September 26, 2012
The Orthodoxy of Winning
I was surprised to find the Orioles-Rays game still on when I came home. It had stretched into the 13th inning, though, nearing four hours. I didn’t have much time—I had to go back out again in a few minutes—but Chris Archer, who as a Durham Bull I have watched, interviewed, and written about often over the last year or so, was pitching a third inning of long, late relief. This was just his fourth career appearance in the major leagues. So of course I wanted to tune in.
Archer issued a leadoff walk to Endy Chavez, then made a poor throw on Manny Machado’s sacrifice bunt attempt for an error. That put two men on. Mark Reynolds followed by hitting a tantalizing corkscrew fly ball into shallow right-center field that retreating second baseman Elliot Johnson couldn’t quite catch. It ticked off his glove—oh, poor Elliot—for a single, loading the bases with no outs in the 13th inning of a game fraught with post-season implications for both teams
In this kind of tender situation, it was no surprise to see Rays manager Joe Maddon make an unusual defensive change—so unusual that it required an extended mound conference. He replaced outfielder Sam Fuld with infielder Reid Brignac and stationed Brignac between first and second, scanting the outfield in order to create a five-man infield—all drawn in now with the winning run on third and force on at home.
The urgency of the moment was high, especially with a highly demonstrative, sometimes highly strung rookie pitcher on the mound—and for me, too, what with the clock bearing down on me. Would I get to see the outcome of this most dangerous of scenarios?
It’s the stretch drive. Anxiety is high, and superstitious game-watching rituals are in full effect. Fans are trying vicariously to drive their teams to the playoffs like jockeys, each flogging a very-much-alive horse, perhaps a dark one, e.g. Diamondbacks, Phillies, Rays.
In these passionate autumn days, let me give you a bit of a hard time for being a fan. Actually, let my favorite baseball iconoclast, Fernando Perez, do it. In an interview I did with him a couple of years ago, something I wound up having to cut for space (warning: the interview is long anyway) wound up being the thing that made the deepest and longest-lasting impression on me. Perez lamented the rigid “orthodoxy of winning”: “You’re watching a less interesting game than you could be watching.”