Baseball as the steady extinction of possabilities.
On May 20, 2015, Nick Day hit a home run off Trace Dempsey in front of a few dozen fans, and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since.
Last year, Ohio State started the season strong. After never having made an NCAA tournament under fifth-year head coach Greg Beals, the Buckeyes looked like they’d end up not only making the tournament but hosting a regional if they didn’t collapse.
I believe you are all familiar with the hashtags. #Mathenaging. #Yosted. #BuntToWin. And that’s just the state of Missouri. It’s now common knowledge that there are certain strategic plays that were once popular, but upon further review, it’s clear that they are questionable tactics at best. Everyone knows it, and yet, bunting is still a thing. Even the “smart” managers do it. Why?
During Game Four of the World Series, the Royals used their patented late-inning devil magic to come back and take a lead against the New York Mets. This turn of plot was old hat to the Royals, who outscored opponents 18-0 in the ninth inning (or later) of postseason games in 2015, though by their standards the twist came surprisingly early—during the eighth inning. That meant that the Royals’ closer Wade Davis was forced to approach the plate as a hitter for the first time since 2013.
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In Game Two of the 1964 World Series, Bob Gibson lost to the Yankees. He pitched eight innings, and gave up four runs on eight hits and three walks. In the bottom of the eighth, with St. Louis trailing 4-1 and a runner on first base, Cardinals manager Johnny Keane lifted Gibson for a pinch-hitter (Bob Skinner). It was, inarguably, the right choice, and Skinner doubled to set up a run, but still, Gibson fumed. Gibson was pitching on three days’ rest, after a four-inning relief stint that came on one day’s rest in the season finale, but still, he fumed. Cardinals relievers gave up four runs in the top of the ninth, pushing the game far out of reach. Gibson was furious.
How the Royals turned a moment of failure into another win. Some might call it resilience, some might call it magic.
One of the most frustrating things about trying to win at baseball—particularly for a manager—is there’s not that much you can do besides be good. You want to walk around your block figuring out how to crack this darned problem, to have your The Theory Of Everything moment and run into the classroom scribbling frantically, like as if you could discover that if you just do this then there’s no way you can lose. But there’s no this. There are very few counterintuitive strategies in baseball. There’s no “that’s not an ugly old lady, it’s actually a beautiful young woman!” perspective you can stare for. You’re stuck with the official story: Baseball is almost entirely throw a pitch exactly where you’re trying to, even though that’s hard; or hit it as far as you can, even though that’s hard. The guy who does the hard thing wins. There’s no easy option.
Last week, on my favorite podcast in the world (seriously) Effectively Wild, Sam and Ben interviewed now-former Dodgers head trainer Stan Conte. Their interview covered a wide range of topics related to player injuries, both the ones that we get to hear about and the ones we don’t. At one point, Sam asked a question about a hypothetical team that was pretty much guaranteed to go to the postseason and had little to play for over the last two weeks of September. Should the team rest its starters down the stretch, saving them for the playoffs and letting the September call-up guys take over, or perhaps go to a six-man rotation to take some of the strain off the four guys who will actually be starting playoff games?
When we found out before the game that Edinson Volquez’s father had just died, I swore that there would be no arm-chair psychology in this recap; I wouldn’t read his face and I wouldn’t attribute any extraheroic strength to his effort and I wouldn’t excuse any bloop hits or failures on his part to back up third base. Baseball is absurdly small and our parents are, for most of us, extraordinarily large, and to put the two on the same map is some kind of missing the point entirely. Baseball is awful because we would even expect Edinson Volquez to pitch on a day like that day, and it’s salvation because what would any of us want to do more for our fathers than pitch Game One of the World Series?
Classifying the fans you'll see in the stands for the first two games of the World Series.
With the Royals advancing again to the Fall Classic, we revisit what you can expect to see on your television when you're not seeing baseball players doing baseball things. This article originally ran on October 21, 2014.