It is venturing on understatement to say that those baseball gods of irony–just a week after touting the mostly error-free bliss of defensive baseball–have come to call through five games of World Series play. Game 1 made a fool of the St. Louis Cards, and in particular cruelty, of Pete Kozma, who dribbled out two errors of his own, one of which being a routine double play that would have closed what instead became an onslaught of runs. Then there was that Little Leaguer moment between pitcher and catcher as an infield fly fell right between them, Molina as dumbfounded as Wainwright–but surely no more dumbfounded than the Redbird faithful, who watched their club belly up. Game 2 was certainly kinder as the Cards evened it out, 1-1. And Game 3 brought on the “Obstruction” call that ended the game in BoSox confusion and despair, which many are now saying is the “craziest” or “wildest” or “intensest” ending to a World Series game…like, ever. If you didn’t see it, or hear about it from tweets or gifs or watercooler talk at work, here’s the rundown.
But the funny thing is, it’s happened before, to the Boston Red Sox, and it cost them that Game 3 of that World Series, too. This time it was at Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati, in 1975, when an obstruction was not called. With a runner at first (Cesar Geronimo), at the bottom of the 10th (!), Reds outfielder Ed Armbrister laid down a bunt–a weird chopper of a bunt–which he then blocked Carlton Fisk, the Red Sox catcher, from fielding. Slowed down, Fisk picked the ball up, hurried a throw to second to get Geronimo, but the throw sailed into center field, which then progressed the runners–Armbrister and Geronimo–to second and third base. There was no call of obstruction. Joe Morgan then batted in two runs to win it in walk-off fashion for the Redlegs. The “Big Red Machine” went on to win the Series.
It’s less the fairness of the call and more the shocking terminality of a game of such high stakes that tears people up. An obstruction call, whether it is called or not, whether it is fair or not–and this week’s call was definitely fair–is an offensive ending by way of a fateful technicality. It is a way of ending a game which leaves “fate” to fate, rather than the skill or control that conceivably got these teams here. It’s an ending, for sure, but a binding, sour sense of one. And it’s not really wanted by either team. Watch the Cardinals interviews with Erin Andrews–what do they say? “Strange play…” “I mean, I don’t know what to think…” “I mean, we’ll take it…” Every response is hedged, because the “dignity” of a victory has been somewhat blighted. We’d much rather the strikeout, the walk-off double, the grand-slam-over-the-wall-catch. Here, a chaotic accident snatches a planned victory from either team.
That’s also to say nothing of the pick-off Game 4 ending, either.
Gomes’s isn’t the worst Sox beard—the title goes to backup catcher David Ross, whose unkempt cabbage includes a clashing streak of white that cascades over his chin—perhaps relic of a childhood moment when he ran into his grandfather in the narrow back hall outside the bathroom. The other catcher, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, has a raggedy garden-border growth, in keeping with the encircling back-yard shrubbery of his hair. Mike Napoli’s beard is thickest; Dustin Pedroia’s the weirdest, since it comes with his desert-saint stare and that repeated on-deck or between-pitch mannerism of opening and stretching his mouth into a silent O: a screech owl with laryngitis.
I’m a gentle fellow, and intend no lasting hurts here. I admire Big Papi’s plunging mid-cheek parenthesis, which has been there for many seasons, of course, and now feels as familiar and locally reassuring as a statue by Daniel Chester French. I also offer praise for the angle-iron jawline wool sported by tonight’s Boston starter, Jon Lester: an aesthetic so clearly modelled on Gunnar Björnstrand’s trimmed-down growth while he portrayed Fredrik Egerman in Bergman’s “Smiles of a Summer Night.”
Can I ask a question? Where are the Red Sox wives or sweetie pies in all this? Have none of them spoken up—privately or in the Globe or in a thousand tweets—to protest this office fad? How does it feel to wake up, night after night, in immediate proximity to a crazed Pomeranian or a Malamute or an Old English sheepdog stubbornly adhering to the once caressable jaw of the guy on the nearest pillow? Doesn’t it scratch? Doesn’t it itch? Doesn’t it smell, however faintly, of tonight’s boeuf en daube or yesterday’s last pinch of Red Man? And what about the kids—how long can you keep putting them off with another recital of “The Three Little Pigs” or Edward Lear? Who does your husband/significant other think he is, anyway—Dostoyevsky? Brigham Young? Darwin? An Allman brother? Alexander Cartwright?
Despite “kudzu” being the most apt description Angell gave these Beanboys, the wild growth isn’t limited to the cheeks. Have you watched Big Papi–David Ortiz–unfold perhaps the most impressive showing of bat play in recent history? This stat showed on screen during Game 5′s Boston victory: David Ortiz Batting Average in World Series: .733. Rest of Team: .151. Ortiz’s double and two singles actually hurt his slugging percentage, that’s how unstoppable he’s been. So if “obstructions” are noteworthy by the fate they steal from a team’s effort, Ortiz certainly qualifies. He has become a technicality, a rule. It is fun to watch, but if you’re a Redbirds fan, aren’t you wondering why they’re still pitching to him?
This is why I love watching the World Series. Stats are helpful, yes, and if you’re rooting for the Cardinals, you’re happy Wacha is pitching tonight, and you’d rather have Molina up to the plate every day of the week than watch Kozma strike out, again. But the stats aren’t everything. Statistic baseball, a la Moneyball, is dependable on a large scale, with 162 games per season, and you can make your decisions by way of these statistics. Surely this kind of performance you would expect from an Ortiz, and not so much from a backup catcher Ross.
But October brings a wild wind, and suddenly you’re no longer playing a numbers game, but a survival game. The World Series provides a window into statistic limitation, that any given week one player–any player–is hot, while the majority of the others aren’t even hitting the ball a quarter of the time. Doing so, it opens that window, and lets the obstructions in.
Prediction: Wacha throws lights-out tonight. BoSox take Game 7.
Aside: And if you really want to see an “intense” ending at the plate, look no further than what’s below. Buck Martinez, the catcher, breaks his leg in a tag-out, throws to third, to get the batter out, overthrows the third baseman, which leaves the left fielder to throw home for Martinez’s second “play” at the plate, while he basically lays there with a broken leg. He then passes out from anguish.