WAIT, WHAT?

Published on September 30th, 2011

Alex writes about how he picked the right night to put on a baseball game.

Baseball is a weird sport to me. I find it interesting, but I haven’t been an actual fan of it since I was 10. I go to the occasional Blue Jays game, but (even though I’m generally the only sober person in my party) I never remember the outcome. Again, I find the sport interesting, but I almost never find the game particularly enjoyable anymore.

If you are even vaguely interested in baseball and are aware of the fact that I already wrote about Moneyball, you know what I’m talking about today. I feel a little conflicted writing about it, mostly because I try to stay away from writing about subjects I generally know little about. But whatever. On Wednesday night, the Boston Red Sox loss showed up on the Tropicana Field scoreboard, and then Evan Longoria hit a walk-off dinger to put the Tampa Bay Devil Rays into the playoffs. And that was one of the coolest things I have witnessed in my career as a sports fan.

I’m not going to pretend that I knew nothing at all about the current baseball season before last night; I listen to a variety of sports podcasts, and in the summer there really isn’t much for those guys to talk about but baseball. I’m also generally better informed about the sports world in general than most, simply because I get my basketball and football news on websites that also happen to have baseball news. I played baseball for a decade, so I know the rules and am not confused by the strategies. However, I don’t watch baseball; at this point, I’m even kind of hesitant to go to a game when people offer me the chance. I kind of just watch it when I’m really, really bored.

I had nothing to do on Wednesday night; I was trying to write something for today, but I got bored and decided I would rather read that book on Martin Scorsese that I keep trying to get to. Since I knew what was going on in the sports world that night, I figured I might as well put the Devil Rays game on while I read about The Color of Money, as baseball is the perfect soundtrack to a sports fan who also likes reading (even if you want to actually follow the game, you only have to look up every 40 seconds or so). The New York Yankees were up 7-0 by the time I turned the game on, and the only thing I remember before the eighth inning was wondering why Mariano Rivera was in the dugout with Alex Rodriguez instead of in the bullpen with AJ Burnett*. And then, since it seemed like the most ridiculous of all possible outcomes, the Rays started to come back.

*Look at all these baseball player names that I know! Two of the most famous currently in the game, and a former Blue Jay! Tell your friends about me; I know things.

Now, there were three other games going on at this point; the St. Louis Cardinals won easily over the Houston Astros, but there were also tight, playoff implication-filled games going on between the Philadelphia Phillies and Atlanta Braves, as well as a must win game for the Red Sox against the Baltimore Orioles. The Braves needed to win to avoid collapsing their way out of the playoffs (they lost in the final inning), and the Red Sox needed to do the same to avoid the same. I was mostly watching the Yankees/Devil Rays though, because that’s what was on my television. And what was on my television got pretty great.

In the bottom of the eighth inning, the Rays began a torrid comeback, and when down to their last strike in the bottom of the ninth, Dan Johnson hit a game-tying homerun to send the game into extra innings.

What seems to be forgotten in all the articles that have been written about these games since Wednesday night is how insane the timing of everything was. The Red Sox game needed an 86 minute rain delay in the seventh inning, during which the Rays were able to come back and tie their game with the Yankees. The rain delay insured that the Devil Rays’ extra innings were going on during the bottom of the Red Sox’ ninth, which allowed for a pretty great couple of minutes to happen.

In the bottom of the ninth inning, Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon took a one run lead to the mound with him. The Orioles were then able to tie up the game, and finally win it as Robert Andino hit a single under Carl Crawford’s outstretched glove. The cameras back in Tropicana Field quickly found fans in the crowd who were realizing what happened in Baltimore via their cell phones, and the reactions were pretty spectacular. You could see an appropriately excited guy jumping up and down, yelling at a good looking woman around him who seemed kind of terrified by his excitement. One camera showed an older gentleman on his cell phone, and the smile that quickly enveloped his face could only have been from the news of the Red Sox’ defeat*. As a camera began to focus on the in-stadium scoreboard holding an image of a 3-3 score. Everybody watching the game knew an enjoyable reaction was about to happen, and as the score turned to 4-3 Orioles, the cheers were so sudden and loud that Longoria, who was at the plate in Tampa, had to step away for a moment.

*This couldn’t really top this clip of Urban Meyer finding out about Lane Kiffin’s departure from Tennessee, but that’s mostly because that’s too funny to top.

Then, since this was the craziest night North American sports have produced in a long time, Longoria stepped back into the batter’s box, and FOUR PITCHES LATER hit a walk-off home run to put his team into the playoffs. After the game, Longoria would break down his at bat:

“I knew [the Orioles] had tied the game, and I had to step out because everybody was cheering. And there was nothing going on, so I figured at that point the Orioles had won. And then it’s a matter of getting back into that at-bat and re-focusing.”

“I just tried to step out of the box, take a deep breath. Try and remember what we’re playing for. Obviously we had an opportunity at that point to win and get into the playoffs. I mean, I’m thinking about getting on base and scoring a run.”

“When I hit that ball, I knew it was going to stay fair, and that that was the only place it had a chance to go out because it wasn’t high enough. When I saw it clear the fence, it didn’t seem real.”

It didn’t seem real, but it was.

I have no grander point here. I’m not writing about Moneyball as a way for how I feel about most movie reviews, and I’m not writing about a Greyhound bus trip as a metaphor for life or something like that; I’m just writing about why sports are enjoyable. Every once in a while, you might decide to tune into something, and quickly feel like something interesting, crazy, and (most importantly) real is happening in front of you. This is why I reflexively go to the NFL Network or NBATV when whatever show I’m watching goes to commercial; in sports, you never know what could happen a second from now. That’s the appeal of any given sports contest, and that it happened so many times in one night doesn’t say anything about the sport, life or sports in general. It’s just really, really enjoyable. We put so much time into the sports we love because we want to see as many of these moments as possible; that I was able to see these moments in baseball upon deciding to watch only one baseball game this year just says I got really lucky with my timing. So maybe this game does say something… but I don’t care, because I just saw the coolest shit ever. I won’t watch any more baseball this year, because I already feel like I won. I’m not rooting for a team, I’m rooting for sports fans. And we won on Wednesday. Let’s go us.

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