The Baseball Desert

Friday, October 22, 2004

Little ball

It's been a week of intense baseball, so the two rest-days (for me, at least) before the World Series are more than welcome. But resting doesn't mean not thinking about baseball, and this morning - whilst sat on the train reading Thomas Boswell's "How Life Imitates The World Series", I got to thinking about the differences between the regular season and the postseason.

In the introductory chapter of the book, Boswell - speaking about the rhythm of the game - quotes Earl Weaver: "This ain't a football game. We do this every day". It's true - the four teams playing playoff baseball this week have done this more or less every day for the past six months. As Boswell says:
This is baseball's greatest blessing and the source of its richness: you play it every day. Consequently, baseball has no "game face" - no mood of real or feigned mortal crisis that must be put on like a protective psychological mask before leaping into the fray. As Weaver's pitching coach Ray Miller puts it, "It's never fourth-and-one in baseball".
As far as the level of intensity, it's true, both for the regular season and for the postseason. The big difference in the postseason is that they're short series and there's much less margin for error, which means that even after almost 170 games, the season can come down to a single play.

In the ALCS, that single play would probably have to be Dave Roberts' stolen base in the bottom of the 9th inning in Game 4. Red Sox down 3-0 in the series and 4-3 in the game, three outs away from elimination, Rivera on the mound. Millar walked, Roberts pinch-ran for him and stole second base, putting him in a position to score. ESPN's Bill Simmons called it "the most exciting stolen base in my lifetime as a Sox fan". The most exciting, and the most important - Bill Mueller then singled (after showing bunt - also a nice play) and Roberts scored to tie the game, sparking the Red Sox and their incredible comeback.

In the NLCS, the play you could point to was in last night's game, and, as an outfielder, I'm pleased to say that it happened in center field. Series tied 3-3, Astros up 1-0 in the second inning, runners on first and second, one out. Brad Ausmus belted a line-drive to center field, but instead of it falling in for a double, Jim Edmonds ran it down and made a spectacular diving catch:

Instead of it being a 3-0 game with only one out, it was still 1-0 with two outs. The Cardinals managed to keep the Astros in check, and that play set the stage for St Louis's comeback win.

If there's a moral to this story, I guess it's "watch the games closely". We're always amazed at the big home runs, the strikeouts and the game-winning hits, but sometimes the true essence of the game is to be found elsewhere.