became the first rookie in MLB history to record a postseason save in his first appearance.
The on-field freakishness reached its apex in the Mariners’ eighth inning. J.P. Crawford’s two-out pop fly to shallow center was so randomly yet perfectly placed that it induced a collision between two pursing defenders, dazing both and leaving the ball untended until after three runners raced around the bases to score.
For that play, there is no comparative, no history, no explanation. There is only the theme music from the Benny Hill TV show.
Saturday was, as the Mariners like to call it, chaos ball, a collection of random occurrences rampant in a cruel universe. Also, there was inspiration.
“How about the (Seattle) fans in the stands tonight?” Servais said. “I never thought I’d hear, ‘Let’s go Mariners’ here. How many years have we listened to ‘Let’s go Blue Jays’ at (our) park. When I heard that late in the game, I thought, ‘We have to win this game.’”
The depth and breadth of this spike in chaos and inspiration awaits the results of what the win has wrought: An AL Division Series against the Houston Astros, who had the weekend off as a reward for having the league’s best record (106 wins; the Mariners had 90). This series is a best-of-five that begins Tuesday and Thursday in Houston. Then everyone comes for game three Saturday to Seattle, where partisans for two decades have ached to indulge in the home yard the agony/ecstasy thing the Blue Jays fans just endured.
As Philadelphia Inquirer columnist David Murphy described it: “Watching playoff baseball is like watching a loved one defuse a bomb.”
For what it’s worth, the Mariners will attempt to defuse the bomb as America’s Team, an informal designation that goes to any team playing the Astros. After being busted for a club-wide cheating scandal in 2018, the barely repentant Astros have become the acme of team-sports villainy. Should the varmints be ousted by the Mariners, they will be covered from coast to coast in sunshine, lollipops and rainbows.
The Astros won 12 of 19 games against the Mariners this season, and have better hitters, fielders, starting pitching and relief pitching. What they don’t have is something Crawford referenced Saturday between sprays of champagne and beer in the visitors’ clubhouse in Toronto.
“If we can win this game,” he said, “we can win any game.”
If chaos and inspiration really can sustain in baseball’s universe, the JWST should scan for a teensy tear in the space-time continuum.