Fernando Rodney is a not a very good pitcher, but I will say this for him: He has done what he can to make me a better person.
For almost all of my life, I visualized hell as a fire pit full of venomous snakes. Flames scare me almost as much as venomous snakes, but because the destination is eternal I began to suspect the fear factor might wear off after a few thousand years of daily torment.
Then Rodney came into the picture — specifically, the Root Sports Network picture. Root Sports televises most Seattle Mariners games, which are shown live and then, a few hours later, replayed in their entirety.
On those occasions the Mariners win, the replay is kind of fun, especially if the victory requires a late rally or involves a near-but-averted collapse by the bullpen.
“This is around the time it looked bleak,” I tell myself during the commercial break between the seventh and eighth inning of the replay. “Ah, but everything ends happily.”
Although knowing the result eliminates the suspense, watching the Mariners win an exciting game — a few hours after they’ve won an exciting game — serves as a therapeutic reminder of all the joy baseball can bring.
But there is a flip side to a replayed telecast, such as the one Root showed Wednesday night of the getaway-day matinee at Colorado. The Mariners, whose longest winning streak this season is four, were on the verge of another four-game winning streak: Bottom of the ninth, 5-3 lead, one out, nobody on.
Manager Lloyd McClendon put the 5-3 lead in the hands of Rodney, a move akin to putting a glass museum in the hands of Ozzy Osbourne. Rodney walked the first batter he faced and walked the last batter he faced, and between the walks, he gave up a pair of hits that tied the score at 5.
Rodney’s performance was painful to watch in real time, but the replay — I noticed it while having dinner in a restaurant where the primary TV screen was tuned in to Root — was beyond painful.
Ball one, ball two, this is not going to end happily and yet there he is, creating a crisis with nobody on and one out. And there I am, reconsidering my perception of hell.
Fire and snakes don’t frighten everybody, and, besides, battling snakes all the time seems a bit more interesting than relaxing on a heavenly lounge chair while a chorus of angels offers a medley of easy-listening songs.
But what if hell is custom-built? What if baseball fans who cringe at the sight of ineffective relievers summoned to protect a 5-3 victories in the ninth inning are doomed to watch Fernando Rodney on eternal replay: ball one, ball two, here we go again?
I want to be fair about this, as fairness is a virtue and I need every point I can get to avoid the damnation of an all-Rodney, all-the-time afterlife.
His desultory 2015 numbers — six blown saves and counting — do not put him in a class with legendary Mariners reliever Bobby Ayala. In 1998, on a team that has to rate among the most underachieving in baseball history (Randy Johnson, Ken Griffey Jr., Alex Rodriguez, Edgar Martinez and Jay Buhner were in their prime, and the M’s finished 76-85), Ayala went 1-10, with a 7.33 ERA.
Projected as a closer, Ayala was credited with eight saves and charged with nine homers. More homers than saves? Seriously?
But that was 17 years ago, and 17 years ago I was not pondering what awaits those of who are candidates to be sentenced to the dark side of afterlife. For that matter, replays of the Mariners’ many death-by-bullpen defeats were not shown on Root Sports.
Now I’m older, perhaps wiser, and I’ve got a much more lucid perception of hell.
It’s that place where you are tethered in front of a TV set, knowing a four-game winning streak is on the line in the bottom of the ninth, knowing Fernando Rodney has been called upon, knowing what happens next.
Fire and snakes are so overrated.