The marvelous M's

The Hemps and Narcs of baseball face off.

"You never know about baseball, that's for damn sure."—Lou Piniella.

ON THE PAVEMENT at First and Royal Brougham, the young guy who goes by the name Age is shouting every 10 seconds, "Seattle voters: Stop arresting marijuana users, vote Initiative 73!"

Up comes a squat man with a rolling rack of newspapers. He is hoping to peddle them to the thousands of fans pouring past into Safeco Field. The hawker thinks the kid's marijuana mantra is distracting his customers.

"Man, there's free dope over there," he says in a conspiratorial voice, pointing down the street. "Really. No kidding. Check it out."

Age isn't falling for it. But he is disappointed. He's better positioned than the hawker, the sax man, the homeless Vietnam vet, the Greg Nickels sign holders, an accordionist, a poor mom with kids, two trumpet players, guitarist 3 Finger Jack, an army of scalpers trying to sell $15 tickets for $125, and all the others who form the coffee-can-and-placard gantlet fans must run to get inside Safeco.

At game time, some 48,000 people have entered. Yet there are only three names on Age's clipboard.

"I guess," he says in a hoarse voice, "M's fans just aren't pot smokers."

Then again, a lot of people with green faces are floating on air this week, clutching their Ichiro bobblehead dolls and munching Safeco pizza at $3.75 a cardboard slab. It's the Marvelous M's vs. the Fabulous Yankees, the Hemps and Narcs of baseball, for the American League trophy.

In these days of terrorism and sorrow, anthrax and war, it would seem almost unpatriotic to beat New York's team. Mayor Rudy by day ministers to his city and the nation's psyche, while by night he leads cheers for the world champs.

On the other hand, he wants three more months and the Yanks want one more Series. Is greed still good?

Rallies, obviously, are. New York's comeback playoff wins against the A's proved, as Gertrude Stein said of Oakland, "There's no there, there." Seattle finally managed to soar over Cleveland, which unlike its river, never fully caught fire.

The M's win had announcer Dave Niehaus uncharacteristically screaming and waxing obtusely on the radio: "The long, clammy arms of winter are beginning to reach around the shoulders of the Cleveland Indians and whisper 'Spring is only five months away'!"

Whispering arms aside, baseball's best team earlier had the experts reviewing the tapes and scratching their heads, wondering what that smell was.

The M's won 116 of 162 games, then began to disassemble in last week's playoffs, threatening to become a historical asterisk (*Tied all-time win record, turned to dung in postseason).

Until the M's got the offense revving in the final, do-it-or-lose-it game Monday, it was as if they'd become another team: the Seahawks, maybe. Instead of Manager of the Year, Lou Piniella was looking like Manager of the Regular Season and a Couple of ALDS Games.

Of course, in baseball as in life, foreplay doesn't guarantee orgasm. And in the midst of all those lusty season victories and erotic records, fans were probably too giddy to notice some clear signs of Mariners ineptness.

After all, weren't they the first team since 1925 to blow a 12-run lead?

Didn't their pitchers toss two no-hit games but none for Seattle (both for Tacoma)?

Isn't it true they have an Abbott but no Costello?

Starting to see the big picture?

There were signs that things were going terribly wrong on the last day of the regular season when the M's couldn't even win their 117th game!

True. Sweet Lou and M's management even shut themselves off in Lou's office that night and drowned their sorrows with champagne.

During that bacchanalia, I am told, M's CEO Howard Lincoln asked M's President Chuck Armstrong if he thought their problem was hiring players whose names make complete sentences.

"You know," Lincoln said, "like Suzuki Price Borders Norm, and Rhodes Mark Pat Boone?"

As good an explanation as any.

Everyone felt better during game five Monday, watching Lou joking and laughing while hanging onto a nervously slim lead.

He'd already said that if they lost, it had been a good year anyway. He wasn't going to feel rotten for letting down every man, woman, and dog in Seattle—not to mention the whole population of Japan, who got up at 5 a.m. to watch TV.

I think the city could have handled it. We've long watched fly balls getting lost in the rain. As pitcher Ryan Franklin said a couple weeks ago after being left off the postseason roster, "I've been in crappy situations my whole career."

That's a drag of a different sort. Inhale. M's in six. Exhale.

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