ALCS Game 4: That Time an Infielder Pitched in the Pennant

I am a Royals fan living in New York City. If anyone wonders why I didn’t post anything in October, there’s your answer. The following entries detail the experience of watching the postseason far away from my hometown, in a much different place where fans from all over this huge country converge. Immigrants proudly display flags of their home countries in their windows and dwellings, but during the postseason, signs of national migrants’ provenance appear on heads and hearts in the form of caps and shirts. Giants fans scowl at Dodgers fans as Yankee stadium looms in the distance–it’s always looming, literally and figuratively. You can see it from the plane as you leave the city for wherever you’re from, and again when you come back. Meanwhile, in stretches of Brooklyn and Queens, and especially on the 7 train to Jackson Heights when you need to eat momos, you’re reminded that, hello, the Mets are here, too! I see lots of Orioles fans, Phillies fans, and yes, even Red Sox fans. There are not many Royals fans here, but the postseason as an expat is never a lonely experience, just a different one.* 

*Disclaimer: These posts might contain cliche images of athletes. Writing about sports means I have to deal with levels of kitsch I am not used to accommodating. I’m sorry. Also, I’ll get back to my Craigslist stories after this. 

pennington stats

An infielder gets some pitching stats

The lounge at the hotel is filled with law enforcement officers. Many of them are wearing Mets gear. The Mets are one game away from breaking Chicago’s heart and heading to the World Series. But right now it’s the fifth inning of ALDS Game 4. I am the only person in the room, possibly the only person in upstate New York, who is wearing a Royals shirt.

The hotel is having open bar for attendees of the New York State Highway Symposium and the officers make quick work of getting inebriated. So far they are friendly, not obnoxious. I grab a hard cider and am invited to take a seat among some officers from Rochester who are curious about my team of choice. Am I really from Kansas City, they wonder. Is it in Missouri or Kansas, they want to know.

I am late because after the symposium I was doing some research at the Broome County Historical Society—nothing to do with pedestrian safety or DUIs. There are records of early European settlers to upstate New York, including a group of Germans who had been shipped to the New World by the British in 1710. The said Germans had fled a French invasion of their homeland and had been camping out in London’s Hyde Park and alarming the local gentry, who lobbied to get rid of them.  Eventually the British sent them to the New World, where they were assigned to cut down pines and make pine tar for ships. But the trees in Germantown, New York, where they settled, were not of the pine tar making variety and the British left the Germans to their own devices. According to literature written most likely by hobby historians and possible descendants of said Germans wanting their ancestors to be on the right side of history, the little community was rescued by the local native Americans, with whom they lived side by side in harmony and from whom they would never dream of taking land.

One of those Germans was Wilhelm Kilmer and his five children, all of whom lived to have abundant progeny.

Now, Kilmers from all over the country flock to Binghamtom to find out about themselves. One branch of the clan made a fortune selling a tonic called Swamproot Kilmer. I am not of this branch. But these Kilmers set up their factory in Binghamtom in the early 1900s. The six-story building still stands, with KILMER etched large its stone façade.

I lost track of time chatting with the county historian, who filled me on in the Binghamton family of Kilmers. One of them opened a sanatorium that featured lithium springs. Another was a millionaire who bred horses for the Kentucky derby. This one was an inveterate womanizer who died without a legitimate heir. It was not until the county historian asked me where I was from that I realized I was missing the start of the game and hurried back through the empty streets of Binghamton back to the hotel.

The guys from Rochester are mostly waiting for NLCS Game 4. In the meantime, they don’t mind seeing the Royals and Blue Jays, even if they are merely trying to scope out their potential World Series enemies.

The score in the Fifth inning was 5 – 2. We are winning. I know knuckleballer R.A. Dickey was supposed to start for the Blue Jays, but he is no longer pitching. The Rochesterians quickly fill me in on what happened. Basically the Royals started wreaking havoc early on with Alcides Escobar leading the charge with a bunt. A bunt! Knuckleballs can be very hard to hit when the pitcher is in on point and I know Dickey was on point a few years ago when he used to pitch for the Mets. The replays show Escobar quickly glancing to third base, and seeing Donaldson in the outfield. So for his first at-bat, the first at-bat of the entire game, he bunted. I mean, who bunts for their first at-bat? With wholly no one on base? Alcides Awesomesauce Escobar, that’s who. I make a mental note not to ever miss the first inning of any game ever again.

escobar before the bunt

Escobar assesses potential for damage before the bunt

The little bunt was the inch that turned into a mile. It must have rattled Dickey’s nerves  because after it he allowed four runs in one inning: a home run by Zobrist, a walk, a steal, a single, a wild pitch and a sacrifice fly. In the second inning he also allowed another home run from Alex Ríos, who used to play for the Blue Jays—and he still outperformed Johnny Cueto in Game 3.

Meanwhile our tall glass of water, Chris Young, had only conceded two runs.

It is a good start but not a huge lead given who we’re playing against so it is not surprising when Yost pulls him at the bottom of the fifth, when Rovere gets a single from him. There are already two outs, but the Rochester man to my right sucks in some air, apparently getting ready for a Toronto style blowout.

“So you’re cheering for the Blue Jays?”

“I just don’t like a lopsided score. It’s boring.”

“That’s true. But I’m kind of hoping for a boring game.”

“I just want to more runs to score.”

“Well, there’s time for that to happen.”

The sixth inning is uneventful, but the Rochester man gets his wish in the sevent inning after Salvy is walked and Gordon gets a single. It was already dire for the Blue Jays, but this is dire squared.

alex rios homerun

The other Alex hits a homerun

Alex Ríos is the third batter and he too gets a single. The bases are now loaded, and the pitcher is dragged, wounded, from the game. The new pitcher does not fare any better and after a sacrifice fly and a wild pitch we’ve scored two runs win no outs, and score two more before the inning ends.

The score now looks like a bartender’s shift: 9 – 2.

During the seventh inning stretch, one of the Rochester men starts talking about Mexicans and another offers me alcohol I don’t want to drink. I’m also one of three women in the lounge now: there’s the bartender and an officer who reminds me of Miss Trunchbull.

I grab a hard cider and take it to my room. I settle down on the bed closest to the door. I’ve designated this one for baseball games, and the one by the window for everything else.

9 – 2 is a good lead, but there are still three more innings for the Blue Jays I’ve seen them get nine runs in as many innings so I don’t breathe a sigh of relief yet.

But the Thor seems to have taken a rain check, and the rest of the offense can’t seem to make good contact. Meanwhile, we score three more runs in the eighth. Yost feels comfortable enough to let some players take a rest and he replaces Salvy with Butera and Cain for Dyson. It would require the second coming of Christ to score ten runs off our bullpen.

At the top of the ninth our batters are still feeling hungry. Morales singles and Gordon is hit by a pitch with two men out. The Blue Jays pull their pitcher again and replace him with someone else who is jogging to the mound to the sound of cheers from the entire stadium.

It is very confusing.

Then the commentators start to mutter something about the pitcher not really being a pitcher.  He Cliff Pennington, an infielder who usually plays shortstop and second base. It will be the first time a position player pitches in the postseason, they say.

My heart goes out to man who trots up to the mound with a sheepish smile on his face.

Pennington turns lemons into lemonade, however. It is not every day you get to make baseball history. His first pitch is a strike. The camera zooms in on his teammates, who are wide-eyed and impressed. After two hits and two more runs he is able to end the inning when Zobrist pops up a foul that is caught by a dogged Russell Martin, who seems relieved the game is over.



1 Comment

Filed under personal essay, Uncategorized

One response to “ALCS Game 4: That Time an Infielder Pitched in the Pennant

  1. A measure of readability is the inspiration generated by the author so I must buy a radio next season for the best seat in the house….what wonderful theater…. Must pay homage to Vin Scully for all those nights I prayed to God
    Hoping Muarry Wills could steal second.
    Colorful quotes “….looks like a bar tenders shift”
    ….” Miss trunchbull”
    And that bit about the infielder pitching
    And awesomsauce bunting !!!,
    Love Dad

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