I should start this post with a slightly embarrassing admission. I don’t have cable TV.
The standard stereotype of the baseball blogger is that he’s a hopeless nerd living in his mom’s basement, writing about the statistics of a game he never played and doesn’t watch and pretending he knows more about the game than the GMs and managers who have been around the game their whole lives.
We’ll get this out of the way first: I am a nerd. I’m not sure the rest of the above applies though. While I do love the numbers game within the game, the measurability of individual accomplishments within a team game, and the double-entry nature of pitching and hitting, where every individual success represents another individual’s failure, I love the actual game of baseball even more.
I love the smell of the grass, the crack of the bat, the athleticism of a centerfielder, the power of a slugger or a pitcher. I love the suicide squeeze, a triple into the gap, and a crisp 6-4-3 double play. I love a Little League field in a small town. I love a Cuban sandwich and an El Presidente beer at Fenway Park. And my mom doesn’t even have a basement.
Alas, I’ve only caught a few baseball games this year. I saw Adrian Beltre break Jacoby Ellsbury’s ribs from an airport in Houston. I watched the Tigers maul Tommy Hanson at Turner Field (pictured above). I caught the Red Sox and Tigers from the Detroit airport and the Giants and Dodgers two terminals away later that weekend. But for the rest of the season, I’ve consigned myself to updates on my iPhone, AP recaps, box scores, and the musings of Rob Neyer, Joe Ponanski, and the eggheads at fangraphs.
All this brings us to last night’s game in Tampa, which, from the standpoint of someone who hasn’t watched much baseball this year, had to be the best game of the year. Consider this:
-the two best teams in baseball, by a fairly wide margin, opening a series with first place on the line
-David Price and CC Sabathia, two of the seven or eight best pitchers in the AL this year and two of the three most celebrated Cy Young candidates, facing off on the mound
-a scoreless tie into the 11th inning, with each team squandering a chance to score in the 10th
-a walkoff home run from Reid Brignac, who only cane into the game when Carl Crawford was ejected, winning it for the team that had been a half game back and catapulting his team into first place
It just doesn’t get any better, does it? I suppose it could have been better if both teams weren’t virtually assured of making the playoffs regardless of the outcome. While the Rays played it like a Game 7, riding Price for eight innings and using their three best relievers, Rafael Soriano, Joaquin Benoit, and Grant Balfour, in the 9th, 10th, and 11th, respectively, the Yankees lost without using their best reliever or primary setup man, letting Sergio Mitre take the L that would drop them out of first place. However tempting it is, though, to question the Yankees’ motivation, it might be more revealing to question their bullpen, which doesn’t strike much fear into opponents while the Great Mariano warms up in the pen, waiting for a lead.
One more note on this game: The blogopshere has been aglow with rants about the relative merits of Felix Hernandez’s ability to prevent runs and CC Sabathia’s “ability to win”. Isn’t it ironic that the game that may have pushed Sabathia over the top in the minds of some voters was a game in which he was denied his 20th win? If Sabathia pitched 35 8-inning, 9-strikeout, 2-hit no decisions against teams like the Rays, and his team lost most of them, I’d have no problem handing him the Cy Young. If he gets it by giving up just over three runs per nine and benefitting from ridiculous run support to out-win several superior pitchers, we need to rethink the way we select our award winners. After last night, though, there may not be “several superior pitchers” in the AL.
Finally, I could point to the fact that I’ve alluded to the Yankees’ fourth straight loss, three of which have come in walkoff fashion, as the game of the year, without taking any cheap shots at the Yankees as a sign of my maturity. Or, I could take the fun road…