August, an interesting month for sports in Seattle. The Sounders continued their reformation: Near dead in the water to start July, they have now won five straight league games, including a 2-1 defeat of the Chicago Fire last Saturday night (Aug. 28) at Sounder Park.
It was a match that talked — had they lost, the very season might have pitched overboard. Much was wagered on this one, but no one could come right out and say so. Freddie Ljungberg had been traded to this same Fire in June, and it seemed only natural he would come back and bite the Sounders in the butt, then clap, laugh, and bite them again. He is a feisty and proud one, Freddie — a Brad Pitt, happiest when you get him mad.
Adrian Hanauer and Sigi Schmid, owner and coach in that order, had made the wager to trade Ljungberg; the Sounders were only a game or two from elimination or death by bickering. Ljungberg leaves and suddenly the carburetor clears and the Sounders are humming. Tyrone Marshall, their senior defender, was exactly right: There was simply not enough room for two Fred(d)ie's on the pitch. Fredy Montero was a young man last season but he is the man now, flashing his remarkable talents all over the pitch.
Still, it was not a simple wager, and no one was smart enough to imagine it would work out this well. The remarkable thing about the game is that the Sounders stood up, took some pounding, held onto their new form, and still won. The Fire are a very grown-up club, brawlers in the best Chicago tradition, and, worse yet, they needed to win. You have the new Sounders, touch, touch, touch, and the pounding Fire, whacking anyone fool enough to come goal-side, but by game's end, it was Seattle that held the match in control. Montero scored both goals, the first by cross-footing two defenders and the second, in extra time, by slipping loose from the mob.
Chicago had scored first, on a half-assed handball call in the box, which threatened to distort the game before it had even reached full throttle. Montero's goal — he may even have been offside — reset the match. Both teams move on, Chicago wounded, Seattle buoyant, and no one will remember that Ljungberg just missed a toe-poke goal in the 88th minute. He was applauded at first, booed with every touch, and a gentleman throughout. If he had a regret, it may have been that he was not 19 years old and just starting up with this club that was having such fun and playing so well.
A couple more sports notes from the Dog Days. There was a Search for Brian Bosworth article in The Seattle Times, and it included comments from Dave Wyman, who played linebacker alongside Bosworth. The Boz was dragged to Seattle by money, he had announced this was not his natural choice at all. The Seahawks needed a monster — a Butkus, or Nitschke, or Tatum — if for no more than to wipe the smile from John Elway's happy teeth. The Boz had made himself into just such a figure — even his mother said, had he been the first child he would have been an only child. The Boz said he chased quarterbacks just to see the snot bubbles in their nose.
But Wyman, who befriended the Boz, was amused that no one noticed that the Boz had very small hands (no bigger than my son's) and feet (size 9), much too small for the rigor of Pro Football, and that proved true. The Boz destructed in two seasons, leaving with a shoulder that would be completely reconstructed. He was, in an eerie way, the first XBox action figure.
A final tale from August. On Friday night, the 20th, the Mariners opened a series in Yankee Stadium, the La Scala of baseball. Some 43,000 people came to watch the best team play the worst team, and the worst team, the Mariners, won perfectly, 6-0. Felix Hernandez pitched the complete game, and the Yankees could only watch — and that does not happen often in August in Yankee Stadium. And surely someone in the Yankee dugout took a note: "Get him!" If you can beat the Yankees, they want to talk.
REVISED: Hernandez was brilliant. His floppy blouse, skewed cap, baggy pants — he owned the field. But no one took more pleasure than Ichiro, who has had to play for one lousy Mariner team after another, for every form of stern, not too bright, specially trained manager around, who has batted with players long washed out from other clubs. Ichiro — who else has but one name in the conservative batting cards of baseball? Who else hit a walk-off, two-run home run off Mariano Rivera to win in the ninth inning last September, securing a victory for Felix Hernandez at Safeco?
If you watch or listen to enough Mariner games, you can sense Ichiro. He is indeed a warrior. Like Edgar Martinez, he will not only hit, but it is when he hits. He will endure when it must be, but his preference, his cunning, his spirit, is to win.
The next day, they played again, at noon, in a bright sun. The Yankees had been drubbed and Ichiro had had enough of the joyless season to know that, for one moment, he could try to take another win from the Yankees. He hit the first pitch to him for a home run. When he came up again in the third, he hit that pitch for a home run. Ichiro, at 160 pounds, does not hit home runs, but he does love to win. Still, and achingly, the Mariners lost that game.
But were Ichiro in his early 20s, that same guy in the Yankee dugout would have written, "Get him!" For he is a true piece of work. It will be a quiet sorrow if he is never to feel post season play.
(In Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, they take Labor Day very seriously, gathering at a bonfire and singing a song to summer's end, titled "I Wish All My Children Were Babies Again." We have given away most of Labor Day in the States, preferring malls.)
Happy Labor Day.