Monday, May 19, 2008

Game 47: Entering Into History

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 7, Kansas City Royals 0

For my bachelor party almost two years ago, my friends brought me up to Cooperstown, NY, to the Baseball Hall of Fame. A couple of things come instantly to mind from that trip: the exhibit on Manny Ramirez's uniform and how he wears it at the largest size allowed by regulations to give him better freedom of movement when he hits; Robin finding Joe Morgan's picture and flipping it off in tribute to all of Morgan's "skills" as a broadcaster; seeing the championship ring display, finding the one from 2004 and reliving the good times all over again. But the section I always think of first, the place that really brings everything that the Hall of Fame is about home to me is the wall of no hitter and perfect game balls, each with the date, the score of the game, and the picture of the man on whom fortune smiled to deliver a night of truly devastating pitching. Pedro's up there, and Derek Lowe; Hideo Nomo back when he was good, A.J. Burnett when he was a Marlin and David Wells when he was a Yankee. Nolan Ryan has seven - more than anyone else - and now, after tonight, the Sox have 18 - or 26, if you believe ESPN - which seems to be more than anyone else [Edit: now that I'm awake, I've realized that 26 is for Boston teams as a whole, going back to the 1870s. Robin's got it right: the Sox have 18, the Dodgers have 20].

Many love baseball for the excitement of the big hit, the powerful smash over the wall, the crooked number inning with runners pilling across the plate so quickly you'd think the bases were on fire. I do not deny these moments their
ability to move us fans into transports of delight, but what I love most about baseball is the pitching: the strategy of pitch selection, the psychology of the guessing game between batter, pitcher, and catcher, the tension of a duel between the man on the mound and the man at the plate. The addition of the no hitter possibility makes these pitching moments that much more precious, adding in the dimension of necessarily superb defense, of a team uniting behind its pitcher to guarantee a moment in history.

Tonight's game had all of these rarefied elements, combined together into one noble gas that burned with a stark beauty upon the cold earth of the baseball field. At the plate, Manny battled Luke Hochevar with the bases loaded and home run number 499 looming large, fouling off pitch after pitch before settling for a walk, while every starter but Lugo found a way to get on base. In the field Jacoby Ellsbury saved the day with a second spectacular diving catch in as many days, delivered as effortlessly as his stolen base advance from first to second to third in two plays, channeling Rickey Henderson all the way.
And astride the mound, befitting his stature as the star of the game, stood Jon Lester like a giant, flinging away the doubts about his abilities - doubts for which I now humbly apologize - and delivering strikeouts by the handful. It was one hell of a way to make an entrance into history.