Sunday, October 25, 2020

A Great Baseball Game

[A Facebook post I made that I confess I'm pretty proud of.]

We are reminded so often by 2020 of the dark things in our world -- the political situation, newly resurgent COVID-19 (which is rampaging through my extended family now), weather, and of course such always-with-us threats as cancer, which has struck both sides of my family just recently. None of these things are gone.

So it is good to be reminded of what is wonderful about this life. In great things -- a trip yesterday to visit our granddaughter, who only offered further proof that she is the cutest granddaughter of all time, and who is old enough now to show that fascination with everything she can see that is so adorable. Alas, no pictures, we're trying to keep her social media profile minimal, but trust me on the cuteness!

And then there's sports. I know lots of folks aren't sports fans, and that's cool. But I am, and my main CFB team (Clemson) won, and my local team (Missouri) also won, convincingly. But that's just stuff. That's cool, but it's not special.

Last night's baseball game was special. There is a lot of stuff people complain about in baseball these days, myself among the complainers. The games are too long. They are too focussed on the so-called "Three True Outcomes" (walk, strikeout, home run.) Etc. Etc. But -- sometimes the game can be sublime. For me, the greatest World Series game of all time will probably always be Game 6 of the 2011 series, and I can't say last night's game was better than that. But it's definitely in the conversation to be next on the list.

This is a series in which I don't have a strong rooting interest. I like the Rays because of their scrappy image, and their brilliant front office, and players with local connections like Pete Fairbanks, who went to High School with my son, or Josh Fleming, who went to Webster University, or Randy Arozarena, who came up in the Cards' system and would still be a Card if the Cards' front office could evaluate hitters. But I like the Dodgers because they have been the best team in baseball, overall, for nearly a decade, but have been heartbroken in the playoffs (often at the hand of the Cardinals, and once at the hand of the Astros while they were cheating), and because Clayton Kershaw is so great, and because they too have done a great job of identifying talent other teams have missed, like Justin Turner and Max Muncy.

We got home from my daughter's at about 8:30 last night. I think the score was 2-0, Dodgers. Essentially from the point we turned the game on, the two teams scored in every half-inning, with some power but mostly with relentless at-bats, and good baserunning, and some luck. The Dodgers, who have established a reputation as a great 2 out team, scored all 7 of their runs with two outs. The teams were both playing essentially "bullpen" games, running a different pitcher out there pretty much every inning.

There were great individual performances. Corey Seager and Justin Turner, of the Dodgers, each went 4 for 5 with a home run. The incredible Randy Arozarena went 3 for 4 with a home run and a critical walk and a glorious mess of a dash for the winning run.

And that last play! The Dodgers had their great closer Kenley Jansen on the mound. He gave up a hit (a broken bat single, not Jansen's fault, instead a gift of the baseball gods) and a walk on a great Arozarena at-bat, and got 2 outs, and was facing probably the Rays' 28th player, Brett Phillips, a late acquisition from the Kansas City Royals, an extra outfielder who hit under .200. Phillips took the first three pitches, all out of the strike zone, but the last two close enough that the umpire gave Jansen the calls. So, a 1-2 count, one of the best closers of our era on the mound, a no-account Mendoza-line hitter ... and he punched the next pitch into right center for a single. Not a rocket, just a ball he hit in the right place. It was clear from the start that Kevin Kiermaier would score easily from second, but centerfielder Chris Taylor charged the ball, apparently ready to throw home in a desperate attempt -- and the ball glanced off his glove. Taylor chased it down, and by now Arozarena was steaming towards home with the winning run, but Taylor's throw and Muncy's relay were good, and it looked like the play would be close. Then Arozarena stumbled, and rolled, and he would have been out by a mile. But the catcher, Will Smith, anticipating a close play, had tried for a sweep tag, and lost the ball. So Arozarena got up and ran home, sliding in headfirst and banging the plate with joy, an image I won't forget.

I can only imagine what my friend and Tampa resident Rick Wilber and his son must have been feeling! But the glee was contagious. One of the great things was watching the post game show, and watching the commentators, great ex-players like Frank Thomas and Alex Rodriquez and David (Big Papi) Ortiz just chortling, literally jumping up and down with happiness -- not because of a rooting interest, but because -- as we sometimes forget -- they truly truly love the game.

Baseball is a small thing next to 230,000 people in the US, over a million in the world, dead from a terrible disease. It's a small thing next to having a brother dying of cancer. It's not nearly as important as the proper governance of our country. But it's still a source of joy, a wonderful thing, when it comes together like it did last night.

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