WORLD SERIES GAME 3: High and Inside, Down and Out

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Enemy territory! (photo by John Murphy)

Adam and I were supposed to meet at Foley’s, where we saw the first game of the ALCS, which already seems like a million years ago. It was a place where there were so many Royals fans, where I felt I had allies, where Paul Rudd and Jon Hamm were photographed sitting at the bar together. Did I recall seeing any Mets memorabilia on their walls all those weeks ago? No. But was I looking for any Mets memorabilia at the time? No. Should I now be surprised to see a giant Mets flag hanging outside? I guess not. I’m not sure why I didn’t see being surrounded by Mets fans as an inevitability here in New York City, but it certainly wasn’t part of my plans.

I got to Foley’s before Adam and it was packed, a sea of orange and blue and elbows and knees. My being stopped at the door had nothing to do with my Royals shirt, which was ensconced in several layers of sweaters.

“No room,” said the bouncer. “Gotta get on the waiting list.”

There was another Irish bar down the block that was less of a mosh pit and Adam and I squeezed through the Mets fans to back where we found a table.

And so here we are, in the belly of the beast. It’s the top of the second inning and the first thing I see is Escobar stealing second base. There is a unanimous grumble erupting from the Mets fans. It sounds like the stomachache of a sleeping dragon. I let my cheers bubble in fizz in my own belly and am so, so glad that one of the few things Mets and Royals fans have in common is their blue shirts.

Adam and I give each other conspiratorial smiles. The score is 3 – 2.

Due to all the necessary bar hopping we apparently missed one of the most exciting moments of the game—with Escobar, instead of the pitcher, being at the receiving end of some more first at-bat drama. Replays show him nearly losing his head to a 98 mph fastball from Noah Syndergaard that came high and inside.

Ahead of the game Syndergaard, who seems to be living up to his Viking moniker, had been hinting that he had “a few tricks up his sleeve.”As a baseball neophyte I had no idea what that could possibly mean. Will he be using a lazer pen to distract batters? Will he have pine tar up his sleeve? Did he choreograph a dance to rival Johnny Cueto’s shimmy?

It turned out what Syndergaard had in mind was a lot more boring than anything I could have come up with. A “statement pitch” is what the commentators called it. Luckily the statement didn’t cave in Escobar’s head.

escober high and inside

Splits better than a spatter!

The Royals stay up, but only briefly. After a two-run homerun by Granderson in the Mets lead 4 – 3, and now, in the fourth inning, they have two men on base and no outs.

Anyone who saw Ventura pitch in the World Series last year knows what he is capable of. His stellar pitching in the World Series last year helped keep the Royals alive to reach Game 7. But his great pitching performances last year were at home, and now he’s pitching in front of 44,781 World Series starved Mets fans—and every other one of them seems to be a famous person. This is on top of the fact that Billy Freaking Joel sang the national anthem.

“Hey look, it’s Seinfeld!” Says Adam. “Oh! And Chris Rock!”

Fucking great!

Ventura is pulled from the game after another guy singles and scores in a runner. Now the Mets lead 5 – 3, and the Royals bullpen must carry the game on their shoulders again. Duffy got the Royals out of the fourth inning and Hochevar pitches a clean fifth inning, and now we’re at the bottom of the sixth.

Much is said of the Royals’ vaunted bullpen, but no one talks about the guy who is up to pitch next: Franklin Morales. The last time this guy pitched was in the 14 – 2 blowout that the Royals won in Toronto, and before that was the 11 – 8 blowout the Blue Jays won in Toronto. He’s the guy that comes out when the Royals are either losing really hard or winning really hard. He’s not a changer of fate. He is the wood pulp in your parmesan, the yoga mat fiber in your Subway sandwich. He’s the guy you put in when you need to get through a full game and the outcome has already been determined. Even though the game is tight by Kansas City standards and there’s still lots of it left, I feel like Yost has conceded the whole thing when Morales comes to the mound.

In a way I get it, you don’t want to give the Mets too many looks at your game-changing pitchers. But this is also the World Series! You never know how things are going to turn out! You really, really don’t know if Cueto is going to pitch an entire, nearly scoreless game again, and you really, really don’t know how Volquez is going to pitch after his dad died. And you don’t know if the Dark Knight or the DeGrominator will start pitching like the playthings of the gods that everyone says they are. And do we really want to find out?

The inning starts decently enough with Morales getting the first batter out, but Lagares, the author of the epic battle against Herrera in Game 1 that turned the game briefly in the Mets favor, delivers a single. Up next is Flores, whom Morales promptly hits with the baseball. The Mets fans around me are booing and hissing, but soon they are cheering because some random pinch hitter singles, scoring in Lagares. And the bleeding does not stop. Granderson hits a liner towards Morales, who scoops it deftly enough, but doesn’t know what to do next. He can’t seem to get rid of the ball. He stares at Flores, halting him at third, but then pivots his body from second to third and back again, kind of like a basketball player trying to shake the defense and even more like someone who has forgotten who they are, where they are, what they are supposed to be doing and how to breathe. He could have helped turn a double play, but instead the ball never leaves his hand.

“Yikes,” says Adam.

“Oh man.” I almost bury my face in my hands, but one who is in the belly of the beast must keep her sorrows to herself. The whole thing is entertaining for the Mets fans, though.

“It’s like the Three Stooges!” I hear someone say.

While I think forcing Morales to buckle down and scrape his way out of the inning in front of a hostile crowd would be a good character building experience, Yost is not in the habit of torturing his players and brings out Herrera to pick up the broken pieces, which is in itself a different kind of torture. Herrera is not good at dealing with other people’s messes. He’s great at keeping the bases clean during his innings, but dealing with inherited runners is not his forte. I’m not nervous though. The Mets already have this game in the bag. I have truly accepted it, and I know I’m not lying to myself because I order an entire shepherd’s pie and eat it without any help from Adam even though he offers it once or twice or three times.

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The Captain and Crew. (I am not responsible for this great photo-shopping job!)

Next up at bat is David Wright, Captain America, longstanding hero to Mets fans. He had a hard time against the Royals pitchers’ fastballs in the first couple games, but tonight has been his big night. He hit a two-run homerun in the first inning, and now he has another chance to perform in front of an adoring audience.

And perform he does, hitting a single to center field. Two runs score. The crowd’s eruption of joy ricochets off the walls and pummels my soul. I hope my sigh of resignation is interpreted as a sigh of relief.

“Hey, it’s only the sixth inning!”  Adam says.

“Yeah. Whatever. We don’t need to win this one.”

The inning comes to a merciful end after Herrera gets Cespedes to fly out and Duda to strike out, there is no offensive action from the Royals.

“Hey, there’s still six outs left!” says Adam after that the seventh inning ends with more of nothing.

But six outs turns into three, which turns into none, which turns into a Mets victory.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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WORLD SERIES GAME 2: Watching Baseball in Belgium

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Ghent

I watched Game Two of the World Series at Zack’s place. It was me, Zack, and a Joanne, a Phillies fan. I got through the day on glee and many cups of coffee after the 14-inning victory the night before. The olfactory aftermath of all the anxiety-inducing moments of the game clung to my shirt, but I couldn’t not wear it.

The thing about most of these games is that most of the time things don’t look great for the Royals until the end and fans can never get too comfortable, but the Royals got in gear early this time. The Mets were first to score but they never got more than one run on the board. The Royals were losing until the fifth inning and then scored four whole runs in one inning, and then three more runs in the eighth. The real Johnny Cueto showed up. He pitched the whole game. The bullpen never even made it out onto the field. At one point the cameras showed Herrera, Madson, Davis, Duffy and Hochevar all sitting on a bench in the bullpen. The Royals’ vaunted bullpen, who are usually as fierce as shotput throwers looked instead like bored Catholic schoolboys lined up on a pew.

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and the bullpen is…quiet

What can I say about this game? It was easy for me to eat, it was easy for me to drink, it was easy for me to watch, and so hard for me to write about.

But while I was sitting on a couch a little past dinner time in the Upper West Side of New York City, my sister Beanie was up at 1 a.m. at an Irish bar in Ghent, Belgium, watching the World Series. Her trip to Ghent was part of her first trip abroad, a two-week foray across the Atlantic that started in England, hopped across the channel, wound its way through Belgium, France and across the channel again to conclude in Ireland. Her travel buddy for most of the trip was her friend Jamie, a fellow Kansas Citian.

Beanie was incommunicado through most of the trip, but one dispatch did come through: a picture of Beanie and Jamie holding cardboard signs, posing in front of a balding man in a large truck.

As far as we knew hitchhiking was not part of her travel plans, so what happened? Well, the World Series happened. Beanie and Jamie missed the 14-inning saga that was Game 1 and did want to concede another game. Upon converging in Kansas City for the holidays, Beanie treated us to quite a yarn, one that involved a lot of beer, a little baseball, enemy fans, guys in semis, something called a BlaBlaCar, and a strange trip to Paris. I decided to interview Beanie about the whole thing, and here is the story of how she watched Game 2 of the World Series:

Did you have any idea how you were going to watch baseball in Europe?

No, but was the World Series and I had watched all the playoff games up to that point. At the hostel we were staying there was a guy from Toronto, and the Royals had just beaten the Toronto Blue Jays. And he was like Aww, screw you guys I’m cheering for the Mets, and that motivated us to find a way. So, we went to this bar and we asked the guy there if they would show baseball. But the game started at one in the morning and they weren’t going to stay open for us to watch baseball, so they recommended this Irish pub that was really close to our hostel. The guy was all like, (launches into Belgian accent) They might play it for you. I don’t know. Baseball is boring.

So, in America Irish pubs are not really Irish but here there was an Irish person working at the Irish pub, and it’s like you’re in Ireland, in Ghent, in Belgium, Europe. And we were like Hey, can you play the World Series? It’s baseball? Just this once? It’s our team and they’re playing and we gotta win! And he was like (launches into Irish accent) We’d be happy to have yeh, but could yeh bring yer friends yeh know? It’s really late, but that’s fine, if yeh bring enough people we’ll play the game for yeh. And we promised him we’d bring people—so many people.

We go back to the hostel and there’s Americans, including this guy from California who was all about the Giants and hated the Royals. We try to rally up some people—there were a lot of people there, but we only rallied two of them.

Sad.

Yeah, sad. One was a British lady who was a huge alcoholic and this other girl who lives in L.A. We brought them to the bar and it wasn’t very heartening. There’s not a lot of people at the bar so we’re kind of desperate, but we see this group of guys outside, and I think, Oh! They’ll want to come and watch the game with us, because we’re girls.

I gave them a saucy wave as they were passing and they saw us and did a double take, and waved back. And they came in and we were like Come watch baseball with us, or else we can’t watch it!

And all of these guys were from England. They didn’t really care about baseball, they cared about drinking and flirting, but whatever, the more people that were there the better it was for us to watch the game. Jamie was explaining baseball to the British girl from the hostel, which she later said was way harder to explain than she ever thought it would be—to explain that well, now they’re, you know, pitching and they have to get three strikes to be out, but there’s balls and they can walk. It sounds crazy.

Did anyone know anything about baseball?

No.

Did they know what the World Series was and why you wanted to watch it?

We told them it was our hometown and we had gone last year but we lost so this year we have to win. We were like, It’s really important, guys! C’mon! This is a big deal!

Did anyone cheer for the Royals out of solidarity even though they didn’t know what was going on?

Yeah, everyone was rooting for the Royals. It was an international support group. And we were playing this drinking game with these Irish people and every time the Royals did really well Jamie and I stopped what we were doing and went YEEAAHHHHHH, RRRRROYALS!!! and we were going crazy—the only ones going crazy.

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YYYYEAHHHH, RRRROYALLLSSSS!

At some point one of the British guys, he was like forty, a big brutish guy–he was arm wrestling me and he wins and he’s like, Yeah! I’m such a man! And then he singled out Jamie, who is like five-foot-two and a hundred pounds, and he says You’re next. And I’m like Hey! Why don’t you arm wrestle someone your own size and be a big man that way?

I go to the Irish bartender, because Irish and English people don’t get along, right? So I go up to him and I’m like Hey, do you want to arm wrestle that guy? He wants to arm wrestle my friend, but she’s tiny. It’s not challenging. You should do it! And he says yes. So I had it all set up, this arm wrestling fight, and I bring them both together and once they saw each other in person up close they were both scared that they were gonna lose and they backed out, and I was like You’re a fucking pussy! You’re gonna arm wrestle this little tiny girl but not this guy? Screw you! Obviously I’m really drunk at this point–

Okay, but do you remember anything about the game?

Ha ha, I remember…not a lot. I remember the bases were loaded at some point…but no, I can’t really say too much about the game.

Okay, so what time does the game end back in Europe?

At 4:30. We were in bed at five.

Did you have plans for the next morning?

Our plan was to do this: we had a train from Ghent and we had to get to the train station at 7:30. Going to bed at five was not a good idea. I was so drunk because I was taking shots and drinking Guinness all night that I didn’t set my alarm. Jamie set three alarms and her alarms go off, but she didn’t get up at all for any of those alarms. So at ten in the morning, she says Beanie, we missed the train. She sounded really calm. But it didn’t help. I was freaking out. The train was twenty euros so it’s a big deal when you’re poor in Europe and you’re trying to save all your money and you miss the train. We were supposed to take the train to Lille, in France, and from there we were going to take a blah blah car at 10:20 to Paris.

Wait. What is a blah blah car?

A BlaBlaCar is like Uber, but long distance and you plan it ahead of time. It was really hard for us to find a BlaBla to get to Paris from Ghent. The only one was this guy driving from Lille to Paris at 10:30 in the morning, so when we didn’t get up in the morning in time for our train we were like, Fuck, and then we were like, Shit, because all the trains to Paris after that were eighty dollars. We were looking for more BlaBlaCars, and none of them were working out. We were kind of running out of options and we hadn’t booked another night in the hostel.We had talked about hitchhiking before so we Googled how to hitchhike in Europe. The Internet was like, have some pieces of cardboard and one of them should say were you need to go, and the other should say SVP, for s’il vous plait, if you’re trying to go to France and be polite. We decided to try it. It’s legal, we’re traveling together and I’m not going to spend eighty dollars on a train.

So we asked the hostel guy for pieces of cardboard and permanent marker, and he says, Oh, are you trying to hitchhike? And we’re all, Maybe we are, maybe we’re not. And he’s like, I have hitchhiked 65,000 kilometers. Let me help you. He told us where to go, what corner, what side of the street, what our signs should say. So we made our signs and went to this triangle overlooking a bridge going to the highway.

We had someone stop after two minutes, and we were really embarrassed. It’s kind of humiliating to hitchhike, because you’re like a hobo. So this guy was an old man and he didn’t know much English and he kept mentioning this town. But the guy at the hostel was like, Just go to Paris, don’t go anywhere else. They have to say Paris. But the guy was not saying Paris. And he kept saying this other town, and we kept saying, No, no, no, just Paris. And he was confused and we were blocking traffic so we said, It’s okay thank you so much, bye.

And then this other guy stopped and he was young and cute and he was in this work car. He was, I dunno, a mechanic? I’m not sure. But he kept mentioning the same city that the older guy kept talking about. He spoke better English so we asked him if this town was on the way to Paris and he said yes. But he only had one seat, so we didn’t go with that guy. But at least we figured out that this town was legitimate. Another work truck stopped, and they mentioned the same town, that it was a truck stop. We decide to get in the truck with these four guys in their Carhart jackets and all their tools.

It was dark by the time we got to the truck stop and there were not a lot of people passing through.There was this one guy that was creepy. He kept asking us why we were going to Paris, and he was staring at us with his—he had White Walker eyes. Jamie and I had a code for Are you creeped out? which was Are you hungry? I asked Jamie if she was hungry and she said she was starving. So we walked away from that guy and found another guy who was going to another town near Paris. He was really cool, he had a semi. Jamie sat in the passenger seat and I sat in a little bed behind the seats. All his bags were there and my feet were where his pillow was. I wondered what he did in the bed when he was by himself. And then he told us, When we get to the border, make sure you hide, because there’s only supposed to be two people in here.

The guy picked the back roads for us, but traffic was so bad. When we crossed the border I ducked down behind the passenger seat. We were with that guy for three or four hours. I fell asleep at one point because I was really tired, obviously. He was really nice. He talked about his brother. I asked him what he thought about when he was on the road, he said he thought about his family.

When he dropped us off at the truck stop we grabbed some food and powered up before we continued hitchhiking because we really hadn’t slept. It was three in the morning and we were near the parking lot. No one was stopping. At some point, though, this one guy just shows up smoking a cigarette. He stopped for a second, and waved and motioned at us. We see where he goes and he’s parked at the rest stop. We walked over to him and asked if he was going to give us a ride. And he says (launches into French accent), I eat, and then, yes. He was French, he didn’t speak a lot of English. Jamie asks me Hey, are you hungry? and I’m like, No, I think I’m okay.

He was nice. He smelled like B.O. And cigarettes. I wanted to practice French so I saw this as an opportunity to do that before I got to Paris, because he didn’t really know English. I was thrown into the deep end, but it was funny. I’d ask him something in French in the simplest way I could think of and he always, always, almost always looked at me like I said something really weird. So I was like, Nevermind. Nevermind. Just nevermind. And he would do the same thing. He would say something in French, and I would be like, What? What? And he’d say, Nevermind—in French. We never really had a full conversation. At one point I asked him about something that was on a sign that I kept seeing on the highway—I didn’t know what the hell it said. I repeated to him what the sign said—I don’t even remember what it said –and he didn’t know what I was saying. And then I said Comment se dit sign? And he didn’t know what I was talking about, so I point at it—while he’s driving. That thing right there—that thing we’re passing right now! We’re on the highway and everything’s moving really fast—he was lost, and kept shaking his head. I don’t know, I don’t know, he said. So I’m like, Nevermind, again. But, he took us to the hostel and he gave us the whole French kiss on both cheeks thing, lit a cigarette and left.

And that’s how we got to Paris.

beanie

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WORLD SERIES GAME ONE: Behind Enemy Lines

daily news

Last year my fellow Royals fans and I spent the World Series exchanging high-fives in bars with baseball fans throughout the five boroughs. They came in many hats and with varied allegiances from the Yankees and the Red Sox to the White Sox and the Cubs. They were excited to see a new face in the postseason and an underdog is easy to cheer for. This year is not a World Series of bar-hopping, but a World Series of hiding out in other people’s homes and staying away from mine. While some Yankees fans are not cheering for the Mets my roomies, all native New Yorkers, don’t have a problem throwing in the towel for another hometown team.

The colors of the Halloween season this year are orange and blue and those are the colors that have painted this town from the light-strung stoops of Katie and Colin’s neighborhood in Carroll Gardens to the top of the Empire State Building. Before I head to their apartment I go to a nearby grocery store to buy beer. A dozen Mets fan with the same idea wait in line with me.

My family wonders what it’s like to be entrenched behind enemy lines. My dad asks me if I have conflicting loyalties, and I assure him that I sure do not. My mother implores me not to advertise my Royals fandom. My sister Ellen, in Portland, tells me to be careful. Beanie, the most provocative member of my family, is all the way in Belgium right now and is thus mute on the subject—though I’m sure she wouldn’t be against me tattooing my face with the Royals colors.

I’m not sure what to do, but luckily the weather leaves me no choice but to button up and hide my shirt. Besides, there is less glee in showing my colors to fans who have experienced a parallel trajectory of suffering in the past three decades.

Ever since the Royals won the pennant I’ve been undercover, especially on the train. The Mets fans have brought out their hats and their jerseys and on the subways they grip the poles with a renewed sense of purpose. Instead of ignoring each other New Yorkers are looking at each other (but never too long) with a sense of solidarity.

At the office I’m greeted with a life-size poster of Duda taped to my coworker’s cubicle and the doorman who steadfastly wished the Royals well during the pennant has now taken to hollering “GO METS” at me. At least one college friend, a native New Yorker, has suggested that I move back home.

Shit has gotten serious. But to the Mets fans’ credit no one has yet called for local stations to ban Lorde’s Royals, and no one has been as outwardly venomous as the Giants and Cardinals fans I encountered earlier in the postseason. And my barista still makes me coffee.

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Friendly foes!

He was crestfallen and confused at seeing my Royals shirt. But why? He wanted to know.I wondered if he would tell me to go back to Missouri, but instead he took a deep breath and wished me luck.

“May the best team win,” he said.

“Let’s shake on that.”

And we did. And then he made me an Americano.

That was all earlier today, when I was sure we’d be the no-contest winners of not only the series, but this game. Earlier today I wanted to apologize preemptively to all the Mets fans who would be heartbroken at the end of the series. We are just destined to win it. But now there is no bravado, no swagger anymore. We’re not looking for a winning run right now, we are looking for the tying run.

The game started in an epic and bizarre fashion with an inside-the-park home run from Escobar. It was the Royals’ first at bat,  Matt Harvey’s first pitch of the series, and the first inside-the-parker to happen during a World Series since  1929.

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Then the Mets chipped away at Edinson Volquez and we felt bad for him for that, and then felt even worse for him when it was announced after he left in the sixth inning that his father died that day and that his family was heading towards the Dominican Republic with the game still underway. And then I wondered if it right for us to continue watching this game, for us to even care. I mean, it’s just a game! But it must be so much more because so many people care, right? And if it’s not just a game, then what is it?

Well, all I knew was that it was something I was going to keep watching. But there were so many moments when we were challenged and even forced to look away: a blackout in the fourth that lasted four minutes, and then there was Eric Hosmer’s error in the eighth inning.

The blackout wasn’t so bad, especially since we got a reprieve from Joe Buck.While I sat on the couch twiddling my thumbs Katie and Colin start pulling things from the oven and soon we are eating cookies and drinking beer, wondering if we’re going to have to hide ourselves away like a bunch of lepers for this whole World Series.

The beer stopped being recreational in the eighth inning. After a nine-pitch at-bat, with two men already out, the Mets’ Juan Lagares singled off of Herrera. It was an epic at-bat. A heroic one if you’re a Mets fan, a grievous one for Royals fans because Lagares stole second base in no time and then made it home when Hosmer missed a grounder that Flores sent to first base (At least it wasn’t a two-run home run!). Hosmer, owner of great hands (commentators’ words, not mine), three Gold Gloves and a hairdo replicated by grade schoolers throughout the Kansas City metropolitan area, has made an error on a an innocuous grounder. The ball was so close, inches from his glove, and then so quickly gets so far away. And then we learned who Bill Buckner was—the Red Sox first baseman who let a grounder get away from him, thus allowing the go-ahead run in the World Series. The Red Sox went on to lose the World Series to…the Mets.

The eighth inning seemed like it would yield something for the Royals too. There were  two men down and two whole runners got on base with Mets reliever Tyler Clippard of the aviator goggles pitching. And then Terry Collins decided to swap him for Juerys Familia, the fearsome closer who hasn’t blown a save since July.

It’s okay, he’s not Madison Bumgarner, we tell each other.

But it was quickly not okay because Moustakas grounded out to end the inning.

And now it’s the top of the ninth and Familia is pitching again. The first batter Familia faces is Salvy, who hits a blooper that doesn’t make it past the infield.

Okay, two outs to work with. Now comes Alex Gordon. It’s a different game, a different ninth inning, but it feels uncomfortably similar to Game 7 last year. Since then Alex Gordon has existed in two different realities. One is the Here and Now, Tuesday October 27, 2015. The other reality is in a parallel universe. Sure, he’s at Kauffman Stadium and it’s the ninth inning but he’s not at home plate, Jeurys Familia is not pitching, and Salvy did not just bat. Instead Alex Gordon is standing on third base waiting to score. He’s been there since October 29th of last year.

The Here-and-Now Alex Gordon wields the bat, shifting his weight from foot to foot with his batter’s cadence. With his beard and wad of pink gum he is half lumberjack, half little leaguer. There is the usual smear of pine tar on his helmet, like the remnants of a fresh, well-aimed cow pie.

It is only the first game, there’s many games to go, but the first game controls the tempo of the series. Rally now or never. We hold our breaths. The first pitch Gordon meets from Familia is a ball. Then he fouls off the second pitch. The third pitch he meets with a mighty smack.

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AG goes home

You know those people who always seem to know when a hit is a home run?  You hear them at the games—their whoop or groan always precede the stadium’s collective whoop or groan.  Some of the early whoopers and groaners are just the excitable sort, but others whoop and groan early because they know. They are fluent to the sounds of baseball. Zack and Muneesh are these such people.

But how do you even know? I’ve asked them on several occasions.

The sound, many will say. That’s the most important thing. It’s something I don’t think I’ve understood until now. A home run sounds like an exclamation point.

Katie, Colin and I stand upon hearing the smack. We look at Gordon, who looks up at the ball, which the cameras don’t seem to have found yet. His eyes are wide, like he just saw Haley’s Comet. Now we wait. The disappointment of last year and the hopes and dreams of this year are all compressed into the millisecond it takes for the ball to reach its apex and crash behind the outfield wall and through a wormhole. In that parallel universe, Alex Gordon perks up (the waiting has made him despondent), and starts trotting home. Here on this planet he is rounding the bases.

Alex Gordon has sent himself home, and the Royals and their fans are sent into a frenzy. We’ve been waiting a whole year for this to happen, after all. Replays focus on Hosmer, who is now off the hook. His eyes are wild and wide and he celebrates in every way possible. He is jumping, he is doubled over with joy, he might kiss the ground, no, he is back up, hugging everyone within arms-length. Jeremy Guthrie happens to be standing next to him, and receives a mighty tug on his sweatshirt.

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The happiest guy

I am tugging at my own shirt, and Katie, Colin and I tugging at each other and our leaps and bounds add some percussion to the soundtrack of the downstairs neighbors’ lives.

TWELFTH INNING

Okay, so far this game has gone through ten pitchers in eleven innings. Hochevar had a clean inning, Wade Davis struck out the side, and Madson pitched out of danger in the eleventh inning. The game is now a pitching duel between the Royals’ Chris Young and the Mets’ Bartolo Colon. Height versus mass. 81 mile-per-hour fastballs that are optical illusions versus well-placed bullets. Young looks like gumby, and Katie and Colin call Colon the pitching potato. He sure looks like one. Young could have been picked off the bench of a Division III college basketball team and Colon, with forearms the size of tree trunks, looks like he was snagged directly from the streets of Queens—from behind the counter of a pizza parlor, whisked from a construction site, or recruited from behind the wheel of a mafia getaway car. Young strikes out the side, and Colon pitches out of trouble—not batting an eye after loading the bases when he intentionally walks Hosmer. My dad texts to say that it was a ballsy performance—pun intended!

On a different note, Alex Rodriguez is now commenting on the game, to the almost certain dismay of Mets fans and anyone else who doesn’t want to hear from a juicer.

young and colon

A pitchers’ duel (photoshopping intentionally horrible)!

THIRTEENTH INNING

Nothing. Nothing is happening this inning, except that Katie and Colin have already packed their lunches for tomorrow and are now brushing their teeth. My mom texts that this is madness and she’s going to bed. Ellen texts that there’s sure a lot of Mets fans in Portland. I remember Beanie is in Belgium. Why is she in Belgium during the World Series?

FOURTEENTH INNING

Chris Young is in cruise control and the Mets batters go softly in the top of the fourteenth. The top of the fourteenth. Yep, that’s what inning we’re in, which merits another seventh inning stretch. Kauffman Stadium is as packed as it was in the first inning. Time reveals itself to be a beast that we have no control over. It’s running in circles, eating its own tail. The score is as even as it was in the first; it’s not the end if the game, it’s just the beginning. Two more outs for a Mets victory turns into a game that could last forever. Chris Young, like the starting pitcher that he is, is pitching like he’s planning to pitch a whole new game and Colon does not seem to be tiring either. The Royals have already proven that they could play baseball for days. The extra innings, where you don’t get second chances, is where the Royals find their Zen. I don’t get it.

Katie, Colin and I have stopped talking. If the Royals want to go on forever, we will go on with them, but without words. We have none. They have become as meaningless as time. We are slack of jaw and sunken of eye.

Here comes Escobar again. What is this, his twentieth at-bat? C’mon Escobar. Another inside the park home run! Please. Or a conventional one. I don’t care. Can you just please?

Escobar does not hit the first pitch, or even the second pitch. He fouls off another three pitches and hits the sixth. The ball bounces obligingly into David Wright’s glove.

But David Wright’s glove does not want ball! It spits ball out! Wright still gathers ball and sends it sailing towards first, and it looks like Escobar will be out. But! Wait! Wright’s throw is too far from Duda. Doubtful Duda must leave bag to catch ball and Escobar is safe.

Yay. Earlier, we cheered uproariously in the twelfth inning when the bases were loaded, and then quickly remembered that some people in this city were not watching baseball and might want to sleep. We stifled our cheers again when Moustakas got a single in the thirteenth inning.

But fourteen innings in, our tone is more sober and business-like. No stifling needed.

Okay, great. Awesome. You can do this. Keep the line moving. Move that line.

 Zobrist is up next.

Can you please get a home run right now, Ben Zobrist? You got this Benny Z.

 Zobrist does not get a home run, but he does get a single that sends Escobar all the way to third with no men out.

Okay! Great! Well done! 

 We are now standing again, but with the loose limbs of people drunk on tiredness. The commentators, who have spent the past couple of innings talking about how Colon could go on forever are now singing a more somber tune: “And now Colon is in a jam.”

And now Cain is up. Colon wants no part of Cain, wants to give him no part of any baseball. He walks him. And now Colon’s jam is jammier because the next batter is Hosmer. He’s hungry for victory, but also for redemption.

When people get hungry for victory and redemption, they tend to try to outdo themselves. We hope Hosmer takes an easy-does-it approach.

Just keep that line moving!

 First he takes a ball, then fouls off the next two pitches. Then another ball. And the next he does not take easy. He offers it a mighty whack. It does not sound like an exclamation point but it sails far—into Granderson’s glove, but far nonetheless, far enough for Escobar to tag up and tear his way towards home.

Granderson’s throw home is quite spectacular and Escobar would have been out if it were even a foot closer, and if Escobar had been just a little bit slower. But as it is, Escobar is fast and the throw is long but short. He slides home, adding an extra embellishment of victory dirt onto his uniform. The Royals storm onto the field and into each other, a mosh pit of brotherly love.

We are all tired, but we still have strength to jump and hug and rejoice quietly, emitting muffled hollers of mirth. And then I quietly head downstairs, buttoning my jacket before I head out into a joyless Mudville, a city that is just getting to know the Royals. Joe Buck, though I still begrudge him for turning last year’s World Series into a long-running monologue about Madison Bumgarner, summed it up best: Kansas City is Comeback City.

game one yay

yay

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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ALCS Game 6: Wade Davis Is a Heckuva Guy

 

wade davis celebrates

There’s nothing like a good hard rain to remind you that a game is just a game, to show you just how Mother Nature feels about this human spectacle. You want your team to go to the World Series? Fine, but first you have to deal with an antediluvian downpour above Kauffman Stadium in the middle of the eighth inning after Wade Davis was brought out to save everyone’s ass.

An inning ago we were ahead by two, but  Madson took over from Herrera and Revere singled off him and then Thor struck again, hitting a homerun and tying the store. The rain is just an encore to his at-bat. It feels like this must have been brewing all along—it’s the second homerun for Bautista tonight.

The question everyone seems to be asking is why Ned Yost bring out Madson. Bless him, but he was the guy who necessitated the Royals’ spectacular ALDS Game 4 comeback. Since you can’t have Wade Davis all the time, maybe go for someone who hasn’t allowed a single run in the postseason—like Hochevar.

The inning ended in a spectacularly Wade Davis style, striking out Tulowitzski after getting down in the count 3 – 1. But the tie in the eighth does not bode well. Late inning heroics are the meat and potatoes of the Royals! Not some other team!

nervous ned 2

Nervous Ned, moments before disaster struck.

The game has become torture for Royals fans and thrilling for everyone else. Zack and Muneesh especially. I’m at Zack’s place again. He and Muneesh want an exciting game and I just want the Royals to go to the World Series and maybe be able to eat some food in the meantime.

Among the Royals fans are me, and Rob, from Lawrence, Kansas. Most of the expletives currently bouncing off the walls are coming from us. Rob copes by staying glued to the couch and staring doggedly at the television. The weathermen point to the bad weather on the screen. It is a small, green strip that looks like cooked spinach that Popeye accidently splattered on the map. The singular blob hovers over the greater Kansas City area and nowhere else.

I cope by pacing and going to the bathroom a few times.

Before the rain delay and the big homerun the big point of discussion was the garden gnome who caught Moustakas’ home run, and then it was the catch that Revere made in the seventh when he pancaked himself against the outfield wall to catch a Salvy fly ball, turning a sure double into an out. We ended up scoring a run that inning, but could have done much more damage. Oh, and there was also the Fox News jinx. At the bottom of that same inning, before Thor struck, FOX accidentally advertised a Mets versus Royals World Series. The jinx is reminiscent of the Texas governor congratulating the Astros on winning the ALDS when they were up 6 – 2. If we lose this thing I’m blaming it on FOX.

But now all the talk is about the rain delay. Muneesh is castigating Yost for bringing out Davis to finish the eighth inning instead of beginning it, or saving him for the ninth.

“If the Royals win, it will be despite Ned Yost.”

Wade Davis was brought out after the damage was done, and now he might not come back to shield his team from any additional blows. Muneesh was convinced they would not bring him out again.

Even starting pitchers don’t withstand long rain delays. Way back in Game 1 of the ALDS, Ventura was pulled out after a 47 minute rain delay. But that could have also had something to do with the fact that he gave up three runs in the first two innings.

But when the rain finally ceases and the tarps are pulled back to start the bottom of the eighth there are no new faces warming up in the bullpen.

“Are they actually going to bring Wade Davis back in?”

“I doubt it. They shouldn’t.”

“But it’s Wade Davis.”

The Wade Davis question is temporarily forgotten when Lorenzo Cain works a walk from the Blue Jays’ own closer, Roberto Osuna. Everyone knows things start happening when Lorenzo Cain is walked. Hosmer singles into far right field as if on cue. Thor chases after it.

Rob and I erupt from the couch as Cain heads to third. But our rejoicing is premature because Cain is not done. He keeps going. He is hungry, he is tenacious, and he does not want to be stuck on third. Everyone is on their feet. Tulowitzski catches the ball after Cain rounds third and throws it home. Will Cain make it? He only allows a split second to wonder because in no time he’s already there. Lorenzo Cain has scored from first base on a single. Replays show Royals third base coach, Mike Jirschele, as he waves Cain home. He is helicoptering his arms so fast he looks like he’ll levitate.

cain can

Go home. /I did not take this picture

Morales then gets a single. Hosmer goes to second, and Terrance Gore is put in to pinch run. But after that the line does not keep moving. Moustakas hits a fly ball that is caught by Bautista. Any hope for us to add runs is stifled when Salvy grounds into a double-play.

Now we wait to see who will come out to pitch in the ninth. Rob and I agree that Hochevar would be a good pick. But jaws are dropped and gathered from the floor when Wade Davis does come out.

After hearing Muneesh, perhaps I should be a little more anxious. But really, as far as Royals fans are concerned, it’s in Wade “Get the Job Done” Davis we trust.  Wade Davis approaches the mound not with the gusto of an incumbent conqueror, but with the excitement of someone clocking in for an overtime shift. Then, he stoops down to scrawl something in the dirt.

Has anyone tried to google Wade Davis? When you do, two Wade Davises show up. One is our Number 17, the other is a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence. He’s worth looking up, too. If you google videos of Wade Davis, one Wade Davis has reels of epic strike outs, the other Wade Davis does TED talks on indigenous cultures. The reason I googled Wade Davis in the first place is because I wanted to know what he writes in the dirt. If he does yoga. How he stays so composed.

It turns out Wade Davis of the Royals, not National Geographic, does not do yoga, but he does fish. He also lost a brother and writes his initials on the mound. Number 17 is the number his brother wore when he played baseball.

I don’t think Wade Davis writes on the mound all the time, but this time he does and for some reason I have the feeling that this inning will be a Big Moment in Sports.

Rob and I are only slightly rattled when Russell Martin gets a single. It’s fitting, maybe even poetic, that a guy who caught for Mariano Rivera gets a hit off Wade Davis. It’s just one man on, and not a fast man at that. Except that it’s not Russell Martin on first base anymore. It’s some other guy who’s put in to pinch run. We quickly learn his name after he steals second before the first pitch is even thrown, and then he steals third. He is Dalton Pompey and I like him not one bit.

There is a harmony of ooohs that follows Pompey’s slide into third. Some are high, excited sopranos, and there are low, mournful tones coming from Rob and me. Is Pompey about to pull a Jerrod Dyson? Are the ALCS Game 6 Blue Jays the 2014 Wild Card game Royals? Sure, there’s always Game 7, but this would be a terrible, terrible plot twist to endure.

Pillar is now up to bat. Pompey menacing at third complicates things. Wade Davis obviously can’t let Pillar get a hit, but he also can’t afford to get Pillar out on a fly ball—something Davis induces a lot.

Davis walks Pillar after having him at a 1 -2 count. Oh man, oh man. I feel like I’m on amphetamines again. My foot is shaking. I grab my head to make sure it’s still there. Oh, Wade Davis, you can do this.

Mostly everyone is too enthralled by the game to string together complete sentences, except for Muneesh, who eloquently bashes Ned Yost. Nothing makes sense. Has the rain washed away Wade Davis’ magic powers? Right now he is not the guaranteed victory at the end of the game, not the period at the end of the sentence. He is now a question mark (Or maybe I shouldn’t be doubting Wade Davis. Maybe the problem here is that I don’t have enough faith).

But there are so many questions running through my mind. If we go to game seven the Blue Jays will be the ones with the momentum and that’s not good. Also, Johnny Cueto will probably be pitching and that could be either horrific or sublime. So basically it would be really great if Wade Davis could pull a win out of his behind right now.

He is not pulling anything out of his behind, however. He is straightening his slouch and tucking in his shirt. I am sweating, but he is not.

The next at-bat simultaneously loosens and tightens the noose. In the last pitch, Davis strikes out Navarro right as Pillar steals second base.

“OOOOOOOOOOHHH, ho-ho,” exclaims Zack.

“Holy shit,” exclaims Muneesh.

“Fuck,” say Rob and I.

The camera zooms in on Escobar, whose eyes are as wide as baseballs. Wade Davis seems to be the only one not freaking out about what’s happening to Wade Davis.

escobar looks nervous

I feel the same way

One down, two men on, two men up. Can he really get the next two batters out? The answer is yes, of course, he’s been doing it all year. But can he do it with a Cheetah on third and another guy on second after a 45-minute rain delay?

Revere comes up to bat. He’s the guy who robbed Salvy of a double back in the seventh inning ago. It is a hitter’s count, 2 – 1. Davis throws the next pitch and Revere sees a ball. But it’s a mirage, says the ump. A mirage he calls a strike. Revere jumps up and down in protest. His frustration shows us that he knows Wade Davis can do this. He is Wade Davis the closer, and also Wade Davis the reliever–Wade Davis, the guy with the 0.00 postseason ERA, no question marks. He proves it by striking Revere out on the very next pitch. Revere is next seen in the dugout taking his frustration out on a trash can. Is he frustrated because he might have been hero of the Blue Jays and he couldn’t make it happen? Is he more frustrated about the 2 – 2 pitch or the last pitch, a filthy, dirty, beautiful knuckle curve that dropped right as he swung at it? It doesn’t seem safe to ask.

There are two men out but the danger is very real still because Donaldson is next at bat. Donaldson, the MVP of the American League. Donaldson, who is followed by Bautista. Will Wade Davis vanquish him or set the stage for extra innings and a Bautista at-bat?

The count is 2 – 1 when Donaldson hits Davis’ next pitch. I hold my breath until I see the trajectory of ball–straight into Moustakas’ glove and then to Hosmer at first base to get out of the inning and into the World Series. There is a frenzy on the field and in the stadium, and in Zack’s living room.

I can’t say enough about Wade Davis. This was the most Royals-style inning Wade Davis has had. This inning was to him what Game 4 against the Astros was for the entire team. First you dig your grave, then you put one foot in it, and make sure your back is firmly planted against the wall. And then start making things happen. If there was ever a question as to whether or not Wade Davis is human, there is your answer. A definitive yes, with an exclamation point.

salvy exclaimation point

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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ALCS Game 5: Baseball on the Radio

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.

baseball on the radio

 

 I’ve parked the car, but I can’t bring myself to turn off the radio. I’ve never listened to a baseball game over the radio, but there’s a first for everything.

I spent the whole day driving to from Binghamton to New York City. We drove through the rust colored fall hills of rural New York on Interstate 81, and then through the marshes and highways of northern New Jersey. It was much colder upstate than it was downstate and I was sweating by the time we got to the city.

Extra grime adds a few more measures of good luck on a sports shirt, right? I was looking forward to finishing my day at the office and heading home, and was definitely looking forward to giving my Royals shirt a break.

But when I walked into the office my coworkers were congratulating me about the Game 4 victory (yes, I had a lot to do with it), and asking if I was ready for the game this afternoon.

The game this afternoon?

“We’re not playing until tomorrow,” I told Stewart. Stewart is a Yankees fan who seems to be an in-the-closet Royals fan this postseason.

“Are you sure about that?”

“Um….I think so?”

“You better check.”

I checked. Stewart was right. The game was in an hour.

It’s moments like these where my dearth of postseason experience really shines through. I knew the ALCS was the best of seven. But the pattern I had seen in the ALDS was two games at home, two games away, and a game a home. I assumed there would never be more than two games in a row until the World Series. And last year, well, we only had to play four games in the ALCS!

“Fuck.”

I didn’t have a game plan to watch the game. My unit has a fleet of cars we use if we have workshops in the distant reaches of the outer boroughs. My next workshop was in the morning, in Staten Island. I had no choice but to use a car. There were plenty of bars to watch the game around the office. But drinking cranberry juice at a bar during a baseball game because I’m my own designated driver is lame. It was best just to take the car home and try to catch as much of the game as possible there.

But this afforded me an opportunity to do something I’ve never done before: listen to baseball on the radio. My dad used to fall asleep to the sound of Vin Scully’s voice as he stayed up to hear the Dodgers games as a kid in Orange County. The thought of listening to a pennant game while driving over the Brooklyn Bridge in afternoon traffic seemed like a fun throwback to a different era, and an interesting way to round out my postseason spectator experience. I’d be really well-rounded if only I could somehow make it to a game…

I clocked out right as the game started and tapped my foot as the elevator went down 34 floors, spitting and swallowing people at at least five stops. I jogged towards the revolving door but skittered to a stop when I heard a shout from the reception.

“Go Royals!”

I turned to see the afternoon doorman waving at me. I have never spoken a word to him before, but I guess my shirt said enough.

“Wow, thanks!”

“You guys got this!”

“I sure hope so!”

He needed no explanation as I ran out the door and to the car. Stewart, being an inveterate radio listener and overall sports fan himself, gave me a hefty list of stations I could choose from. He wrote them all down on a post-it note I stuck to the steering wheel.

That is what I’m staring at it right now as I listen to the bad news coming from Toronto. It is the sixth inning. So far Volquez has kept the Blue Jays to one run, but already Revere has been walked and Donaldson has been hit by a pitch. There are no outs. I had to listen to this as I merged onto the Prospect Expressway from the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. My heart is pounding and my palms are sweating. You would think I was on amphetamines but, no, I was only driving under the influence of the postseason.

MLB: ALCS-Kansas City Royals at Toronto Blue Jays

Sad Volquez / Mandatory Credit: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

Now Bautista is at bat, and thankfully I’m parked. The first pitch is a strike. Hassidic children cross skip past me as the second is a ball. A Bangladeshi woman in a colorful head scarf hurries by with groceries as he gets another ball. But apparently this one doesn’t have to do with command. The men in the radio say the pitch had been called a strike for the entire game until this point. A pitch later it happens again. Three balls, one strike. The commentators say Volquez looks confused. I wonder what that looks like. Where is the strike zone? It has become an oasis in the desert. He needs it more than ever, but he can’t seem to find it.

Bautista fouls off the next pitch, bringing it to a full count. Then he fouls off the next four pitches. Volquez has thrown a total of nine now—all sinkers, all in the same location. The men in the radio speculate that Volquez is afraid to let the ball wander to the outer edges of the plate due to the suddenly diminished strike zone. The tenth pitch could be a big one. Salvy and Volquez confer about it. What is the grand plan? The grand plan is a knuckle curve that passes through the bottom of the strike zone. It is a good pitch, a great pitch, say the men in the radio. I don’t remember the words they use. Probably nasty. Anything that’s beautiful in baseball is called nasty.

But it’s a mirage, says the umpire. The nasty pitch is called a ball and Bautista walks. It would have been Volquez’s most glorious moment—a ten-pitch duel that vanquished Thor, the biggest strike of the game yet.

volquez pitches

Visuals

I’m glad I made it home before any of this happened. I wonder how many accidents occur because of road rage caused not by the road but by a game happening miles away.

I still don’t move from the car. The men in the radio have me captivated. They hold a complete sensatory monopoly over how I experience the game. There are no visual checks and balances.

It is also very surreal. The reel of the game that plays out in my head is fighting with the reel that my immediate reality urges me focusing on, and sometimes one reel is spliced into another. Eric Hosmer was at first base and then suddenly he’s among the tourists walking over the Brooklyn Bridge. Alex Gordon did not catch a baseball, he was hailing a cab. Jose Bautista didnt’t use his turn indicator as he cut me off on the BQE. I can almost see Volquez in peyas.

I wonder what he looks like as he struggles to grasp the reality of the situation. The Blue Jays haven’t gotten a single hit in the inning yet, but the bases are loaded.
Encarnación is now at bat, and it’s a full count.

A leaf lands on the windshield, next to a Jackson Pollack splatter of bird shit. I can’t sit in this car for the rest of the game. I turn it off and head home. It is a few-block walk, plenty of time for things to take a turn for the better.

I walk briskly but can’t help but marvel at the trees, whose golden leaves and dark trunks make me feel for a second like I’m in Lothlorien. If it weren’t for the game I would have taken some time to wander in the park and catch the sunset.

But being one game away from the World Series is not something to be taken lightly. I take a deep breath as I unlock the door. My roommate’s dog, Tyson, barks at my entry, and then greets me with a wagging tail and a knee-high trail of saliva on my pants.
I turn on the TV to find that Volquez did not work his way out of the inning. He was driven from the inning after walking Encarnación, allowing Revere to walk home. Herrera is pitching now and strikes out the first batter he faces, but the next thing I see is Tulowitzski swooping in like a carrion bird on roadkill and hitting a double. Two men score. Herrera strikes out the next two batters.

We have three more innings to catch up, but we don’t. We do finally drive Marco Estrada, who has been as stingy as Ebenezer, out of the game when Salvy hits a home run and the two Alexes follow with singles. Although at that point the score is 6 – 1 Gibbons decides the Blue Jays can’t afford to let Estrada finish this game. The reliever strikes out Escobar, and Osuna is brought out in the ninth to end the game, 7 – 1.

That is fine, but nerve-wracking. I remember Muneesh saying that it’s best to win the pennant in six games. That way, the players get enough rest, but not too much. The thing is I just kind of want to get to the World Series already and this whole pennant thing is standing in the way…

When my roommates come home they all want to see the Mets play the Cubs. They are Yankees fans, but they’ll cheer for a New York team over a Chicago team. I still don’t know who to cheer for between these two. The Cubs are three games behind but have the Back to the Future prophecy on their side. Plus, if they are able to come back from being three games behind they’ll be like the 2004 Red Sox, and everyone knows how that ended. But if the Mets win, that means I’ll be surrounded by people who are cheering against the Royals. Also the Mets have orange in their uniform, and I haven’t written off my dream quite yet. Usually my dreams are complete absurdist nonsense—like the time I took a hot air balloon over the Alps, or when the Beatles came to play in the empty wading pool at the park across the street from my house. But nothing can be written off as nonsense in the postseason.

As it turns out the Cubs are not the 2004 Red Sox, and the Mets win 8 – 3, and we will play them when we go to the World Series, knock on wood. My only relief is that they are not as orange as the Astros. I flitted in and out of the game after the second inning, when the Mets had already scored six runs. When tuning in I tried to listen for the name Flowers—the guy who had the last at-bat in my dream, the guy who either struck out or had a game-winning two-run homerun. The last Mets batter to be retired was Wilmer Flores and I realized to my horror that while there are no English Flowers on the Mets there are certainly Spanish Flowers.

Also there’s that Daniel Murphy character. It hasn’t been since early October that Daniel Murphy and home runs haven’t been mutually exclusive. The man continued his home run a streak, hitting his seventh in six games in the top of the eighth. It is slightly scary, but if we can get to the World Series and survive the Blue Jays then I think we can survive Daniel Murphy. We just have to get to the World Series.

And I just have to never listen to the radio while driving ever again.

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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.

 

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ALCS Game 3: More About a Cat, Less About Baseball

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. 

qiqi1

QiQi /by Anne Ducey

I will remember this game as the one I watched on my first business trip, on the day my cat died.

I was in Binghamton, New York for the New York State Highway symposium. Most of the presenters and attendees were in law enforcement and I got to learn about all the newfangled ways kids are getting messed up these days. One guy shows a video of a man in a parking lot using a can of Reddi Whip to get high on nitrous oxide. Another guy showed us THC-infused gummies. A highway patrolman from Long Island showed us water bottles that had been refurbished with hidden compartments that were used to store packets of heroin. The packets themselves were on display for everyone to see.

After all this I had dinner on the town with a colleague. From what I could see there was a seventy percent vacancy rate in Binghamton’s downtown area. IBM used to have a headquarters there, but they pulled out in 2008 and now the only thing keeping the town alive was Binghamton University.

But there were good places to eat manned exclusively, it seemed, by college students. Despite the hard times, the downtown was not devoid of beauty. Binghamton is surrounded by hills, which were covered in autumn trees that held the sunset in their leaves. The downtown appeared as if it were held in a bowl of fire under a sky of cornflower blue.

I did not see a place to watch the game in town where I would not be the only female amidst a crowd of inebriated middle-aged men, so I decided to watch the game in my hotel room. I can’t say enough about my hotel room. It faced the Chenango River and the sunrises to the east. There were two whole queen beds, a television, a closet the size of a Manhattan kitchen, a bathroom the size of a Manhattan bedroom, and a coffee maker that I didn’t have to share with anyone.

On my first night in Binghamton my had dinner with my colleagues at an Italian place called Little Venice. There was no game that night so I curled up in the bed closest to the window and finished Middlesex in the blessed solitude of my room.

So I was happy to return to my room the following night to watch the game in complete social isolation. I took my coat off and checked my phone, which I had been ignoring. I had been filled with anticipation for this game the entire day, through lectures on pedestrian fatalities in traffic crashes in Queens County, on-the-job law enforcement deaths caused by driver distraction, what a slizzard is, and the true meaning of Like a G6. But a text from my mom, sent to my sisters and me, changed all that.

QiQi has died. I can’t talk about it.

QiQi was one of two cats my mom adopted after Gracie died. Gracie was the cat we got from Santa Claus when I was in second grade. She was the unwavering, undisputed protector of the realm: a cunning and generous hunter who laid gifts of mouse carcasses at our feet, a tireless brawler against felines who sat on the wrong side of the fence. She was street smart, aloof and independent, but always found a way to show her love to us, in her own time.

Gracie was irreplaceable but the house, and my mom, needed a cat.

So for Christmas a few years ago my mom got two of them from an animal shelter. The plan had been to get only one, but thing did not work out that way. Mom immediately warmed up to a black cat called Kenji and five minutes later a silky smooth tabby, whom we later christened Honey, forced herself on us with her unflappable friendliness and endless loving face-plants to our ankles and hands. According to the shelter Kenji had lived with dogs before, so he could co-habit the house with Tuck. Tuck spent most of his childhood bowing down to Gracie. He never forget how she greeted his first enthusiastic, tail-wagging salutation with a claws-out smack on his soft puppy snout.*

When Honey and Kenji first walked through our door Tuck didn’t know what to make of the duo, so similar to Gracie in appearance but altogether different. He offered his snout to Kenji to smell. Honey hissed meekly, but Kenji gingerly sniffed Tuck’s nose and licked is wiry dog whiskers with his bristled cat tongue. After over a decade of abuse from Gracie, Tuck snorted in surprise at Kenji’s amicable, pacifistic greeting. Kenji, for his part, allowed Tuck to get an obligatory whiff his behind, and they became fast friends. Honey lurked at a distance, always in someone’s lap.

Mom loved everything about Kenji but his name. She thought Kiki was a better fit.

“But Kiki is a girl’s name,” said one of her daughters.

But Kiki is the name my mom liked best. The spelling was altered because it was determined that Qiqi was somehow more masculine. Then it was altered again when it was decided that QiQi was more aesthetically pleasing than Qiqi. Don’t ask me to rationalize any of this because I wasn’t the daughter behind it.

For the next few years QiQi would build a reputation for himself as the peacemaker between Tuck and Honey’s conflicts and misunderstandings. Every time Honey cursed and swatted at Tuck, QiQi would hurry over and fuss over him, nuzzling his sloppy dog snout with his sleek cat snout, all the while staring fixedly at his co-cat.

See, dogs are people too,” he seemed to be saying.

But QiQi only spent some of his time on the domestic front. He liked to go outside and range for hours, lurking in the yard and the back lot. If QiQi happened to be outside when Tuck and I went for jogs, he would sometimes try to follow. I would have to gather him, with his ears dangerously flat against his skull, and toss him inside where he would land with a ba-doomp on the hardwood floor. When the weather was nice and my sisters, Tuck and I would go to the park across the street to sunbathe. QiQi always put his ranging on hold to come to join us. It was a strange sight indeed to see young women in bathing suits and an old dog and a black cat all sharing the same blanket in the grass on a hot summer day.

Whenever one needed something from a dresser, cabinet, box, or anything else that opened or closed, QiQi would be there to help, hopping into the opened receptacle and walking on all your clothes, pots, Christmas ornaments to make sure what you were looking for was never found because you probably didn’t need it anyway.

Now when I go home I know I’ll be able to find my underwear in peace and the thought brings me to tears.

These thought of QiQi skittered across my mind like fragments of a broken vase. But mom’s memories of QiQi were much larger, and her grief could not be broken into more digestible chunks.

Watching the baseball game was unthinkable, disrespectful, even. I wasn’t sure what time it was, but it was well past start time. I tried calling Mom, but she did not answer. Having lost a pet was bad enough, and the grief is compounded when you have to deliver the news to each of your daughters, and then you have to try not to cry when you hear them sobbing on the other line.

This is what my Mom had to go through when Tuck died a couple years ago. She called us one by one, each of us in disparate parts of the country, and heard each of us keen and wail in our respective metropolises. Losing Tuck was like losing a strange, wonderful little brother and we mourned him as such. I don’t think mom wanted to go through that again with QiQi.

It was not even ten o’clock. It would have been extremely melodramatic of me to try to sleep, tucking myself in with a blanket of pity. Middlesex was done. Though it didn’t seem appropriate to watch the game, no appropriate course of action presented itself so I turned it on, but not before peeling off some layers and realizing that I wasn’t even wearing my Royals shirt.

It was the top of the of the fifth inning. The Royals were losing 9 – 2. Cueto had basically handed the game to the Blue Jays, allowing nine runs in the first three innings. Given the circumstances, the score made cosmic sense. I watched the game in resignation, exchanging frustrated texts to my sister Beanie, who works at a sports bar in Los Angeles.

We skirted the subject of QiQi and mostly discussed the game. The nature of our communique was such that almost all of the texts ended in ????, !!!! or ?!?! with Cueto’s name featuring largely.

There was also a flurry of texts in the fifth inning when Hosmer’s face took a beating from a ball that ricocheted off the bat, off the ground and then slammed into his mouth. I was certain a collective swoon could be heard from Booneville to Wichita as he winced his much-admired visage.

hosmer hit in face

Not in the face! 

It was hard to see the score so lopsided, but hey, that’s what happens when you let Johnny Cueto’s imposter come in. I mean, really? Nine runs in three innings?

But the Royals keep chipping away and when the top of the fifth ended the score was 9 – 4. Beanie and I told ourselves there was still a chance for us to win—I mean, there were four whole innings left!

And the then the Blue Jays scored two more runs before the ninth inning, making it 11 – 4, and the hope  snapped out of us. The game was as good as over, but I kept watching because that’s what true fans are supposed to do, and because wouldn’t it be cool if we happened to tie the game? Which was truly never going to happen, but what if? It seems like common practice for the Royals to see how far they can push themselves to the brink of losing before they actually win. How distant is that frontier for the Royals?

When the top of the ninth started with a single by Escobar and a double by Zobrist, I was gripped by an irrational optimism. Seven runs are a lot to catch up to, but John Teakettle Gibbons didn’t think it’s enough of a lead and had the Blue Jays closer warming up in the bullpen, which elicited baffled responses from the commentators.

Osuna’s getting loose in the bullpen.

Really?

I mean, look.

I mean, really?

Well, look.

I mean, I really can’t believe they got him up, really.

Could we really score seven runs in the ninth inning? It is only two more runs than five runs, which the Royals really have scored in a single inning…

My optimism was rewarded when Cain scored in Escobar on a sacrifice fly. Only one out, and a man on third. Was QiQi assisting this game from above?

I texted Beanie at 11:14.

Just six more runs!  

And again at 11:15 when Hosmer singled in Zobrist.

Just five more runs!

After two runs there really was a pitching change, really. But then I had to text Beanie again, at 11:19 when Morales, incredibly, hit a homer.

Holy fuck only 3 runs to go!

blue jays fan nervous

getting a little worried

At that point our optimism seemed like a rational thing. Some OMGs were exchanged, and the camera zoomed in to show the facial pores of distraught Blue Jays fans who thought as much as we did that there is a really real chance of the Royals tying it in the ninth.

And then the next two batters were retired.

The ninth inning came and went like a cat. But this is a story not really about the stealth of the cat, but the indiscretion of the mouse. The Royals were as good as dead, hemorrhaging from the fatal mistakes Johnny Cueto made in the early innings. It was said after the game that Cueto was too obviously flashing signs to Salvy. Did he forget he was dealing with Thor and company? Was there lingering cockiness from the shutdown of the Astros that made his nonchalance like that of a mouse who forgets he is a mouse? A mouse that sticks his whiskers a bit too far, tempting a battering ram of unsheathed claws that surge from the shadows?

After having delivered the fatal blows, the cat lurked in the darkness for the rest of the game, biding its time while its prey valiantly struggles back to its hole. The cat would pounce only a few more times—in the fifth and eighth inning, not because it was necessary, only because it was entertaining. In the ninth it looked like the mouse might miraculously succeed it making it home; it could even see a morsel of raw, aged cheddar glowing like a beacon in back reaches of his humble dwelling. That is when, at last, the mouse would feel his body go cold. He did not even see the pair of giant eyes that surveyed his final breath.

In the end the giant cheese was not a vision welcoming the mouse home, but a herald announcing his arrival on the doorstep of the heavens. In the distance among the clouds he sees the strangest sight his eyes would fall upon: a black cat and a rust colored dog cuddling together on a picnic blanket. He rushed to join them.

tuckandqiqi

Stolen kisses /by Anne Ducey

*I did not consult my mom or sisters about the exact chronological order of events or details of our visit to the animal shelter, the adoption of QiQi and Honey, and QiQi’s subsequent name change. Their recollection will likely not be entirely consistent with mine, but that’s what family is for.  

 

 

 

 

 

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