LOS ANGELES, CA – I’ve only got a few weeks left to write about baseball, so I’m going to take advantage. I just can’t muster the energy for this year’s NFL season yet, and I may even be starting to see JG Clancy’s Yimology commandment on Fantasy Football. But a tight playoff baseball game still thrills me like no other. When the Dodgers and Cards headed to extra innings Friday night, my wife groaned. To her it seems like all playoff baseball games go to extra innings. But I was enamored with it – like seeing an old crush on Facebook. Like the old crush, though, the ending was ultimately disappointing… but the thrill was still there.
A laser off the bat of David Ortiz dropped a Mentos in the Diet Coke of a Fenway crowd that had been frustratingly stifled over seventeen tortuous innings this weekend. Ortiz the already legendary; slightly (hmm) slimmer than the Papi of playoff heroics past, added fodder to his Hall of Fame case and then was professionally charming in interview after post-game interview, like a Hollywood veteran conducting a press junket. He’s thoroughly comfortable as a face of the MLB, a live bobble-head with the grace to praise fellow good guy bobble head Torii Hunter, who gets a heroic assist on this play, in terms of legacy. This was the kind of baseball highlight that blips on the cultural radar, like Jeter’s flip or Tom Brady’s tuck, and Hunter’s feet flying up in the air is the indelible image of it.
Thirty-eight years old, Hunter’s been in the game for about as long as many can even remember, he made robbing home runs a signature in Minnesota. That old skill flared bright as he took an absolutely arrow straight rout to the ball, flat out, without the luxury of a lazy high fly to time his jump. Line drives are difficult enough to gauge, and this one streaked in with re-entry flames, and yet he still came impossibly close to catching it. He actually overran it a tiny step, having to reach back more than up, so it wasn’t quite as perfectly precise a route as he needed. Imagine what Minnesota Twin era Hunter might’ve done? To catch that ball while flipping over the wall would’ve been on history’s highlight reel. Missing it and lying in the Sox pen in pain gives it an Agony of Defeat quality that is still pretty savory nonetheless. “I’d die on the field for this,” he’d say later. That the bullpen catcher did make the catch on it was a nice little flair. The effort was one of pure hustle, what every fan appreciates above all else in their stars, because Hunter knew that though the shot would only tie the game, there’s no coming back from something like that and the outcome an inning later was a foregone conclusion.
That kind of mojo only lasts a few innings though, and now that the series goes back to Detroit it’s anybody’s game. The Dodgers return home today only wishing they’d managed a split in Cam James‘ native St. Louis, but hopefully they can find some Papi magic of their own and hold serve for at least a couple of these games, because this could be the most evenly matched final four teams in a long time, and it’d be a pity if they didn’t both go seven games.
Speaking of magic, Fake Sandy Alderson, tomorrow.