ANAHEIM, Calif. – This night was clearly going the Seattle Mariners’ way when a guy in the stands who wasn’t even a Seattle fan might have saved them from a home run.
John Loef, 19, sure looked the part of a Seattle follower in his Mariners cap and dark blue sweatshirt as he leaned over the bleacher wall high in right-center to catch a third-inning fly ball. Loef snared it, triggering an on-field argument, an umpire’s conference and later the second video replay review the Mariners have experienced since the rule was instituted late last season.
In the end, Los Angeles Angels slugger Gary Matthews Jr. was awarded only a ground-rule double and Loef was ejected from Angel Stadium on a play that had little impact on Saturday night’s wild 9-8 victory by the Mariners. But on the symbolic side, the idea of the Mariners having their own Jeffrey Maier in enemy territory had plenty of Seattle fans buzzing about their first-place team’s destiny.
Maier was an 12-year-old New York Yankees fan in 1996 when he infamously reached out from the bleachers and “snared” what looked to be a certain double off the wall. The play was ruled a controversial home run that helped the Yankees gather momentum against the favored Baltimore Orioles in their American League Championship Series. New York ultimately went all the way to a title.
Loef’s play wasn’t quite so generous toward the Mariners, since the kinesiology student at Santa Monica Junior College admittedly thought the ball was out and just wanted a souvenir. He’s an Arizona Diamondbacks fan from nearby Westchester, Calif. who came to the game with pals celebrating a friend’s birthday.
He had told his birthday buddy all week that he’d wear Angels garb, but instead donned a Mariners cap from his late-1990s Little League team and the only dark blue sweatshirt he could find.
“My main thing I was doing is that I always know that on road games, the road players will tend to throw balls into the stands if they see one of their road fans,” Loef said.
Instead, he became an instant target for some of the more vocal Angels fans.
“A bunch of the Angel guys were talking about Kurt Cobain, and all this other kind of stuff. And ‘Go back to Seattle!’ and other kinds of stuff. I was like, ‘Great!’ because I’m not even a Mariners fan. But I mean, hey, I will be from now on. You’re my A.L. team guys.”
The Mariners could have used some fan interference in the ninth, when a two-run homer by Torii Hunter off David Aardsma – subbing for Brandon Morrow as he nurses a stiff shoulder – cut Seattle’s lead to a run. Kendry Morales then hit a rocket to the warning track in center, but it was hauled in by Endy Chavez.
Mariners starter Carlos Silva watched the final outs from the clubhouse, securing his first win since last July. Silva battled through five laborious innings, fighting off stiffness behind his shoulder that surfaced in pregame warmups.
He tried to stay loose during the third-inning delay while umpires reviewed the Matthews fly ball and decided it would have hit the wall.
“That was weird,” Silva said. “It was the first time that’s happened to me. I tried to stay in there, tried to keep my mind on the game.”
Ultimately, the play mattered little. The M’s were up 3-0 at the time on a three-run homer from Russell Branyan in the first off Angels starter Anthony Ortega.
After Matthews was awarded the double, he wound up scoring anyway on one of two RBI singles yielded by Silva. But the Mariners quickly replied in the fourth on a home run by Wladimir Balentien and an RBI double by Yuniesky Betancourt.
The Mariners added a run in the sixth, then three in the seventh for a 9-3 lead. But the Angels chipped away, keeping Silva’s victory in doubt.