[Rough Draft]

A weblog about god, doubt, insomnia, culture, baseball

4.07.2004

game six

@ the suggestion of my friend andy cunningham, i recently read roger angell's five seasons: a baseball companion (amazon has used copies @ $2.90, and i suggest anyone over 30 -- you have to sort of remember the 70s to appreciate some of the book -- should log on and buy one, instanter). it was so good, i couldn't decide what to quote from it. but, being who i am (a red sox fan somewhat in love w/ the calvinism of suffering and near misses and, as strongbad would say, "less non-broken bones and more crushed spirits"), i was led inexorably to angell's recounting of game 6 (it's a little long, so be forewarned). here goes:

game six, game six . . . what can we say of it without seeming to diminish it by recapitulation or dull it with detail? those of us who were there will remember it, surely, as long as we have any baseball memory, and those who wanted to be there and were not will be sorry always. crispin crispian: for red sox fans, this was agincourt. the game also went out to sixty-two million television viewers, a good many millions of whom missed their bedtime. three days of heavy rains had postponed things; the outfield grass was a lush, amazon green, but there was a clear sky at last and a welcoming moon -- a giant autumn squash that rose above the right-field fenway bleachers during batting practice.

in silhouette, the game suggests a well-packed but dangerously overloaded canoe -- with the high bulge of the red sox' three first-inning runs in the bow, then the much bulkier hump of six cincinnati runs amidships, then the counterbalancing three boston runs astern, and then
way aft, one more shape. but this picture needs colors: fred lynn clapping his hands once, quickly and happily, as his three-run opening shot flies over the boston bullpen and into the bleachers . . . luis tiant fanning perez with a curve and the low-flying plane, then dispatching foster with a fall off the fence. luis does not have his fastball, however . . . .

pete rose singles in the third. perez singles in the fourth -- his first real contact off tiant in three games. rose, up again in the fifth, with a man on base, fights off tiant for seven pitches, then singles hard to center. ken griffey triples off the wall, exactly at the seam of the left-field and center-field angles; fred lynn, leaping up for the ball and missing it, falls backward into the wall and comes down heavily. he lies there, inert, in a terrible, awkwardly twisted position, and for an instant all of us think that he has been killed. he is up at last, though, and even stays in the lineup, but the noise and joy are gone out of the crowd, and the game is turned around. tiant, tired and old and, in the end, bereft even of mannerisms, is rocked again and again -- eight hits in three innings -- and johnson removes him, far too late, after geronimo's first-pitch home run in the eighth has run the score to 6-3 for the visitors.

by now, i had begun to think sadly of distant friends of mine -- faithful lifelong red sox fans all over new england, all over the east, whom i could almost see sitting silently at home and slowly shaking their heads as winter began to fall on them out of their sets. i scarcely noticed when lynn led off the eighth with a single and petrocelli walked. sparky anderson, flicking levers like a master back-hoe operator, now called in eastwick, his sixth pitcher of the night, who fanned evans and retired burleson on a fly. bernie carbo, pinch-hitting, looked wholly overmatched against eastwick, flailing at one inside fastball like someone fighting off a wasp with a croquet mallet. one more fastball arrived, high and over the middle of the plate, and carbo smashed it in a gigantic, flattened parabola into the center-field bleachers, tying the game. everyone out there -- and everyone in the stands, too, i suppose -- leaped to his feet and waved both arms exultantly, and the bleachers looked like the dark surface of a lake lashed with a sudden night squall.

the sox, it will be recalled, nearly won it right away, when they loaded the bases in the ninth with none out, but an ill-advised dash home by denny doyle after a fly, and a cool, perfect peg to the plate by george foster, snipped the chance. the balance of the game now swung back, as it so often does when opportunities are wasted. drago pitched out of a jam in the tenth, but he flicked pete rose's uniform with a pitch to start the eleventh. griffey bunted, and fisk snatched up the ball and, risking all, fired to second for the force on rose. morgan was next, and i had very little hope left. he struck a drive on a quick, deadly rising line -- you could still hear the loud
whock! in the stands as the white blur went out over the infield -- and for a moment i thought the ball would land ten or fifteen rows back in the right-field bleachers. but it wasn't hit quite that hard -- it was traveling too fast, and there was no sail to it -- and dwight evans, sprinting backward and watching the flight of it over his shoulder, made a last-second, half-staggering turn to his left, almost facing away from the plate at the end, and pulled the ball in over his head at the fence. the great catch made for two outs in the end, for griffey had never stopped running and was easily doubled off first.

and so the swing of things was won back again. carlton fisk, leading off the bottom of the twelfth against pat darcy, the eighth reds pitcher of the night -- it was well into morning now, in fact -- socked the second pitch up and out, farther and farther into the darkness above the lights, and when it came down at last, reilluminated, it struck the topmost, innermost edge of the screen inside the yellow left-field foul pole and glanced sharply down and bounced on the grass: a fair ball, fair all the way. i was watching the ball, of course, so i missed what everyone on television saw -- fisk waving wildly, weaving and writhing and gyrating along the first-base line, as he wished the ball fair,
forced it fair with his entire body. he circled the bases in triumph, in sudden company with several hundred fans, and jumped on home plate with both feet, and john kiley, the fenway park organist, played handel's "hallelujah chorus," fortissimo, and then followed with other appropriately exuberant classical selections, and for the second time that evening i suddenly remembered all my old absent and distant sox-afflicted friends (and all the other red sox fans, all over new england), and i thought of them -- in brookline, mass., and brooklin, maine; in beverly farms and mashpee and presque isle and north conway and damariscotta; in pomfret, connecticut, and pomfret, vermont; in wayland and providence and revere and nashua, and in both the concords and all five manchesters; and in raymond, new hampshire (where carlton fisk lives), and bellows falls, vermont (where carlton fisk was born, and i saw all of them dancing and shouting and kissing and leaping about like the fans at fenway -- jumping up and down in their bedrooms and kitchens and living rooms, and in bars and trailers, and even in some boats here and there, i suppose, and on back-country roads (a lone driver getting the news over the radio and blowing his horn over and over, and finally pulling up and getting out and leaping up and down on the cold macadam, yelling into the night), and all of them, for once at least, utterly joyful and believing in that joy -- alight with it.

it should be added, of course, that very much the same sort of celebration probably took place the following night in the midlands towns and vicinities of the reds' supporters -- in otterbein and scioto; in frankfort, sardinia, and summer shade; in zanesville and louisville and akron and french lick and loveland. i am not enought of a social geographer to know if the faith of the red sox fan is deeper or hardier than that of a reds rooter (although i secretly believe that it may be, because of his longer and more bitter disappointments down the years). what i do know is that this belonging and caring is what our games are all about; this is what we come for. it is foolish and childish, on the face of it, to affiliate ourselves with anything so insignificant and patently contrived and commercially exploitative as a professional sports team, and the amused superiority and icy scorn that the non-fan directs at the sports nut (i know this look -- i know it by heart) is understandable and almost unanswerable. almost. what is left out of this calculation, it seems to me, is the business of caring -- caring deeply and passionately, really
caring -- which is a capacity or an emotion that has almost gone out of our lives. and so it seems possible that we have come to a time when it no longer matters so much what the caring is about, how frail or foolish is the object of that concern, as long as the feeling itself can be saved. naivete' -- the infantile and ignoble joy that sends a grown man or woman to dancing and shouting with joy in the middle of the night over the haphazardous flight of a distant ball -- seems a small price to pay for such a gift.

(roger angell, five seasons: a baseball companion, 1st fireside ed., p. 302-06 (new york: simon & schuster, 1988.)

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