There are two ways to end a baseball game- either the final out is recorded, or the winning run is driven in. In the 1992 World Series, the last out was a failed bunt by the Braves’ Otis Nixon, easily scooped up by Blue Jays pitcher Mike Timlin and tossed to first. It was a simple play, one that Joe Carter had fielded hundreds of times before. As he clenched the ball, he started jumping around like a kid, elation overtaking his body. Carter had caught the last out of the season.
The following year, the Blue Jays were back in the World Series. Back then, home field advantage merely alternated between the leagues. So that meant game six in 1993 would be played in the American League park. The Phillies held a 6-5 lead going into the bottom of the ninth, hoping to force game seven. Rickey Henderson was at second, Paul Molitor was on first representing the winning run. Mitch Williams ran a 2-2 count on Carter, regaining the advantage on a slider inside. The next pitch was a near carbon copy of the one Carter had missed, but he swung again anyway.
“So that’ll bring up Rizzo,” a voice offscreen says as the first baseman takes the first pitch. Anthony Rizzo needs no introduction. He is the face of the Chicago Cubs and its un-charged captain. “And now he drills one deep to right field, there it goes, see ya,” the faceless voice declares. “And it gives the Yankees a one-nothing lead.” It’s July 30th, 2021. By this point in the day, MLB’s trade deadline, the Cubs’ championship core of Rizzo, Javier Baez, and Kris Bryant has been dismantled. The weeks before had felt like hospice for the should-have-been dynasty. The greatest era of Cubs baseball anyone can remember was over. Forty-nine days earlier, that core combined for one hit in a game against the St. Louis Cardinals. It was deemed ‘Opening Day 2.0’ because Wrigley Field was able to host a full stadium. His helmet still bright blue, his team down 5-4, the captain of the Chicago Cubs stepped into the box against righty Daniel Ponce de Leon.
Monday night, current Cub Javier Baez hit a long fly ball that drove in the winning run. The pitch was from Amir Garrett, who has a sordid history with Baez. Javy sauntered toward first, using his bat to mimic a broom while shouting at Garrett. It ruled. Yeah, I’m biased. I love Javy. But the attention the clips of the moment have received is objectively great for baseball. Still, there are many of you who are mad at Baez for his actions. I am here to help.
Yesterday, the decision was announced that the Cleveland Indians would be changing their name to the Cleveland Guardians. Because the internet is a place of calm and reasoned discourse, this decision was lauded as a celebration of progress and then people went back to being excited about the start of the Olympics.
No, wait. The World Wide Web is a goddamned trash fire and people lost their fucking minds over something they had never previously cared about.
There’s a warm static over the ballpark on Chicago’s south side. Typically by this time in late July, the weather is overbearing. Today, however, is unlike most days before it. An unseasonably cool stretch had this game begin in weather echoing late spring, and the giddiness that annually comes with that was palpable as well. Through eight innings, the Tampa Bay Rays have brought twenty-four men to the plate. None have reached base. Mark Buehrle, the White Sox’ quick-working ace is inching closer to one of the rarest feats in professional sports- the perfect game. Manager Ozzie Guillen, a White Sox folk hero in his own right, has made a defensive substitution to start the final frame. He is pulling Carlos Quentin from left field, sliding centerfielder Scott Podsednik into his place, and bringing DeWayne Wise into the game to play center. The move is to shore up the defense for two-thirds of his outfield ahead of three consecutive right-handed hitters to end the game. The first of these, Gabe Kapler, fouls a few pitches away, takes a ball high out of the zone, and stays alive. The next pitch will be remembered forever in the Windy City.
It’s October, something unfamiliar to the Detroit Tigers. The last time they won a playoff series was the 1984 World Series, twenty-two years in the rear view mirror. They’ve already won one this year taking three straight games over the dreaded Yankees after dropping the first. Tonight, they could sweep the perennial postseason participant Athletics. The game is tied at three as it turns to the bottom of the ninth. The first two Tiger batters went down quickly, Marcus Thames on a flyball to center and Curtis Granderson, in his first full season, on a liner to right. Craig Monroe singles. Placido Polanco follows suit. The pennant-clinching runner is in scoring position. In steps Magglio Ordoñez, the ten-year veteran from Venezuela. His opponent is the 2005 Rookie of the Year, Huston Street. They had only met twice before, the first time back on July 4th of the current year, when Street got Ordoñez to strike out swinging on four pitches. The second, three days earlier that ended in a groundout. But every at bat is another chance to undo a previous mistake. Comerica Field is shaking in anticipation of a World Series berth. Magglio steps into the batter’s box, grinds his front cleat against the dirt to get a strong foothold. Street gets the sign, winds and delivers.
It’s a clear, cool night in Anaheim. The season is not yet a week old, and trends from the prior year linger like cirrocumulus clouds dotting the sky just west of the ballpark. The Seattle Mariners have lost four of their first five games. They’ll lose this one too, despite beginning the game with a pair of runs off of Angels’ pitcher Ricky Nolasco. It’s April 8th, 2017. The Mariners’ starter is Felix Hernandez, King Felix to the Seattle faithful. He’s in the twilight of a career that included a Cy Young award, a perfect game, and not a single start in the postseason. Hernandez gets Angel hitters Yunel Escobar and Kole Calhoun to ground out to start the bottom half of the first inning. Into the box steps the best player on Earth. His name is Michael Nelson Trout, Mike for short, and he’s the reason many people are watching this game.
There may have been a better title for this, but I’m not going to spend a crap-ton of time mulling that over. I’m not a headline writer nor do I have one at my disposal.
Do I think my kids hate sports? Hate is such a strong word, but I’m sure they do not appreciate them like I do. In fact, I’m not sure within the past 30 or so years of two wives, two different families and my own family anyone likes sports as much as I do. I spent a considerable amount of time watching football by myself at various Thanksgivings. Of course, my first marriage was into a family of scholars and scientists and for Thanksgiving they brought out flow charts and graphs about their latest work (I’m not kidding). Brilliant people, but criminy it’s Thanksgiving. As such, the TV became my friend… but not the Lions, never the Lions.
Okay, the only person who ever had the same zeal for sports that I have was my father. That’s where I got it from. Whatever team I wanted to win; he’d want the other. That was the nature of our relationship. He was certainly athletic, one of those multi-sport high school stars who ran roughshod over his opponents. He was good. Country good as he grew up on a farm, but not Jerry Sloan country good. That’s a far higher level.
Back to my kids. They were treated to a ton of games as they grew up. I was in advertising, and one of my clients for five years was WSCR The Score. So yeah, we went to a lot of games. While my fandom was certainly sated, I think I completely overwhelmed them.
But they played sports. Not as much as I did. I had something to prove – that I could beat my dad in basketball. Even though baseball was my favorite sport, it’s too hard to beat another individual at it and frankly he was a better hitter than I. No, I picked basketball. It took a lot of effort, and finally when I was 14 or so I beat him at HORSE. I know it hurt him as he was not the best at sportsmanship. Pretty sure he accused me of cheating. But that was normal. Accusations of cheating caused us to stop playing cards and board games when I was growing up. I was 9 when we stopped.
Alright so that was something, right? About an hour after my fourth installment of predictions were posted, the league expanded this year’s playoffs to 16 teams. I kinda just tossed my arms in the air about it. Then it felt like the season would be canceled every day for about three weeks. Somehow, almost everyone played 60 games. So here we are, the field is set, and the chaos of a best-of-three first round series is ready for Tuesday. Who will survive all the way through the most bonkers MLB playoffs ever? Well, some of us got together in a digital way and tried to guess at it for your amusement.
Every year, around late-March, I write up my postseason predictions for MLB on a legal pad and tape it to my cubicle wall. I did it this year, too. Then, well, you know. For like 8 years, I guessed that the Nationals would win it all, because frankly it made sense. Then I stopped doing that and believed too much in a Cubs resurgence. Then the Nationals won the Series. So lets just put as much value as possible into what I’m about to predict. If I’m right, I will spend the rest of my life angry that I didn’t put money on this result.