Top of the eighth inning Thursday night in new Yankee Stadium (or, in local sportswriter Jack McCafferty inspiring re-invention, the House Near the House That Ruth Built). Philadelphia trailing 3-1 with its two fastest runners on first and second, first game star Chase Utley at bat and NLCS MVP and baseball’s leading RBI man, Ryan Howard, the “just get me to the plate, boys” hero of the first round, on deck. There is one out. The count is three-two and Mario Rivera, the best closer in the game even, makes his pitch…
There are decisions being made all over the place in split seconds. Phillies Manager Charlie Manuel has a choice to either send the runners, thus breaking up the possibility, or at least drastically lessening it, for a double play on a ground-out, or hold the runners, avoiding the possibility, perhaps more likely in the first case, of a double play if there is a ball hit directly to one of the fielders in the air or if the batter strikes out. Yankees manager Joe Girardi has already positioned his infield into what he considers the best defensive array against the left-hand hitting Utley and to optimize his double-play chances.
The runners do not go. Utley hits a sharp grounder to second and a quick throw to second and a tag removes Rollins and and a throw to first nips Utley trying to get back. Never mind that it really didn’t: in a post-season in which the umpiring has been god-awful (with the Phillies admittedly seeming to have benefited from more bad calls than anyone), it’s a close enough play that you just have to shrug it off.
Game over, for all practical purposes.
There is no other sport in which so much is going on which can be debated and has been ever since that moment. Should Manuel have sent the runners or not? Would one of them have made it if he had not (Rollins, most likely, putting him on third, but with two outs so Howard, who had already struck out twice, would have to get a hit, not a sacrifice fly). Would Rollins have tried to advance on a long fly? Should the outfielder throw behind him to insure he doesn’t keep going for home or try to catch him at third? What happens next?
Baseball differs from most games (Cricket is the only exception that comes to mind) in that the only time one team can score is when the other team controls the ball. While Basketball and Hockey and, in some instances, Football, occasionally are decided by one-on-one match-ups, baseball is centered around exactly that sort of confrontation.
A ball is thrown from the former to the latter and a myriad possibilities unfold.
Baseball is a thinking man’s game, too slow for many of the baby-boomers and their spawn, which is, I suggest, more about the “thinking” than the “slow” part of that equation. A lot of of brain cells have been sacrificed on the altar of Faster, Bigger, It’s All About Us.
Who plays today and in what order the lineup bats is based upon all sorts of factors, both individual (My gut tells me this and my guy is hot) and general (How does he hit against him? Lefty or righty pitching? Dimensions of the ballpark?), and there are moments all throughout the game when decisions must be made, from the pitch the catcher calls to the batter’s choice to swing or not to swing to the umpire’s judgment of where the pitch was and whether a runner is safe or out).
These are great times in Philadelphia for sports fans, and they serve as a sterling example of why those who look down their nose at such plebeian activities or choose to show their superiority by ignoring them when you see how the entire region is so involved and people are bonding over a group of 25-plus millionaires. Not to mention the millions of dollars flowing into the coffers of local businesses.
Tonight is Game Three of the World Series, tomorrow the Philadelphia Eagles play their hated rival, the New York Giants in a game for first place in the NFL East which is almost an afterthought (which, I must admit, I enjoy because the Eagles management are such horse’s asses), followed by Game Four of the Series. All of these things are happening here but I guess it’s a big week for those folks in that city to the north as well when you think about it.
Meanwhile. Temple University, long a football doormat, is going for its sixth straight win this afternoon, a victory over Navy would make them Bowl-eligible for the first time in forever. For all I know, the Flyers and the 76ers are playing too. And College Basketball is right around the corner with Villanova ranked among the elite in the country and looking to repeat last year’s Final Four appearance.
Add to all that an interregnum late tomorrow afternoon to watch—I hope—the Green Bay Packers smack around the by-now-insufferable Brett Favre and the Minnesota Vikings. To be fair, though, I have to admit that Favre’s umpteenth return from retirement has shown he can still play—so long as he has Adrian Peterson in the backfield with him and he controls his crazed instincts to throw the ball wildly.
This weekend is definitely Couch Potato City.
What does all this have to do beer, you ask? Hey, if you have to ask, you are really not paying attention.
Much beer will be consumed over the next 35-plus hours, trust me.SHARE