On Their Feet, With Roars, Chants and Rally Shoes, Fans Tried to Will Mariners to Victory


Seattle's first taste of postseason baseball in 21 years was electric, exhilarating, excruciating, surreal, crushing and long.

A city that had waited two decades for this game got the equivalent of two games.

It had drama, nerves, heartbreak and smoke. It had a sellout crowd that stood for hours, never flagging, willing, willing, willing the hometown nine toward victory. A team that's lifted an entire region with its verve and spirit fought to the bitter end but couldn't quite get there.

It had 18 pitchers and a postseason record 42 strikeouts. It lasted six hours and 22 minutes.

It had everything but runs.

In the end, the crowd Saturday just couldn't pull the Mariners through as Jeremy Peña's solo home run in the top of the 18th inning spelled doom.

The fans stood for the first two innings. They stood when there were two strikes or two outs or when the Mariners had a runner on base. From the seventh inning on, they just stood. They roared during introductions. They roared for Astros strikeouts and those rare Mariners hits. T-Mobile Park has likely never been louder.

Fans came from near and far, from Seattle and its suburbs, from the Eastside and east of the Cascades. They came with family and with old friends, brought together by a team that, through effort, yellow Vader helmets and joie de vivre united a region in civic pride.

The Mariners played 18 innings of postseason baseball — 17 of them scoreless, the most in postseason history. No one left early. At 7:30 — the game started shortly after 1 — after Mariners phenom Julio Rodriguez flied out to center to finally end it, the crowd remained standing, chanting "Let's Go Mariners." They cheered as the players, slowly, reluctantly, left the dugout.

Brian Byrd flew with his whole family — wife, mother, 12-year-old son (favorite player, "Geno"), 9-year-old daughter (favorite player, "J.P.") — from Fallon, Nevada, where he's the public works director for the small city east of Reno. They lined up to get into T-Mobile Park an hour before the gates opened, more than three hours before first pitch, nearly 10 hours before the game would end.

"We've watched and listened to thousands of Mariners games over the years," Byrd said. "I always promised these guys if they got in the playoffs we'd be here."

He grew up in tiny Rainier, Oregon, where his dad got him into the Mariners. He died seven years ago.

"I wish he could be here," Byrd said.

Varon Larsen and Brett Kast grew up together in Moses Lake. Now Larsen lives in Oregon and Kast in Spokane. They hadn't seen a game together in a decade. "This was an opportunity to reconnect," Larsen said.

The excitement built early. At 10 a.m., the line for a hot dog or kielbasa at Al's Gourmet Sausage was 15 deep.

Chris Anderson, the "Pike Street Drummer," set his drum kit up on Royal Brougham Way outside the left field entrance. Anderson plays outside about 60 home games a year, never a playoff game.

"I'm here to get the fans energized, to get 'em juiced up," Anderson said. At 10:15 he played Phil Collins' "In the Air Tonight."

"I've been waiting for this moment for all my life, oh Lord."

The fans, the home field were going to carry the Mariners to victory, Anderson said. He used a convoluted simile: The Mariners were like a high school kid taking his girlfriend to a football game. The crowd was the girlfriend. The team would have a little extra, to impress its girlfriend.

"They stretch out a little more, they hit the ball a little harder," Anderson said.

They stretched and worked and fought, but they couldn't get those hits.

Inside the stadium, at Rolling Roof Refreshments in center field, vendor Joe Hage stood in front of the stand and hawked his wares.

"I invite you to get a hot dog sir, they're so good," Hage said.

A singer in Northwest Sound Men's Chorus, Hage turned his attention to the passing crowds and projected his voice.

"Fifty-one thousand people in the park today folks," his bass boomed. "We will sell out of everything. If you want beer, kettle corn, get in line now." (Six hours later, they'd sold out of bottled water, beer, hot dogs and pretzels.)

Irma Guerrero had been to a home playoff game before, but it's been 27 years. She was at Game 5 in 1995, watching in a stadium that's since been blown up, when Edgar doubled and Junior raced around.

She comes to about 15 games a year and was feeling apprehensive, excited. "I never thought this would happen," she said.

"I'm really hoping George doesn't get intimidated," she said, pausing. "I call them by first name. They're my boys."

George was not intimidated. George was impeccable. George Kirby, the 24-year-old rookie from Rye, New York, pitched seven shutout innings.

After he let two on, with one out, there was a mound visit, the infielders circling the young pitcher.

"Kirby, Kirby, Kirby," the crowd chanted. He induced a fly out. A freight train passed, sounding its shrill horn. The crowd kept chanting. And Kirby struck out Jose Altuve to get out of the jam and end the best start of his young career.

There were still 11 innings to go.

Wildfire smoke drifted in.

The sky shifted from a gorgeous blue to a pale, ominous yellow.

Behind the right-field foul pole, Dave Nagel (wearing a Justin Smoak jersey) watched with his 18-year-old son, Nathaniel (Kyle Seager jersey).

He was confident. "There's no quit in them," Nagle said in the bottom of the fourth. "They aren't intimidated by this at all."

"Somebody's gonna get a hit and the dam is gonna break loose," he said. It never happened.

Throughout much of it, the game was nervy, the crowd was not.

Josh Steckler (Julio Rodriguez jersey) is from Seattle, goes to college in Wisconsin, and flew home for the game.

"I'm 21 so I was 6 months old for the last one," he said. "I'm excited, no matter what happens I get to say I went to my first playoff baseball game."

The smoke got thicker, the air got acrid, unhealthy.

By the eighth inning both Nagels, father and son, were in stocking feet, one rally shoe atop each of their heads.

Steckler became less sanguine.

"Nervous, nervous," he said in the ninth. "Living and dying on every pitch."

He paced. He high-fived. He paced.

"The game's gonna end on a home run," he said in the 14th.

The smoke-filled sky turned from yellow to a dusky, ghastly purple. Haze descended.

"I'm losing my voice," Nagel said. "If they don't win it soon, I'm not going to be able to cheer."

They didn't win it. It ended in heartbreak, not cheers.

If Seattle only got one game after 21 years of wait, it was one unforgettable game.