The meaning of Game 5
With apologies to
You need more. You need sounds, and feelings, and touch, and all the things that make an experience burn itself into memory. Whatever I'm about to write here can't convey the look on my face when I realized that
No, today is one of those days where you bump up against the limits of your chosen medium, do the best that you can with the tools you have, and with a knowing nod concede that nothing is going to be good enough.
It's even more complicated than that, because a game like last night's challenges your belief system. Winning is about playing baseball better than the other guys do. The construct built up around the postseason, all of the soft words you always rail against -- character, heart, experience, clutch -- the ones that apply ex post facto and therefore are labels used to tell stories, not actual skills that affect outcomes... you know all these things are true, and you've spent your career trying to convince people to look past the storytelling.
Then a team down 7-0... no, down 29-5... with seven outs left in its season, showing all the life of the credit market, its fans crammed into subway cars and cursing their way out of parking lots, sullen, tired, stunned into submission. That team gets a single, and then another single, and then a hero, a damaged one, a human one, Superman in the second movie, powers dimmed, blood streaming from his nose, disrespected so much that his foe doesn't even reach for the good weapon... and that hero summons his strength, and strikes a blow, and a roar goes up that even the folks riding away from the park, below the ground, can hear, can feel.
In that moment, how do you say it's not just a little bit about who you are? How do you not think that this blow came from a place of sinew and fast-twitch and hand-eye, but also from some place you can't see on an MRI?
And as the game trickles on, and 7-4 became 7-6, and 7-7, and 8-7, how do you not assign some of those runs -- not all, not even most, but some, in a way you never have before -- to the people, rather than the players. Was the experience of 2004 and 2007 on one side, and the callowness of the players who lack that experience or any like it on the other, was that a factor in what we saw? Last night's game is an outlier, the extreme edge of the bell curve, a comeback almost unprecedented given the magnitude of the game. The facile storylines and trite labels that mark post-season coverage in the early 21st century are rightly regarded as meaningless, but when you're out beyond two deviations, and you're watching things that no one under 80 has ever seen, it is not only natural to question whether this could be the exception to your rules. It is mandatory.
And after the game, as you stare slack-jawed at the screen, reduced to monosyllabic expressions of awe and the occasional text message, you think about Saturday, and you wonder if there's going to be an effect. "Momentum is tomorrow's starting pitcher," you like to say, quoting a baseball genius. Maybe, though, tomorrow's starting pitcher is TBD, and momentum's taking a day to think about whether, maybe just this once, he wants to grab a bat and take some swings.
So maybe that's the legend of Game Five. It was the game that made a stathead consider chemistry.
You don't get from seven runs down to one run up without some big moments along the way, moments that were affected both by the players themselves and the decisions made by the men in the dugouts. Well, you don't get from 0-0 to 7-0 that way either, and what shouldn't be lost in the way the last quarter of the game developed is that the Rays continued to beat the daylights out of the Sox starters in the first quarter. Three homers in the game's first 13 batters gave the Rays a 5-0 lead, the third straight game in which the Rays led in the third inning by that score. The big three all got together this time:
In that seventh,
Papelbon allowed a double steal and a wall-ball double to Upton to make the game 7-0, then pitched out of it thanks to a double play. He also threw the eighth, and he was on fumes doing so. The outing reminded me of
If there's one decision I'd give back to Maddon, and there were a number to choose from, it would be this one. You need just seven outs, and this is as high-leverage a situation as you'd faced in the game. Using another pitcher to get through the seventh would have little cost, and keeping the game at 7-1 with the top of the lineup past would be pretty valuable. It should have been Trever Miller, lefty specialist, and I can't help but think that had this been the brand-name version of David Ortiz, he would have made the move. Ortiz's wrist problem, his poor performance to date, may have baited Maddon into keeping Balfour in. Two pitches later, the game was 7-4, and for the first time since the third inning of Game Three, the Red Sox had some life.
If Ortiz's home run had a tinge of clutch to it -- you wonder what the reaction would be if
The Sox were tied, it was the top of the ninth, and Papelbon was done. Having thrown 38 pitches, there was no way to leave him in. Francona turned to the last of his quartet of good relievers,
I'm not sure what the future will bring for Justin Masterson. He's probably going to make a lot of money in this game, be on the field for great moments, compete for championships, play with Hall of Famers. Any review of his career, though, no matter what happens, is going to feature a 1-0 pitch, on a cool October night, and his teammates turning a ground ball into two outs and a chance to complete history.
The air of inevitability returned, and persisted even as
After an intentional walk to
Just behind "where was Trever Miller?" is this question: Where was
Grant Balfour and Evan Longoria and Gabe Gross and Joe Maddon all came up short. David Ortiz and Coco Crisp and J.D. Drew didn't. The combination made history, and if the circumstances of Game Five let you wonder about the value of experience, Game Six will test the notion of momentum. You have to go a long way to find a baseball team taking the field with a worse recent memory than the Rays have.