Baseball: the Morality play

Here’s Johnny Carson’s definition of happiness.  It’s late at night, you’re on the street, it’s raining, you’re cold, tired and miserable.  You see a cab, you hail it.  Instead of stopping for you, it splashes a puddle all over your pants. . . . then runs a red light, and crashes into a police car. That’s happiness.

Karma.  Justice.  Take that.

Baseball’s about the stories.  We all have stories, we all know the stories.  Baseball is oral history; funny stories, stories of redemption and retribution.  Tommy Lasorda has one.  When he was a kid, his favorite player was a guy named Buster Johnson.  He wanted his autograph: goes to a game, waits at the player entrance, Buster Johnson comes out, and young lad Lasorda hands him a ball to sign, and a Sharpie.  And Buster Johnson looks over his head and says “Take a hike, kid.”

Years pass (as they do in moral, instructive stories), and Tommy Lasorda grows into a pretty nifty left-handed pitcher.  He signs a contract, is playing in the minors, and is pitching pretty well in his first game.  And the announcer says: “Now batting, Buster Johnson.”  The same guy.

First pitch, a fastball right at Johnson’s head.  Next pitch, nearly takes a knee out.  Next pitch is thrown behind his head, at which point, Buster Johnson, fed up, charges the mound.  A donnybrook ensues.  So after the game, Buster Johnson comes over to Lasorda’s locker, and says, aggrieved, “Kid, do I know you?  Did I ever do anything to you?”  “You wouldn’t sign my ball!” says Lasorda.

So last night, Giants/Cardinals, Game Two of the NLCS (National League Championship Series), the playoffs. Cards won last night; must win game for our boys.   Third inning.  Matt Holliday of the Cards is on first.  Ground ball to shortstop, and Brandon Crawford flips to Marco Scutaro at second.   And Holliday slides.  Okay, the clip’s only four seconds, but you can see clearly where Holliday starts his slide: he’s past second base before he even begins it.  It’s a take-out slide.  He’s trying to take out the second baseman so he can’t throw to first for the double play.  As it happens, Scoots did make the throw to first, but just barely not in time.

That’s an illegal play, BTW.  In that situation, your slide has to at least touch the bag.  You can’t just aim your body at a guy.  But it rarely gets called, and didn’t last night.

Scutaro crumples to the ground, clearly in agony.  My first thought was that his career was over.  It looked like Holliday had destroyed his knee. (X-rays were negative; he gets an MRI today). He lay there, finally got up, gingerly limped around.  In obvious agony, he signaled to Giants’ manager Bruce Bochy that he was okay, he could play.

Tough, close game.  Tied, 1-1 going into the fourth.  The Giants score a run to move ahead, then load the bases with two out.  Marco Scutaro comes to the plate.  Singles sharply to left.  And Matt Holliday boots it, allowing three runs to score.

Okay, as morality plays go, it’s maybe not so much.  It did feel good.  I mean, a routine fly ball to left that Holliday let bounce off his head or something, that would have felt like genuine karmic revenge.  Holliday’s error basically meant that a 4-1 lead turned into a 5-1 lead.  But we’ll take it.

Scutaro was in enough pain that Bochy took him out in the 6th.  His replacement, Ryan Theriot, played for the Cardinals last season.  He came up in the 8th, and hit another two run single to put the game away.  So that was cool too.

I love this stuff, though, the neatened narratives.  Of course, I know that A followed by B doesn’t imply that A caused B. But in an artificial field of play like baseball, coincidences can look awfully karmic at times.


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