I’ve heard from some of my readers that my baseball posts are your least favorite. Other readers like the baseball ones best. Go figure. When I started blogging, my intention was to be fairly eclectic–to write about pop culture AND Mormonism AND baseball AND politics–basically to reflect a poorly focused, intellectually incoherent mind. The best baseball writing today is very stats-based, which isn’t my thing, seeing as how it involves, like, math. What I can offer is not so much a fan’s perspective as an evangelist’s. I like the odd-ball stuff, the human interest-y parts of fan-ness. I’m trying to turn non-baseball people on. And the best way to start is by acknowledging the essential absurdity of the entire baseball fan enterprise.
And what I love about baseball is this: every baseball game I have ever attended, I have seen something new, something I have never seen before. This goes back to high school, when my friend Bosco Elkins, who tried out for our high school team as a lark, who liked being on the baseball team because it gave him something to talk to girls about, finally got into a game, the last game of the year, and hit a grand slam home run in his only high school at bat. Every time I go, I see something unique.
So, okay, this: Saturday night, Dodger Stadium, Padres vs. Dodgers. On any given day, there are two games I’m more interested in than any others–I’m rooting for the Giants, and for whoever is playing the Dodgers. Saturday, the Giants were winning their game, and if the Dodgers also lost, we’d be in first place.
Top of the ninth inning, the Dodgers were leading 6-5. The Padres had runners on second and third, with two out. On third, with the tying run, was Everth Cabrera. He had come into the game as a pinch-runner for Yonder Alonso. (I love “Everth” replacing “Yonder”. Baseball has the best names).
I do not know why Everth’s parents named him that, but he’s a fun player to watch, very fast, alert on the bases, a marginal player who has eked out a career with hard work and intelligence. On second, was Will Venable, son of former Giants player Max Venable, who for some reason I always wanted to call “the venerable Venable.”
The Dodgers’ pitcher was Kenley Jansen. He’s their best relief pitcher, a big guy with a monster fastball. At bat was Alexi Amarista (another great name–the hero of a romance novel maybe?).
So that’s the situation. At this point of the game, the Dodgers looked to be in good shape to win. Amarista’s not much of a hitter, and Jansen quickly blew two fastballs right past him. One more, and the game would be over. Cabrera, on third, is a matter of concern, but as long as Jansen can get Amarista out, he won’t matter. And Amarista looked completely overmatched.
Time out works differently in baseball than in other sports. In basketball and football, timeouts are limited, because both games have clocks. You call time out to stop the clock from running, to give your team a chance to come back, perhaps. To buy time. In baseball, there is no clock–games last as long as they need to last. Time is measured in outs, not hours. There’s no competitive advantage to calling time out. So baseball has many more timeouts in a game–dozens, even hundreds. Every time a guy steals a base, for example, he immediately calls time out, so he can brush off his uniform.
As he waited on the mound, ready to blow another fastball past the overmatched Avarista, Kenley Jansen apparently noticed that he had a little dirt lodged in one of the cleats of his shoes. He decided to step to the side and knock the dirt out. Said he could get more on the fastball if he was sure of his footing. He could have called time out for this purpose. In fact, it would have been normal, routine for him to do just that. For some reason, he didn’t. He just thought he’d deal with it. So he stepped off, dealt with his cleat. And Everth Cabrera stole home.
The video is particularly great. For one thing, the cameraman missed Cabrera initially; the producer was busy following Amarista. Jansen recovered quickly, and fired the ball home. But he was so startled by Cabrera’s moxie, that he made a terrible throw, way over catcher A. J. Ellis’ head. The umpire was so discombobulated by the play that he made the wrong call, calling Cabrera out, then quickly reversing himself. And then, Jansen, distraught, made another stupid error. In that situation, Ellis off chasing the wild throw home, somebody has to cover home plate. There was still another runner, Venable, rounding third. The fielder responsible for home plate in that situation is the pitcher–Jansen. And he didn’t realize it until it was too late–you can see Venable sliding in home with the winning run, with Jansen still ten feet from home.
What a smart, heads-up play by Cabrera. Great alertness as well from Venable. Post-game interviews; you felt a little bad for poor Jansen. Me, there’s a great German word for how I felt: schadenfreude. Joy at the failure of others.
Best of all: it happened to the Dodgers. Heh heh heh heh.