Thursday, October 12, 2017

Talking Baseball

Baseball deserves to be the great American game. Certainly this is not because of any inspired leadership. Those in charge of the administration of the game have done much to diminish it, beginning with the designated hitter. Of course, their offenses against the public good tend to pale when compared with the NFL owners. 

But there is a beauty to baseball when played at the postseason level, where you have really good teams and strategy becomes crucial. Individual and team performances reach heights rarely seen during routine games during the season. And this year in the first round, we've had the chance to enjoy an amazing range of venues. From the eccentric Fenway Park to the classic Wrigley Field to always majestic, even the new version, Yankee Stadium, to now-seasoned Dodger Stadium, and then to good new parks like Jacobs Field in Cleveland and Nationals Park here in DC.

Games are tight, scoring frequently is low, errors count much more, and October weather may be totally inappropriate--note the more-than-drizzle in Chicago yesterday. Another sin by baseball is refusing to stop games when it clearly is raining. The game is not meant to be played on slippery grass; two throws by pitchers to first went awry, purely because of the wet field.

Some players rise to the occasion: Bryce Harper and Michael A. Taylor of the Nats come through with crucial, unanticipated homers; Anthony Rizzo of the Cubs delivers a succession of two-out, two-strike hits. Stephen Strasburg pitches better--extraordinarily well--when not fully recovered from illness than some days earlier where in his sixth inning, he allowed the game to start to slip away. Dusty Baker ensured the disaster by bringing in Sammy Solis, who promptly gave away the critical runs.

Teams, too: the Yankees were unheralded, often maligned during the season for lacking the obvious all-stars we have grown to expect: no Ruths, Gehrigs, DiMaggios, Mantles. But they came in, lost the first two games, and surprised a Cleveland club that most had predicted to win the World Series. 

Brings back 1954--when I first learned about baseball--and the greatest Cleveland team, one which won a then-record 111 games (out of 154) with possibly the finest pitching staff ever assembled: Feller, Lemon, Early Wynn, Mossi and Narleski--fell in four straight to the rag-tag New York Giants. Leo Durocher got the most out of a bunch of non-Hall of Famers, plus--yes, there's always a catch: The Catch--Willie Mays.

These Yankees prevailed despite their manager, Joe Girardi, who seemed to make mistake after mistake. The Nats may or may not break their fifth-game barrier tonight, but the seemingly brilliant maneuvering of Cubs' manager Joe Maddon in Game 4 backfired with the Michael A. Taylor home run off Wade Davis, while Dusty Baker's apparently mindless sticking with Ryan Madson despite what seemed to be a lacklustre performance turned out well.

So many maxims fall by the wayside. Good pitching beats good hitting. Yes...usually. Even the video replay review of challenged  close plays by a team in New York proved its worth: the base umpire called Ryan Zimmerman safely back on first after the second of two rare Jon Lester pickoff throws. Yet once anyone looked at the video, Zim was clearly tagged and out before he touched the bag.

My knees resent the constant standing in the seats during the playoffs. Yet this is only one more instance of how the excitement of the postseason permeates the baseball world. We begin with a week of multiple games and then it starts to narrow down. There will be great catches, throws, pitches, and hits. Mistakes will be made. Strategies will be exposed as deficient.  But all the hoopla and commercialism in the end is overriden by the thrills and fabulous plays.

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