Here’s the thing: The Texas Rangers are a good team. Maybe they’re a good team that was helped a little by whatever luck or deity-type-thing you prefer in the regular season, but they’re a good team. The Toronto Blue Jays are also a good team. Their luck was maybe a little more confined to simple human err in a one-game playoff, but luck it still was, and so they found themselves in Arlington these last two games, riding on a wave of momentum that seemed like it could take on any day’s pitcher.
Luck is a funny thing. We talk about it an awful lot in baseball for something that supposedly washes out over a long enough period of time, and both blame it and exonerate it in situations when there just isn’t enough time for it to balance out. We’ve quantified it, of a sort, in regards to batters and pitchers and hits on balls in play, and yet we’re still not sure what to do with it. Being humans, and baseball nerds, we’d like to quantify it down to the very last decimal point, tease it out in all its forms and make it such that we can cite it in our game stories and incidental writing.
Yu Darvish battled with luck on Friday. He gave up five runs, all on home runs, and yet, objectively, did not pitch that poorly. Pitchers make bad pitches all the time, even the best ones. It’s still really difficult to hit a baseball, even for major-league hitters, and luckily for the Blue Jays, they were able to hit every single one of Darvish’s mistakes.
Luck was against the Rangers' offense. It takes a lot of something to have 13 hits, 16 baserunners, 18 opportunities with a runner in scoring position, and only score three runs. Luck, or “clutch,” is the ability to string those hits together and turn them into runs, not leave them to languish on the bases, potential unfulfilled.
Hitting a home run is the one play that, in a lot of ways, relies not at all on luck. The pitch leaves the park, no messy interference by fielders necessary. The Blue Jays took the luck that was mistake pitches from Darvish and removed the rest of the equation, pushing the boundaries of the game and eliminating the potential for double plays and stunning catches, or even the need for an odd strike zone or weird bounces as in Game 1. They say that “fortune favors the bold” and if hitting dingers is “bold” in baseball-land, then fortune has favored the Jays as of late.
Of course, another name for luck is momentum, and the Jays came into this series carrying a train-load of momentum, if you believe in such a thing. Texas let up off the accelerator toward the end of the regular season, but Toronto had to bear down in full to even get to the Wild Card game, much less the ALDS. Winning is contagious, and the Jays have caught the fever.
Last year, though, Toronto had to create their own luck, losing the first two at home and then storming back to win the next three to stun these same Rangers. It seems that luck or fortune can change in the weirdest ways. The Rangers will throw 37-year-old Colby Lewis against 24-year-old Aaron Sanchez on Sunday, a game that seems like it has a predetermined outcome, but stranger things have happened.
Momentum, after all, is as good as the next day’s starter. It’s not like Sanchez hasn’t had bad starts, or Lewis hasn’t had good ones, and luck is the thing that reminds us that the statistics aren’t infallible, that our fanciest metrics are only as good in a single game as the game itself. The aggregate is predictable, the ace being lit up is not. If Jose Bautista had hit a homer run on Friday, that would be expected, but Kevin Pillar and Ezequiel Carrera did instead. If any of those pitches had just been a little bit lower, or a little bit higher, maybe everything would be different. When you dial the game to its most infinitesimal level, skill becomes indistinguishable from luck.
Luck is getting a Darvish pitch to hit. Luck is beating the throw home, or not. Luck is the sinking feeling in your stomach, or the $20 left in your winter coat. It’s preparation and advance scouting, but it’s also being in the right place at the right time, in person or with the bat. It’s something that’s both of nothing and everything, and we can try to control it, try to boil it down, but something tells me we will always fail, just a little bit.
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