AT NOON LAST FRIDAY, 38,000 people drove, walked, bused, and sailed toward a very expensive building south of downtown Seattle for an express purpose: to help the Seattle Mariners sweep the opening series of the playoffs from the Chicago White Sox. Of course, the steely-eyed determination of these supporters derives from the foolish notion that sitting on a plastic chair while cracking open peanut shells amounts to assisting highly paid, talented athletes. But screw it. The Mariners had reached the playoffs, encroaching upon territory they hadn't entered since 1997. The two intervening seasons had been long and fraught with pain and destruction. Overcoming the loss of Randy Johnson. Then Junior. Then imploding the humongous concrete embryo that gave them birth. This game, following two hard-fought swipes against the team with the best record in the American League, on the field at Comiskey, meant catharsis not just for a ballclub but for a city.
So they marched, bedecked in Mariners blue, green, teal, black, whatever color has appeared on the team's uniform at any point in its 24-year history. They carried brooms, bones (inflated, in tribute to Jay Buhner), placards, bags of food. Outside the brick and metal fa硤e of Safeco Field, they engaged in a mad pregame ballet, intersecting and bumping, sidestepping the political stumpers who'd seized the opportunity to win converts to the cause of Cantwell, Carlson, Gore, and Locke.
As one o'clock approached, the fans entered the stadium. Public address announcer Tom Hutyler introduced the woman who would sing the national anthem, Ann Wilson. In the hot dog line on the upper level behind home plate, a man cracked to strangers, "Makes you glad you're stuck out here, doesn't it?"
The first inning went by without incident, but the second brought a White Sox run. The deficit quelled the crowd, which earlier had chanted "Woof woof woof woof" along with the thumping song that would blare from the sound system a dozen or more times throughout the afternoon, "Who Let the Dogs Out?" The unlikely hit for a group from the Bahamas, the Baha Men, is the adopted theme song of star shortstop Alex Rodriguez and the team, as well as most other teams in this year's World Series pursuit.
In the fourth, the Mariners tied the game. Aaron Sele pitched heroically, limiting the opponents to a pair of hits, and then a third in the eighth, when Arthur Rhodes continued a string of flawless relief that spanned the three-game series. Then came the bottom of the ninth, the score tied 1-1. The record crowd of 48,010, seesawing from silent hope to boisterous boost, would help push across the game-winning run.
The scene took on the blurred hues and images of a LeRoy Nieman painting: players leaping as Carlos Guillen's bunt single squeaked past Frank Thomas' glove and Rickey Henderson scored, manager Lou Piniella pirouetting near the first base line. The fans should have engineered their own supportive chant, but "Who Let the Dogs Out?" blared anew, the lone disappointment on a day that brewed up a delicious mixture of tension and passion.