Well, we’re about a third of the way through the current NFL season, and it’s already been a great year. Who’ll lose more games, the Packers or the Saints? Does Michael Vick really own a dog now? Is it Tebow Time yet?
Yeah, football’s great.
But it’s not baseball.
Hey, I get it. Football is fast, furious, frantic, reckless, vicious, cruel, and breathtaking. And there’s nothing quite like the week-to-week urgency of an NFL season. I get it. Football’s great.
But it’s not baseball.
Baseball is the quintessentially American game. Oh sure, pro football is more like society at its worst. The violence. The frenetic pace. The consequences. Football leads to arthritis, dementia, obesity, kidney failure, and an early death. Just like in real life, only more so. Conversely baseball is essentially peaceful, civilized, it affords us the time to appreciate good strategy, absorb the pitch-by-pitch tension, and at the same time reflect upon our history, our heritage, our character, and who we are as a people. (Okay, that was a little over the top, but when it comes to both baseball and American history I’m a very sentimental guy.). The point is that football is great….
….but it’s not baseball.
There is simply no substitute for postseason baseball.
We were reminded of this again last week.
Last week’s divisional round of the baseball playoffs was arguably the most exciting, heart-stopping, fascinating, riveting, compelling week of baseball in the history of this country. I kid you not. Oh, I realize the 1986 postseason will never come again, and it’d take me too long to explain why ‘86 was the greatest year of playoff baseball there ever was or will ever be but trust me, it is and it was. But that was over the course of a month or so. Last week, in a 72-hour period, was the best 72 hours of baseball this 50-something sports sage has ever seen.
For one thing, it was the first time in the 18 years they’ve had a divisional round where all four 5-game series went the full five games. That fact alone guaranteed high drama and high-wire tension. And indeed each series had its share of memorable moments, epic victories, and gut-wrenching impossible to stomach defeats.
I’ll start with the Giants. My Giants. My favorite team, as any and all of you who follow this space are well aware of by now. Well, sports fans, the Giants did the impossible. They became the first National League team to ever lose the first two games in the divisional round and then win the next three. I don’t know how they did it, but since I suffered through every asinine pitch I know it to be true. And since they lost those first two games at home, that means they won the last three on the road. Which is beyond impossible. And it all came down to the bottom of the 9th inning of Game Five, Giants closer Sergio Romo versus the Reds’ Jay Bruce, an ulcer-producing 12-pitch at bat with two on and one out with the score 6-4. Bruce fouled off six two-strike pitches. It was insane. I was sure he’d hit one into the Ohio River just beyond the right-field stands and we’d lose….
But Bruce flew out. We survived. I survived. But I am not a well man.
How about the Tigers and the A’s you ask? Their signature moment came in Game Four, Tigers up two games to one and leading by two runs entering the bottom of the 9th. A two-run lead in the 9th is usually a done deal in baseball. Not this year. Somehow, some way, the A’s rode their raucous crowd to a 3-run 9th inning rally to even the series. And the guy who got the game-winning hit? Coco Crisp. Sounds more like a tasty breakfast cereal than a big-league ballplayer. Unfortunately for Oakland their joy was short-lived, as in Game Five the Tigers’ rock-ribbed ace Justin Verlander strode to the mound and did something that no one does anymore; he pitched the entire game himself. No relief pitchers. And no runs. That’s a complete-game shut-out, folks. As antiquated as the stegosaurus. Who does that Verlander guy think he is, Walter Johnson??? (I know, I know; you’re thinking who’s Walter Johnson….don’t. Don’t even say it. Thank you.)
I haven’t said a thing about the Yankees yet. Relax, I’m gonna. The Yanks and the Orioles all came down to A-Rod, and it all came to a head in Game Three. A-Rod of course is Alex Rodriquez. The highest-paid .270 hitter of all time, scraping by at around $30-million a year. Poor Alex can’t buy a hit. He was 2-for-16 in the five games. Except that for him it was only four games, because Yankee manager Joe Girardi benched him for Game Five. And not even four full games. Because Joe got so fed up with A-Rod striking out that he did the unthinkable. He pinch-hit for A-Rod in Game Three. In the 9th inning. Down by a run. With the entire season on the line. He took the bat out of the hands of a man with 647 career home runs—5th all-time—and rather than employ the 5th-ranked all-time home run hitter making $30-million a year Joe Girardi called upon….Raul Ibanez? Yes, that’s right. Raul Ibanez! Oh, one wee little thing about Ibanez.…he’s 68 years old! (Relax, he’s “only” 40, but I enjoy the hyperbole.).
So what does the 40-year-old shaved-headed past-his-prime Raul Ibanez do? Well, exactly what YOU would do if you were pinch-hitting for someone out-earning you by thirty million or so….he walloped a home run into the 2nd deck of Yankee Stadium to the howling, disbelieving delight of some 60,000 Yankee fans! To tie the game! In the bottom of the 9th! And then, even more amazingly perhaps, three innings later in the 12th inning, Ibanez hit yet another home run—to win it! A pinch-hitter staying in the game and homering twice in the same game? Pinch-hitting for a so-called superstar? Homering once to tie it and once to win it? In the postseason??? Nothing like this has ever happened in baseball. Ever. It’s an honor just to type the words….
The Yankees won the series, of course. In five tough, grueling games. But without Ibanez’ heroics, they would have surely lost. So you see, the Yankees owe their success in advancing to the League Championship round to A-Rod after all. A-Rod was the hero! If he had sucked only a little bit, Joe would have surely left him in there in the 9th to surely strike out and surely blow that game. But in that series he sucked so badly, so amazingly, pathetically, mindnumbingly badly, that his getting removed from the game at just the right time was the very catalyst of yet another Yankee post-season series victory. This is a great country.
But just when I thought the grand old game had nothing left to give, it gave me Game Five of the series between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Washington Nationals. This one topped them all. The teams were tied two games apiece, thanks in part to Washington’s hirsute Jayson Werth clubbing a 9th-inning “walk-off” homer in Game Four, after surviving an unbelievably tense 13-pitch at-bat eerily similar to Jay Bruce’s 12-pitch at-bat in the Reds/Giants series. Except that while Bruce flew out the furry-faced Werth showed his worth, by pole-axing a ball into the left field seats to win the game.
Which set up the epic Game Five. Riding the tidal wave of momentum Werth had vouchsafed them, the Nationals jumped out to a 6-0 lead. It looked like curtains for the defending champs. But the Cardinals have something going for them that no team in baseball history has. I’m not sure what it is, but they have it. The last six times they have been in a must-win game over the last two playoff seasons, they have won. Every time. They are like the vampire who cannot be killed. So in Game Five they started clawing their way back. By the 9th inning they were still down 7-5, and the Washington D.C. crowd was in a patriotic frenzy. The nation’s capital has not seen victory in a postseason series in 88 years, not since their best player was….oh yeah, that guy you’ve never heard of, Walter Johnson.
Two outs, man on third. Still 7-5. One out to go. Nationals closer Drew Storen on the bump. Yadier Molina up. Two strikes. The Nationals one strike away from advancing to the League Championship round. One strike to go. One strike. One lousy strike.
They couldn’t do it.
Storen walked Molina. Then he walked David Freese. All in all, Storen threw five separate pitches to Molina and Freese with two strikes that if any one of them were in the strike zone the Nationals would have won the series. Five separate pitches. But they were all just a couple agonizing inches outside. Walk, walk. Bases loaded. Daniel Descalso singles off the shortstop’s glove, Pete Kozma singles to right, I know you’ve never heard of these guys, but no problem, four runs dash home, final score 9 to 7, and in the blink of an eye the cardiac Cardinals win it. As in stole it. It was surreal. The D.C. crowd fell nearly silent, stunned. At one point in this game the Cards trailed 6-0. That six-run deficit triggered the largest comeback in a winner-take-all postseason game in all the 143 years they have been playing professional baseball. Surreal.
You have to feel bad for the Reds, Orioles, A’s, and Nationals. To end the season in crushing defeat while standing at the very threshold of victory has to be emotionally devastating. I even feel sorry for A-Rod (well, almost), going through the worst day-to-day televised public humiliation any great ballplayer has ever gone through.
But if you play for or root for one of those four teams, take heart. There was a story in the news recently even sadder than yours.
No, not the San Francisco Giants’ bearded closer Brian Wilson who is rehabbing from a shredded elbow. Brian Wilson the artist. Brian Wilson, the legendary founder and driving force behind The Beach Boys for nearly half a century.
The other day Brian Wilson was fired. As in fired from The Beach Boys.
Sounds kinda weird, doesn’t it? Here, don’t take my word for it, check out this link: http://music-mix.ew.com/2012/10/09/brian-wilson-fired-beach-boys-mike-love/
Who would do that? How is it even possible? Well, apparently fellow Beach-Boy and Wilson’s cousin, Mike Love, got control of the band’s name, somehow, and he’s the boss. What he says goes. And with his ongoing feud with Wilson now going on half a century, the great Brian W will not be part of this final Beach Boys tour, a 50th anniversary spectacular. It’s obviously very sad.
Firing Brian Wilson from The Beach Boys is sort of like firing Walt Disney from Disneyland. Or firing St. Peter from the Apostles just for having a weak moment or two after Gethsemane. Or taking the microphone away from Vin Scully just because he’s like, oh, 150 years old. You just don’t do it.
So Reds, Orioles, A’s, and Nationals fans, there are worse things than losing a couple of baseball games. Brian Wilson being banished from the Beach Boys is one of them.
There should be rules against that sort of blasphemy, no?
meet….The Sports Philosopher!
Brad Eastland is an author, an historian, film buff, an undiscovered literary savant, and a lover of both the San Francisco Giants and The Beach Boys Brad’s other recent columns for La Verne Online can be found in the Sports Section under ‘The Sports Philosopher’ and also in Viewpoint under ‘Brad Eastland’s View’. His columns on very old and very underappreciated movies can be found by clicking Arts & Entertainment, then clicking ’Upon Further Review’. Brad has also written 4 fine novels* and over 20 short-stories.
*To pick up a copy of his recently published novel of life at the racetrack (and of triumph and utter despair) entitled WHERE GODS GAMBLE, a tale of American mythology, simply search for that title in both hardback and paperback on amazon.com, iUniverse.com, or bn.com. And then order it. And then READ it. And then tell everyone about it. And then read it again. And then post your praise on Facebook. And then order a dozen more copies to use as Christmas presents. Okay? For all this he thanks you…..