Baseball is a beautiful game. It is pretty to watch, whether we are viewing Clayton Kershaw and Madison Bumgarner going at it for eight innings without allowing a run, or Bud Norris and Jeremy Guthrie just lasting two each, and getting pulled with the score locked at eight apiece.
It is a game that takes our breath away when played well, and forces a Homer Simpsonesque "Doh" with a slapped forehead when we see a miscue. But, one of the beauties of the game is that it is indeed the same game, whether played by six-year-olds in T-Ball, or the for now defending Champion Giants, across the bay from me at ATT Park.
I do remember going to watch my friends George and Julie's son Zach--then around six--play in a game once. Julie knew I wrote for the same paper as she at the time (USAT) and that I scored games, but she cautioned me as we approached the stands, advising that the skill of play in the Lafayette fields of green was not like that where the Giants roam.
I told Julie I knew this, but as noted above: baseball wherever played and among the game's wonders is that at every level, you can see something equally brilliant, or bonehead.
Julie sort of nodded but I suspect she did not necessarily agree. Sure enough, as we sat down a kid hit a seed to first base, where there was a runner. The first baseman stuck out his mitt and the ball found it, the first sacker stepped on first, and poof, an unassisted double play in T-Ball.
On the other hand, Wednesday night gave us a Toronto/Texas game that I will never forget. Ever. There were miscues coupled with luck, both good and bad (though I challenge you to name just one aspect of your life that didn't involve said luck), and the baseball gods of the highest order, observing the scene and meting out justice appropriately.
I sent a bunch of Tweets out about just how much crazy fun the whole thing was, and mostly got pushback about the sloppy and terrible play. I do understand wanting to see perfect play, especially at the Major League level during the playoffs.
But, let's face it, we are watching human beings, and well, human beings tend to be imperfect. As in baseball, which specifically has a category known as "errors", suggesting perfection is as elusive in baseball as just about every other aspect of life.
And, the truth is, the craziness of the Choo/Martin blocked run-scoring toss back was nutso territory previously unencountered by the bulk of us during regular play, let alone the playoffs. And, the three straight errors the Rangers made right after (four in the inning total, if you count the pop Rougned Odor could not track down) pushed the inning into the Twilight Zone, with Jose Bautista's home run/bat flip moving the game towards some kind of 2001-type transmogrification. (Note, we do need to remember that Willie Davis did indeed commit three errors in one inning in 1966.)
I have indeed seen and tracked a lot of games at this point in my life, but I have never seen anything quite like Wednesday, including a 53-minute half inning with just four runs scored. It was fantastic, and high drama and good fun most of us can relate to rather than a Max Scherzer no-no.
It did seem to me, though, that there was a large contingent of fans who were particularly dour and condescending regarding that crazy silly inning, which is too bad, because the chances are indeed that none of us will again see the likes of the Jays and Rangers game the other night. As time passes, I suspect hindsight will prove the game to be much more a funny nostalgic piece of trivia than anything that will make too many folks other than maybe the Rangers involved too skittish.
The game did remind me, though, of my favorite pieces of insanity that I ever witnessed on the ball field. Mind you, these were all live, and professional, though I do remember some killer local amateur plays, like the unassisted double play in Zach Anderson's game, or my friend Jeanne Schuman's and Bill Pollock's daughter Zoe running down a fly ball in left center field during a Berkeley High playoff game in Willie Mays/Vic Wertz fashion.
Anyway, just to keep the levity as we move into the Championship series, I thought I would list my five favorite plays I have seen in person. Note that I have seen three no-hitters, and scored one perfect game (Dallas Braden's) and saw Rickey Henderson break Lou Brock's stolen base record along with some other great stuff. But, these are my all-time favorite plays. And, I apologize in advance for being a bit long-winded this time, but if you love the game, I think it will be worth the read.
July 22, 1999: The New York Penn League, and I am watching Auburn playing St. Catharines. With the Stompers losing 5-4 in the top of the seventh, Victor Morales hit a ball with one out that shortstop Donaldo Mendez booted. Morales got greedy and made an ill-advised attempt to take second. He would have been out, dead to rights, but a funky throw and fumbled catch allowed Morales to safely touch the bag even after over-sliding. So, his team is down by one, and he is in scoring position. with the three and four hitters due up. Undaunted by the benevolence of the baseball gods, Morales inexplicably took off with the first pitch, trying to steal third, and this time third sacker Luis Dominguez applied the tag. St. Catharines lost.
November 1, 2001: At the Arizona Fall League, Yankees hopeful third sacker Drew Henson made an across-the-body Brooks Robinson-type spear of a screaming bouncer before it passed the hot corner, stepping across the bag into foul territory. It was an incredible snare, and Henson set, and threw to first. Unfortunately, Henson's arm had also been that of Michigan's collegiate QB, and that is what took over as Henson did not only throw over the first baseman's outstretched glove, and the stands. The ball sailed over the fence and park too, landing somewhere in the parking lot. Henson made three errors that game, walked once, struck out twice, and hit a double.
August 23, 2011: With Pablo Sandoval on third and Aubrey Huff on first, in the bottom of the sixth, leading the Giants 4-0, San Diego's Jesus Guzman cleanly picked a hard bounder hit by lefty Brandon Belt. Guzman was playing back, and off the bag, and the Panda took off from third with contact, but then slowed a quarter of the way as he saw Guzman pick the ball. Pablo danced, staring Guzman down, while everyone in the pressbox was mumbling "tag the fucking bag." But, Guzman did not take his eyes off Pablo, who kept edging to the plate until Jesus could no longer take it. Pablo broke for the dish, and Guzman uncorked a rocket to catcher Nick Hundley. Unfortunately, the throw went into the dugout, allowing Huff to score and Belt to park his heels at second. Meaning zero outs were recorded, the batter went to second, and two runs scored.
August 29, 2001: In what may be the wildest scoring game I ever saw (Diane and I saw a pretty good one at the old Yankee Stadium in its last year, when Johnny Damon went 5-for-5), the Cardinals beat the Padres 16-14 following a nine-run second inning. I remember the night at old Busch Stadium well. A full moon seemed to be rising under the arch from where I sat as Gerry Pagano, the bass trombonist of the St. Louis Symphony, played a lovely solo National Anthem. which set the tone for such a memorable evening that featured a 4-for-5 night from Ryan Klesko that included two homers and two doubles that were almost big flies. There were a ton of crazy things in the game, but the best was following a bunt single in the bottom of the fifth by Edgar Renteria, Eli Marrero hit a line drive single to right, moving Renteria up a base. With none out, St. Louis invoked a double steal with a pair of strikes on Bobby Bonilla, who threw his bat at the ball and sent the club flying towards third sacker Phil Nevin, who sidestepped the bat and in the process the throw from catcher Ben Davis. Both the bat and ball landed sort of together in left and Reneria scored on the E2 (error charged to Davis, not Nevin, though the throw wasn't so bad, rather Nevin abandoned post) with both bat and ball landing at the feet of a puzzled Rickey Henderson, who looked up and spied Marrero now chugging to to the plate and let go of a more than errant throw, meaning two runs. The call--or lack of--of interference regarding the projection of the bat forced the Padres to make a protest to no avail. By the way, the pitchers, Chuck McElroy and Jose Nunez, struck out the side that inning, meaning without the errant bat the two runs likely would not have scored as there were only five batters that frame.
September 27, 2008: At ATT, with one out in the sixth inning, Pablo Sandoval singled, and Bengie Molina followed, hitting a shot off the top of the right field wall. Bengie hit it hard, and was not fleet afoot, so he was held to a single, with Sandoval moving to third. With the Giants trailing 5-3, Bruce Bochy sent Emmanuel Burriss in to pinch run for Molina, but just before the next pitch, Bochy called time. He got the ball Molina had hit, noticed there was a green splotch, and asked the umpires to look again, suggesting the green meant the ball hit the copper at the top of the wall, and if that was so, it was a home run. The umps looked, and sure enough, Molina was granted a homer in what was the first overturn of a hit to a homer after the invocation of the instant replay use for such calls. Molina got a homer and two RBI, but Burriss, who was announced and on the field, got the run scored. When Burriss finished rounding the bases and trotted into the dugout, Bengie said "nice hit" to him.