Why we love baseball, Chapter 83
The Guardians and Yankees played 10 innings on Friday, the game coming down to one epic play. So much happened. Things you could watch and still not see.
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If you don’t have a team for baseball’s postseason, shame on you, because one of two things are in play.
Either you willfully missed out on a great sport to begin with or failed to take good advice when gifted a squad by me the day the postseason began.
The Cleveland Guardians.
Since, the Guardians took two straight from the Tampa Bay Rays, setting up a best-of-five series with the New York Yankees, for whom, it’s been said, rooting for is like rooting for U.S. Steel.
Well, New York won the opener 9-2 on Wednesday and, thanks to inclement weather, Game 2 arrived a day late, at 11 a.m. Friday, and what’s better than waking up to playoff baseball?
A must win for the Guardians because almost nobody comes back from 0-2 in a best-of-five, so there we were, Friday afternoon, nine innings in the book, entering old-school extra frames, not a zombie runner in sight.*
* The zombie runner — placing the player who hit into the previous inning’s last out at second base to begin each extra inning — was an invention of the 2020 COVID season, designed to end deadlocked contests quickly. The rule remains in place, but is removed for the playoffs.
About to happen was one of those moments, followed by more moments, only baseball provides.
You should probably watch it first.
Here it is: top of the 10th, Yankee Stadium, Cleveland’s Jose Ramirez batting, New York’s Jameson Taillon pitching, the great Bob Costas on the call.
Ramirez pops up to short left field, neither Yankee left fielder Oswaldo Cabrera, nor third baseman Josh Donaldson could get to it.
Donaldson picks up the ball, turns and throws wildly toward second base, allowing Ramirez to finish at third.
Donaldson was charged with a throwing error, Ramirez was awarded a clean double, taking third on Donaldson’s errant throw.
For a play that happened so quickly, it was a lot. Also, it was so much more than it appeared. So much more at hand in the margins, as well as in what followed.
The boxscore can’t explain it.
Neither does Paul Hoynes’ game story, nor Terry Pluto’s column for Cleveland.com, the website of the The Plain Dealer, long Cleveland’s metro daily newspaper (though, I have to say, Pluto’s column was very good).
Maybe you’ll only get it here.
I’m happy to help.
Here we go:
1. Go back and watch it again
Cabrera could have made the play. Had he dove on his belly, glove outstretched, rather than slid on his rump, backhandedly stretching his glove, he could have caught the ball.
But he didn’t.
Maybe because he’s not a lights out outfielder.
Maybe because he didn’t want to collide with Donaldson, a good reason. But if either might have realized Cabrera had the only shot at it and let it become only his play, he needn’t have worried about a collision.
That didn’t happen either.
• What about Josh?
Donaldson threw the ball away. Good players make bad throws. These things happen, right?
Donaldson’s throw was a physical error, but it began with a mental error.
He had no play at second base.
He has to eat that ball.
He has to not throw it, hold it and let the play stop there.
That’s on him, to see there’s no play and respond accordingly, but it’s on his teammates, too, because they should be telling him to eat it, letting him know there’s no play, that Ramirez, running hard the whole way, was going to beat any throw. Or maybe they did and it’s all on Donaldson for entering Russell Westbrook hero mode, everything a blur, all about him, teammates left to hope for the best.
• Right way, Jose
Ramirez is the Guardians’ leader and best player, in large part because he plays the game the right way, which in this case meant reading the play, knowing the ball may drop, the moment it began, which meant turning on the jets as quickly as could turn them on, which meant getting himself a double no matter what Donaldson was prepared to do with the ball and, reading the bad throw quickly, getting safely to third.
A player like that, it seems, might lead the league in doubles.
Good guess, Ramirez led the AL with 44.
• The rest
Next up, Oscar Gonzalez made contact with an even blooppier bloop, barely reaching the right-field grass. But it was another single, Ramirez came home and the Guardians lead 3-2, only to be followed by Josh Naylor lashing a legit double into the right-center field gap, bringing home Gonzalez to make it 4-2.
New York changed pitchers, got out of the inning, but couldn’t answer, giving Cleveland it’s must-have Game 2 victory with Game 3 coming up Saturday night in Cleveland, back on TBS, Costas back on the call.
There was talk on TBS’ postgame show suggesting the Guardians got lucky: two poorly hit balls found a home, what are you going to do?
Or maybe good things like that happen to the team that strikes out less than every other big league team, which the Guardians do.
The Yankees might not understand.
Twelve of the game’s other 29 teams struck out more than the Yankees in the regular season and 17 struck out less, yet Friday was ridiculous.
Over one 10-out span — the last out of the Yankees’ fifth inning through the last out of the Yankees’ eighth — New York sent 19 batters to the plate: 11 struck out, five drew walks and only three put the ball in play, two for outs, one for a hit.
It’s hard to get the game to do you any favors when what you do at the plate precludes you from getting them.
The Yankees struck out 15 times total.
The Guardians eight, one up from their 6.93 average.
Perhaps I wrote too long.
But it’s enthralling.
The difference between winning and losing.
One more thing about Ramirez’ double?
Cabrera and Donaldson had to run so far to the ball because the Yankees shifted, Cabrera shaded toward left-center and Donaldson, a third baseman, essentially playing shortstop.
Neither New York nor Cleveland shifts a whole lot, ranking 26th and 29th, and both are among the leaders in defensive runs saved, the Yankees No. 2 and the Guardians No. 3.
But it’s hard to make the right call every time and in those cracks games get decided.
It began with Ramirez, who did everything right, and Cabrera and Donaldson, who didn’t.
So much happening.
Just make contact, man.
No sport has narrower margins.
Some you can’t even see.
But they’re there and sometimes they’re everything.
What’s not to love?
“…like rooting for US Steel.”