It was Tuesday night, July 1, in the press box at Safeco Field, but the talk was about football (would the Seahawks be good?) and basketball (would the Sonics be?).
Yes, a baseball game loomed. Yes, a crowd had assembled for a Seattle Mariners game (though, to hear it, many had paid four loonies a gallon to come south from Canuckia to pull for the Toronto Blue Jays, last in the American League East).
Normal circumstances would've meant that the name Ryan-Rowland Smith would be tripping clumsily from the lips of many. The 25-year-old Australia native had been bumped up to a starting role because M's staff stud Felix Hernandez was on the disabled list with an ankle sprain, itself involving tripping clumsily during a play at home plate a week earlier.
But less attention seemed to be paid to the Mariners, more to an obscure bench player named Marsha Pechman, said to be capable of delivering from the right and left side, but with a gavel instead of a bat.
Within hours, U.S. District Court Judge Pechman would adjudicate a certain-to-be-disputed trial pertaining to the Seattle SuperSonics. As 4 p.m. Wednesday, July 2, approached, any baseball game could be thought of as expendable if only locals could trade it for a Pechman ruling in favor of the City of Seattle.
Such a call would mean regional National Basketball Association fans could have a reasonable expectation of keeping the Sonics for at least two more seasons. That might buy time to broker something with the NBA that would assure an ongoing Sonics presence here. When M's fans cheered Raul Ibanez for a pair of superb early plays in left field, perhaps what they really were doing was projecting such heroics as a kind of "yes-we-can" for Seattle sports in general.
Lost on none with even a measure of institutional memory was the reality that all three of the city's major-league sports franchises have been in jeopardy the past two decades of being pirated away by out-of-town owners. That doesn't even include the fact that a fourth, the Seattle Pilots, actually left nearly 40 years ago. As Henny Youngman surely would have said had he lived in Seattle instead of Vaudeville: "Take my franchise. Please!"
The immediacy of the baseball game intervened with none out in the fourth inning. With the chant "Let's go Blue Jays" loud enough to drown out the local birds, Smith, for three innings the seemingly Awesome Aussie, suddenly had the bases loaded with none out and one in. He left yielding a 3-0 lead, thought at the time to be possibly insurmountable by the standards of the Mariners, who had succumbed to Toronto 2-0 the night before.
The M's had just come home from an improbable 6-3 road trip against National League teams. No one expected a club 20 games below .500 to do much besides play out the schedule. Football season loomed, and that generally was thought to be good.
Then the M's rallied for two in the fourth. Would they win a symbolic one for the sibling Sonics? It seemed doubtful when second-baseman Jose Lopez let a textbook double-play ball scoot between his shoes in the sixth, a fielding error that led to three more Jays tallies and another chorus of pro-Toronto intonations.
By the bottom of the ninth, the score was tied at 6. With one out and two on, Willie Bloomquist slapped his first pitch into left center and Ibanez scored. After the 7-6 win, Bloomquist talked about baseball. For some in attendance, the clutch game-winner seemed to talk basketball as well, as in "adjudicate this, Ms. Pechman."
The Mariners, as disappointing as they've been this season, would have to lose virtually all their remaining games to match the futility of the 2007-08 Sonics (.244). But residents of Mariner Nation at least have this much going for them: Even when the local jeers are as loud as the visiting fans' cheers, at least the M's aren't leaving town unless it's for a road trip, maybe even another winning one.
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