Tag Archives: Eric Hosmer

WORLD SERIES GAME 5: The Golden Ticket

jerroddysonbyzack

Picture courtesy of Zack Hample

It’s hard to know where to start when it comes to writing about Game 5. It would have been hard to write about if I watched the game on television, but it’s even harder because I was there at Citi Field. Do I start with the moment I got my ticket or the moment I started thinking about getting my ticket? Because that would start with Zack texting me early in the morning to see if I had bought my ticket to the game yet, as if it were a foregone conclusion.

“Well, my friend Garrett bought plane tickets from Kansas City last night after they won last night, so…”

So what was my excuse? “Well, isn’t it really expensive?”

“Prices have dropped because the Mets fans don’t want to see them lose.”

Game 6 and 7 are in Kansas City, but if people there are coming here to see Game 5,  that could only mean that the Royals were going to win it now and that I had to be there. I thought about my dream, the one I had way back during the ALDS. There was the stadium full of people in orange. They were cheering. There was a man on first. Someone named Flowers, whom can only be the Mets’ Flores, is at bat. The question is, did he strike out or did he hit a home run? After the at-bat I was sad. Was I sad because I was with the people in orange? Was I sad because this was not me at all in the dream? Was I somewhere else celebrating a World Series victory?

I went to StubHub. Zack was right, prices dropped. My roommates, who were cheering for the Mets, were complicit in my getting the ticket.

“You’ll be kicking yourself if they win and you’re not there,” they said. Then they lent me a computer and a printer for the ticket, which I still have. For the rest of day I walked around with the World Series ticket in my purse, thundering like a telltale heart every time I passed a Mets fan.

But I won’t start there either, or the ride on the train packed with  Mets fans, or the wait in line to get into Citi Field hoping to spot some Royals fans. There were many people like me who were flying solo. I scanned the concourse thinking, but not knowing, that some of these faces were ones I knew. Was that my sister’s friend’s mom? The waiter that works at Bella Napoli’s? As customer from the Dime Store, where I used to work? A guy I bumped into in the mosh pit at El Torreon? Someone I was in a high school play with? Probably not, but there was a sense that I was wading through my past, if not mostly because the last time I was surrounded by this many Royals fans was a long, long, time ago.

Before the game even started I recognized someone I really did know—someone from grade school. I’ll call her Sarah. She was a grade above me but we had recess and lunch together. She was there with her older brother, who I’ll call Matt. They adopted me for the game. But I can’t start this story there, or even a few innings from there, when we were adopted by a Mets employee that Matt’s friend’s friend knew, and we got to sit in the Caesar’s Club in the second level with the season ticket holders, where an attendant named Sal, who fought in the Battle of the Bulge with Tony Bennett, gave us cream puffs from a bakery in Astoria.

It’d be nice to start at the sixth inning, when Edinson Volquez made the best of a bases loaded situation and an error by Eric Hosmer (Is it now part of Royals dogma that when bad things happen to Eric Hosmer good things happen to the Royals? Or is it just the Universe balancing itself?) and got out of the game with just one run scored by the Mets. His performance did not earn as much hype as Harvey’s, but he got his job done—which was to keep the game close. Harvey, with all his brilliance, did not.

This story starts in the ninth inning, when Cain was walked. That was the end product of a chain of events that had been set off earlier, when Cain struck out twice. The Internet has all types of ways you can re-watch games. There’s versions where someone has filmed the game as it streamed from their television screen, there’s versions with Japanese subtitles, versions of the whole damn game that you can watch, there’s the highlight reels and then there’s the condensed versions which are like the highlight reel, but more extensive and without any commentary. Included are key moments and slow motion replays of the key moments. I don’t know who does these things, but it’s surely someone with a keen sense of narrative arc and plot twist. In the condensed version of Game 5 they found it prudent to show, in slow motion, each third strike in Cain’s at-bats. These were pitches below the knees that would have been balls had Cain not been fooled and swung at them. This time Cain put the brakes on his swing and earned himself a stroll to first after being 0 – 2.

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Church of Harvey/I did not take this picture!

Ecstatic Royals fans who knew the script by now waited for Cain, grand larcenist extraordinaire, to steal second. Mets fans knew the script by now, too. Up until now it had been the Church of Harvey, and the congregants had been standing and chanting his name for hours. But the walk drew swears from the crowd and put bottoms on their seats. There had been no doubt in Mets fans minds whom they wanted to see pitch in the ninth. Harvey’s performance had been dominant all night, so much so that fans started uttering another name alongside his: Madison Bumgarner. Would he be this year’s Madison Bumgarneresque foe? But towards the eighth inning the whisper of Bumgarner soon faded and only one name could be heard from the fans, not one of who was sitting.

“HAHVEY! HAHVEY! HAHVEY!”

Not Harvey, but Hahvey, in case you forgot this was New York City. Pretty soon their battle cry was the only thing I could hear, over my own thoughts and beating heart. He was not the Dark Knight anymore, he was their gladiator and this was their coliseum.

“They can’t put him in, it would be crazy to put him in,” we told each other.  He still had to deal with the top of the order—it would have been their fourth time seeing him.

“Nah, they won’t do that,” Matt’s friend’s friend agreed.

But he did come out—no he charged out, sprinting towards the mound as if it were a clutch of barbarian warriors from Gaul. The crowd went wild.

Wow, they just jinxed themselves, was all I could think. We exchanged looks of incredulity. It was the best thing that could have happened. Harvey’s mind and body were out of sync with the game.  He acted like he had already won. It’s as if he forgot he had gone to the mound to make three more outs. When Harvey realized he had work to do it would be too late; his mind and body had already moved on. 

But back to Cain and the silence at Citi Field. This was the rally we were waiting for, but we allowed room for failure, not doing so would be tantamount to jinxing the whole thing. Cain did his dance at first and gave himself a big lead—not sure quite how big without Joe Buck to say, but it was a lead big enough to be a parking spot in New York City. All 44,000 of us of us in the stadium waited with bated breath. Mets fans and Royals fans alike were no longer looking at Harvey, they were looking at the dance at first. Cain did not dance for long before tearing towards second—there was no stopping him. It was already written.

Now it was Royals fans’ turn to erupt in cheers. Our scattered but substantial numbers could be heard throughout the stadium and we directed our attention to Hosmer. It was his turn to make something happen. I don’t know what I would have been thinking in his place. Did he utter words to a benevolent God? Was he praying a prayer of the penitent? Dear God, forgive me of my blunder, deliver me from erring?

I don’t know. When I saw a ball fly into the gap in left field I knew this was it. This was the rally, and if this was the rally, this was also the game. Cain raced home and Hosmer put on the brakes at second.

Terry Collins took Harvey out. The Mets gave him an ovation. His stunning performance was only marred by his stunning arrogance. He believed in himself, but not so much in his team. He still managed to author eight great chapters for Mets fans.

SRO

The view in SRO! Can you see Tony Bennett singing the national anthem? Neither can I!

Those same fans kept standing in anticipation of Familia, and our view of most of right field and most of the infield was blocked by backs and heads. Moose’s job was to move Hosmer to third, which is exactly what he did with a grounder to first.

Next came Perez, who I saw through a gap between one man’s hear and another man’s chin. I saw that he hit the ball and started cheering. I had no idea where the ball went. I was cheering in blind faith. If the ball is put in play the Royals will score, that’s how the script went. From the reaction of Mets fans I could tell my cheers were not unfounded. The scoreboard told me so as well. It had changed from 2 – 2 as quickly had it had changed to 2 – 1 from 2 – 0. The despairing Mets fans sat down and I saw that the Royals had been erased from the bases. Where was Salvy? I looked and saw the Royals had two outs, but how did Hosmer score if Salvy hadn’t singled? Did he hit a sacrifice fly?

Sarah, Matt and I were confused. What happened? We ran from our posts and joined another group of standing-room-only Royals fans that had crowded under the television to see a replay.

What I thought was a long-hit single to left field was only a little blooper quickly fielded by David Wright. So the inning must be over and Alex Gordon singled Hosmer home? Did we somehow miss two at-bats? Did someone mess up the scoreboard? We were still scratching our heads when we saw Hosmer pelting helter skelter towards home from third like there was a pack of hellhounds nipping at his heels. It was now unclear who he had been praying to during his at-bat because this was the kind of desperate act that only a man who had sold his soul to the devil would ever consider doing. We saw Duda catching Wright’s throw, getting Salvy out. All commonplace, all according to procedure. We waited for Duda to drop the ball, or pass out, or spontaneously combust, anything that would explain the tie, because unless you’re Jerrod Dyson you just don’t score from third on ball that doesn’t even make it past the infield.

Then Duda threw home. Great, I thought. These Mets fans should start getting happy real quick. But the throw was wide and high, like the 18-wheeler that Mets fans felt like they had been collectively struck by. The Mets catcher nicked the ball with his glove but was nowhere near catching it. Hosmer slid home.

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Hosmer slides home/I sure did not take this picture!

Matt doubled over in joy,  I grabbed my face, Sarah shook her head, we all hugged. When I tried to talk I sound like a broken record. I just cant. Holy shit. Wow. I just cant. Holy shit. Wow.

In retrospect, Hosmer’s explanation for running when he did makes total sense. We were up two games, Familia is hard to hit, and the scouts said Wright has a slow throw and Duda is not clutch in clutch situations. Plus there’s always that memory of Alex Gordon being stuck at third. No one wants to get stuck there anymore (Which begs the question, just what would have happened if Gordon ran?). But it would have been awful leaving that stadium that night if Hosmer had gotten out.

The Mets fans were reeling. Some of them started leaving so we grab seats and sit for the first time—as if the game were just starting and we were strolling in during the first inning. Sitting was nice. But sometimes we stood, just to shake away the jitters. We hated that the Mets were last to bat because if they scored a run that would be it.

The Mets fans stayed seated and would not stand again until the twelfth inning, when they started leaving. Herrera made a heroic effort, pitching three clean innings of relief, and Hochevar followed with two. November 1st turned into November 2nd and three outs in the ninth turned into twelve outs and extra innings and lemons turned into lemonade.

The twelfth inning brought a new pitcher, Addison Reed. Salvy singled and we knew this could be the last inning. Our hunch was validated when Yost unleashed Jerrod Dyson to blaze a path to victory. Dyson danced a little at first with Alex Gordon batting before dashing off to the races and sliding into second. Mets fans shook their heads, some started heading up the stairs and out of the stadium. Harvey and his exploits seemed like such a long time ago. Gordon got out but advanced Dyson to third. Everything in its right place, but wait, who’s batting next? Who could it be? What is going on? Who is this guy? We did not know. It was not a body or number or face we had seen the entire postseason.

It was Christian Colón, who had not had an at-bat since the end of the regular season. Having him bat would be either a stroke of brilliance or a monumental blunder on Yost’s part, but really, what were the options? It was Colón’s only at-bat so he had to make it count. And make it count he did. He ripped a single to center field and Dyson charged home. And then it rained Royals. It rained so hard the Royals scored five runs in one inning. The game only needed Wade Davis to punctuate it.

He struck out the first two batters, but Conforto got a hit. There was a man on, and who but Wilmer Flores came up to bat. At this point I didn’t care about my dream. We were going to win whether Flores struck out or hit a grand slam. But he struck out and we won the World Series and I was there to see it.

wade davis

Last inning…

wadedaviscelebrates

Didn’t take this picture either, but it’s a good one!

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WORLD SERIES GAME 4: Put Some Chapstick On It

daniel murphy chapstick incident

It’s past 8:30 and I haven’t even started watching the game yet. But I have a good reason. I’m at my friend Anesa’s good-bye gathering in Astoria before she heads out of the country tomorrow on a South American adventure and I don’t know when I’m going to see her next. Don’t even mention the fact that it’s Halloween because I don’t care. I have zero interest in getting corralled in a subway with a bunch of drunken sexy nurses, zombified hockey goalies or anything else.

Last year I was a booger for Halloween. Not a sexy booger, just a booger. I was too busy watching the World Series and then mourning the World Series to put much thought into my costume. A few years ago a friend and I made anglerfish costumes out of recycled material. We scavenged for boxes at bodegas and grocery stores and plundered neighbors’ recycling bins for cans and bottles and then spent a whole weekend engineering the costumes. We were a hit. Last year I took a five-second inventory of everything in my closet and realized that I had a lot of green stuff. I piled it on me, and taped some Saran wrap over my layers of green, and boom, I was a slimy booger.

 

Before last year’s World Series I could have been a zombified baseball fan because that is something I’ve never been in real life. Now being a rabid baseball fan is my reality. Because of this new reality I’m not even going to carve pumpkins with Anesa and company. We say our goodbyes at the grocery store, where they have a small clutch of pumpkins left. It’s a testament to Anesa’s character that she’s not even mad at me for ditching her to watch baseball, she says she’ll even cheer for the Royals.

baseball furies 2

Would have been an apropos costume…

I scurry past an Irish sports bar and try really hard not to find out what’s going on in the game. I don’t want to know anything until I get to my friend Noemi’s apartment in Long Island City so I can watch the game in neutral territory. But an eruption of cheers forces me to catch the score through the window: 2 – 0, Mets at the bottom of the third inning.

I am now very aware of the chips and guacamole that I had at Anesa’s place. Usually innocuous, the crunchy blue corn chips I love now seem to be shredding the lining of my stomach. I need to get to Long Island City fast. I start running frantically towards Broadway and hop in the nearest taxi. The driver, from Ghana, doesn’t know much about the World Series and has no sense of urgency.

“It’s like the World Cup, and my team is in it,” I explain, hoping this will get him to drive a little faster, but all it does is inspire a conversation about how confusing baseball is and why they even call it the World Series if it’s two American teams playing each other. The conversation goes nowhere fast—or at least quicker than it took for me to get to Long Island City.

I try not to trip over myself as I lunge out of the car and dash to Noemi’s building. When she opens the door I try to read her face for any signs of doom. She knows me well enough to deliver the good news first.

“The Royals scored a run!”

“Okay, cool, okay. Awesome, great. And the Mets? What about them? Have they scored?”

“It looks like they just got a homerun,” says Noemi’s husband, Daniel, from the couch.

I try not to react too histrionically. Noemi knows I am susceptible to dramatic outbursts and I want to prove to her that I can be a sane person under this kind of duress.

“That’s cool. It’s okay. I mean, it looks like we’re waking up offensively, you know?”

“What are the chances of them coming back?” Daniel asks.

I certainly can’t tell him that there is a good chance, a really good chance, that the Royals will rally because saying it out loud would only jinx it.

“Well, I can’t really say.”

“But you’ve been watching the team—you have a pretty good idea, right?”

“I do. But I don’t want to jinx anything.”

Daniel is an avid fan of the French national soccer team who suffered through the improbable Zinedine Zidane headbutt of the 2006 World Cup, so he has a healthy respect for jinxes. “Okay, but as a general observer of the game, and not as a Royals fan, what would you say the chances are?”

“As a general observer, I would say there’s a pretty good chance.”

“Okay.”

It goes without saying that I still have to knock on wood. Stephen Matz, the Mets’ rookie lefty pitcher, has been on point so far, but the sixth inning will be the real test of how well he can keep the Royals at bay. He’s not as hyped as Harvey, DeGrom and Syndergaard and fans have not yet christened him with a quirky moniker, but he’s allowed less runs in five innings than his cohort did in each of their starts.

The first batter up is Zobrist who takes a leaf from Escobar’s book and swings at the first pitch. The ball flies into deep left field and Zobrist reaches second.

“YES!” I know it’s not a run yet, but it looks like a classic Royals rally in the making. Cain follows with a single and Zobrist scores.

“YES! YES!” I slam my fist into the couch. Daniel implores me to keep it down, because what will the neighbors think?

With their lead dangerously slim, Terry Collins pulls Matz from the game. The camera follows the young rookie do the dugout, where he slams his glove to the ground. If there were a couch, I’m sure he’d slam that too.

The sixth inning ends with no further damage and the Royals trailing 3 – 2. After a soundless seventh inning we enter the eighth, with Clippard of the aviator goggles pitching. In the first at-bat he gets Escobar to ground out, but then lets Zobrist take a stroll—and Cain too, after he had Cain 0 – 2 two pitches into the at-bat.

I am excited, but try to keep my tone conversational. “Okay! Keep the line moving!”

scary la familia

Scary Familia

Terry Collins and the Mets would prefer to bring the line to a grinding halt, so he swaps Clippard for Familia. Clippard can be seen mouthing a four letter curse. The levee hasn’t broken yet, so this is Familia’s chance to patch things up with Hos coming up to bat. Hos makes contact on the second pitch. It’s a soft grounder  that seems to be making its merry way to Daniel Murphy’s glove. But the ball is only flirting with the glove. It coyly stays low—millimeters away!—and scampers out of reach. Zobrist scores to tie the game. Daniel Murphy copes by applying Chapstick. Whatever helps.

Familia really has the worst luck—cursed since Game 1 by Alex Gordon’s home run. He can’t seem to pull himself together and gives away consecutive singles to Moustakas and Salvy, bringing the Royals on top 5 – 3. Yost wastes no time unleashing Wade Davis and the game is in the bag past midnight. It is a spooky Halloween indeed for Gotham City.

The Royals are one win away from winning the World Series. This year’s one-win-away sensation is much different than last year’s, because it was also a one-loss-away situation. This year there are lots of different ways we could win the World Series! We could lose two games and win one, lose one game and win one, or just win one without any of the losing! It is strange and novel to be from Kansas City and for the second year in a row and have one’s team be a game away from winning the World Series.

Stranger yet is that this all happening less than ten miles from where I am sitting on a couch. The television fills up with blue—not blue and orange, but just blue. There is a whole legion of Royals fans at Citifield. It looks like half of Kansas City is hanging out in Queens.

“Wow, look at all the Royals fans,” says Noemi.

“I know! I should be there.”

But really, who are those people? If they are they made it to Citi Field there must be a way I can, too. This is what I think about as I pace the platform waiting for the G train. I forgot it is Halloween until I see a slutty librarian and Darth Vader.  The thunder of the train’s arrival brings me out of my reverie. The train is packed. It is not your Halloween type of packed, where you won’t escape without getting glitter bombed or elbowed by a dominatrix using the holiday as an excuse to wear her work uniforms in public. Nor is this the typical Saturday night type of packed, with red matte lipstick, high heels and gelled man-buns.

No, none of that. I see flashes of blue, flashes of orange and realize this is the crowd from Citi Field coming from the 7 train at Court Square, the same people whose misery I just saw on live television. They are in old Mets scarves, old Mets hats, Piazza jerseys worn over blue sweatshirts worn under jean jackets; they are wearing stuff they dug out of storage or an outerborough garage, stuff that was garnished with cobwebs until this postseason.

mets sad fan

I really do understand the pain

Other than a sporadic vampire, these are the only other people on the train. The only ones. The train comes to a stop and the doors yawn open. No one gets off. I make a big decision in this moment. Do I unbutton my jean jacket and ostentatiously broadcast who I’m cheering for, and by default, how happy I am? Or do I keep my jacket respectfully buttoned? If I stay buttoned I could be one of them, except for the fact that my visage is far too sanguine for me to pass as a Mets fan at this moment.

I usually avoid ostentatiousness but not provocation, so this is a dilemma for me. I go for a compromise, unbuttoning my jacket but not exuberantly letting it flap open like the shutters of a window on a spring day. I see this as a humble display of pride that won’t merit any kind of knuckle sandwich.

At first there is only room to stand. What my shirt says is of no consequence because no one can see it anyway. There is not much talking on the train as it worms its way through Brooklyn. Conversations are muffled by sweaters, scarves, hats and bodies. I find somewhere to sit once the train spits out a few bodies at Bergen Street.

There is now enough space in the train to hear all the conversations about What Went Wrong. Most people talk about Daniel Murphy. He is a hard one for them to talk about, because he was a big part of What Went Right earlier in the postseason.  I catch the serious conversation of a clutch of red-faced men who are having a nightcap of bagged beer.

“It’s not just on Murphy, though.”

“Yeah, but you really just have to catch the grounder. You can’t just let that grounder go.”

“Yeah, but that was one run. What about the other ones? What about Familia?”

“Nah, nah, nah. It was Clippard, when he walked those two guys.”

A third man agreed.

“And besides, we would not be here without Murphy.”

A big sigh is heaved.

“Yeah. But maaaaan. Murphy.”

“Those Royals are feisty, though.”

“They’re soooo fuckin’ feisty.”

The talk stops. The tallest guy in the group looks at me. I quickly avert my eyes. Only a sliver of the Royals Y peeks though my jacket and my bag, which is on my lap, covers most of it. Does he know?

He knows. He lowers his voice, looks at his friends, and gestures towards me with his chin. I hear him mutter as the group gets off at Smith and 9th.

“I bet she’s happy.”

F_royals

Happy

 

 

 

 

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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.

friendlyfoes1

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.

Alcides-Escobar-inside-the-park-homer-world-series

 

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.

alex-gordon-home-run-world-series-kansas-city-royals

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.

hug

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 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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ALCS Game 2: A Real Live Wire

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. 

batshit crazy

Thor

Kauffman Stadium is a bowl of sunshine right now. Light has flooded most of the field and the players wear wraparound sunglasses with Plutonite lenses and Unobtanium frames that make them look like cyborgs. Some  opt for streaks of black paint that are now starting to run down their face, making them look like Scottish warriors.

I’m watching the game with my friend Zack at his place on the Upper West Side. Zack is a ballhawk and baseball writer whose most  recent claim to fame was catching A-Rod’s 3,000th hit and taking his sweet time giving the ball back. His friend Muneesh is also there, and he has a  baseball podcast, The Clubhouse Podcast. Basically, these two have Ph.Ds in baseball, and I’m still in Pre-K. During the game they tweet other baseballheads, look up stats, and correctly predict which pitch will be thrown and why. I can only handle watching the game and sometimes not even that. I’m also trying to eat, but am barely able to dig into my pad Thai. It’s a disappointing rendition, mostly a pile of starch scantly studded with peanuts and a few greasy shrimp.

Zack is cheering for the Royals in solidarity with me. He used to be a Mets fan but resigned after too many run-ins with stadium security. Muneesh is a Tigers fan who, by default, is supposed to cheer against the Royals but out of politeness isn’t doing so openly.

It’s the top of the top of the sixth and the Blue Jays are ahead by one run. That’s better than I expected us to be doing at this point. Ventura was shaky against the Astros but he’s in better form today. He hasn’t glared at anyone or started any fights—important because the Blue Jays enjoy clearing their benches for a good brawl. In ALDS Game 5 against the Rangers there were two brawls in one inning. In some ways it is strange to see this kind of behavior from a Canadian franchise, but in other ways it’s not surprising at all. I mean, look at hockey. Those guys are basically boxers on ice.

I’m getting a little nervous when Donaldson singles off Ventura. Donaldson would have been out earlier had his foul ball not hit a thin wire, one of two in the whole stadium. Perez caught it with his bare hand but it was declared dead and Donaldson got a chance to single. The wire incident was bad luck for the Royals and Ventura seems to internalize bad luck. He is a young person learning how to deal with his emotions, just like most young people around the world, except watching him grow up is a spectator sport.

Next up is Bautista. He walks. There are no outs and that’s not great, but to me, any time Bautista does not hit a home run the pitcher is doing their job. I’m about to take another stab at my pad Thai when Encarnación singles when his grounder slides past Escobar. Donaldson scores, and there’s still no outs. Muneesh lets out a whoop, but stops short of unabashedly cheering for the Blue Jays.

“I just like seeing runs,” he says to me.

Ned keeps Ventura in the game, maybe thinking he’ll dig himself out of the tight spot like Volquez did in Game 1.

tulowitzski aaaaaaah!

He’ll peck your eyes out

Ventura gets one out when the next batter comes up, but here comes Tulowitzski. Instead of painting his cheeks he is wearing black stickers. The sleek slits really make it seem like he is trying to channel the Raven of Death.  He wants to do damage, and does—with a double that his hits on the first pitch. Bautista heads home. My stomach sinks towards the floor, and I’m glad there’s not much pad Thai to go down with it.

Ventura still can’t get a break after this Blue Jays salvo. The next batter, Russell Martin, is walked.

It’s not just a tight spot anymore: it’s about to be a blitzkrieg. Ventura smothers his face with his glove. He is not hiding tears. The downward thrust of his neck and the enlargement of his jugular all belie the monosyllabic expletive that is erupting from his thin frame.

Zack looks at me.

“You alright there?”

Ventura is pulled and Hochevar replaces him.

“I’ll be fine.”

A consensus has been reached by commentators, Zack, Muneesh, me, and everyone watching the game that it is good as over if the Blue Jays score again. But Hochevar offers a fine display of calm and collection and retires the next two batters, limiting the Blue Jays’ damage. I eat another bite of pad Thai. There’s still a lot of game left. We just need Price to start feeling a little magnanimous.

The top of the seventh inning starts with Zobrist swinging at the first pitch and hitting a fly ball that will be caught by someone. Goins or Bautista. But which will it be? They are both running towards it. They’re both there. They’re both about to grab it.

“Crash into each other! Crash into each other! Crash! Crash! Crash!” I am screaming at the television. Anything I can do to help.

They don’t crash. But they don’t catch the ball either! Bautista thought Goins had the ball, and Goins thought Bautista had his back.

I shout whoo, Muneesh shouts whoa, and Zack thinks he should play right field. By the look on Price’s face he probably thinks he should play right field, too. But he’s not in panic mode. It’s just one guy on, right?

But one guy turns into another, and another and we score a run. The Kansas City assembly line is on and where the heck is the off button? Does this thing even come with an off button? Sportscasters have come up with all manner of metaphor to describe the Royals offense at times like these. They like to go with politically correct hackneyed ones, like the snowball effect and the leaky pipe, but I think it’s more like Chinese water torture.

These are the facts regardless of your choice of metaphor: Zobrist has scored, Cain is on third and Hosmer is at first. Morales is at bat. There are no outs.  The camera zooms in on Hosmer and the first base coach, Rusty Kuntz, and they look like they’re scheming.

Morales hits a grounder towards center field and it looks like it could be a double-play. Except that Hosmer is on base two seconds after Morales hits the ball. Morales is out but he drove in Cain and we have a man on second, a man on third.

Muneesh suggests Hosmer was planning to steal second on the pitch, but instead of stealing, ended up preventing a double-play. Two second later the newscasters are saying the same thing. The score is now 3 – 2, and we have a very real chance of tying the game in the seventh.

david price come on guys

Really guys? Really?

Price can’t handle it. The inning could have been over by now. His arms are raised in disbelief, and he is shaking his head. He looks at Hosmer. Why are you even here? I’m a Cy Young winner. How is this happening? 

But it is, and it’s not over. Moustakas, who hadn’t had a hit in the entire postseason, finally ends his drought and makes it to second base on a single and Hosmer scores. It is now a tied game.

There is a new chorus of whoas, and whoos and oh-my-gods erupting from the couch. No one is Tweeting, no one is looking up any stats.

Price still has enough stuff to get Salvy out on strikes, but not enough to prevent Gordon from doubling and scoring in Moustakas. John Gibbons, the portly Blue Jays manager, strides up to the mound. He is shaped like a tea kettle. The tortured David Price hands him the ball, and Gibbons gives him an avuncular slap on the butt.

There is a fresh pitcher. But it’s not over yet, kids, because Rios hits a single. The Royals have gone through their whole lineup and now Escobar is at bat. He gets out, putting the inning to bed, but it seems the Royals’ bloodlust has only been whetted after this five-run inning. In the eighth Cain walks with one out, prompting more anxiety from the Blue Jays dugout. The pitcher is changed before he can even get into the game. Cain threatens only briefly and is caught trying to steal. But this new pitcher lets Hosmer take a stroll, too. And then lets Morales join him. Two men out, two men on. And then Moose hits again, driving Hosmer home. Is is now 6 – 3.

moose is loose

Moose now loose

It really is starting to seem that the Royals orchestrate their victories so as to spread the mirth around a little bit. The other team’s fans get to enjoy the first two-thirds of the game, and the Royals fans get to enjoy the rest.

A sense of calm before the euphoria takes over in the ninth inning because Wade Davis is coming to pitch, and is it known by now that that he is The Man. But there are still whispers of doubt from some corners of the stadium. The commentators murmur: something something want to get out these next three batters something something so he won’t have to face Bautista something something.

 But Davis does not get out the next batter, who gets a single. And he does not get out the following batter, who is walked.

Is this another deliberate plot twist? Are we orchestrating this ninth inning so that we can trade some more joy with the Blue Jays and take it to late innings? It would be great for this narrative arc thing the Royals always seem to be striving to achieve, but it’s horrible for the fans. I mean, I feel like these shrimp could come crawling up my throat any second.

Before the ninth inning started someone, probably me, didn’t want to jinx anything by prematurely declaring victory and suggested that at one point someone is going to get to Wade Davis. I fear the counter-jinx has backfired and that the Blue Jays are going to peck him alive. But what makes Wade Davis great is that he doesn’t let two men on base get to him, at least not in a way that’s visibly notable to anyone (me) who might be scrutinizing his facial expressions for any sign of distress or humanity. There are none.

He retires the next two batters, striking out Revere and Donaldson.  But he still has to face Bautista, the only guy to homer off Davis this year—the only guy to homer off Davis in two whole years. There are two outs, and two guys on base. A homer would tie the game. The whole stadium is shitting bricks. As a general rule Bautista either homers or walks, and every once in a while he’ll get out. Commentators are saying his batting average is way better in later innings, so this is also part of the equation. What will Davis do to him?

It does not take long to find out. Bautista swings at the first pitch and makes contact. The ball is soaring. My god, is it a home run? No. It sails into Paulo Orlando’s glove way, way out in right field, ending the game. Thor is quieted again and it is Kauffman Stadium that thunders instead.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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ALDS GAME 2: Haters Gonna Hate

I am a Royals fan living in New York City. If anyone wondered 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; 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 or 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 for momos, you’re reminded that, hello, the Mets are here, too! I see lots of Orioles fans, Philles fans, and yes, even Red Sox fans. There are not many Royals fans here, but the postseason 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. 

hosmerbuttout

Kansas City Star/Tammy Ljunglad

It’s past 3:30. The game has started and I’m in my office. I won’t be able to leave work until an hour and a half after the game starts. I have stuff to do, so I make it a point not to look at the box score online for at least an hour. Nothing usually happens in the first innings anyway, I tell myself. In retrospect–when it’s the Royals we’re talking about–I am totally right, but an hour after the game starts curiosity overrides pragmatism and I go to MLB.com.

As soon as I do my forehead meets my desk—not gently. It’s the second inning and the Astros have already scored three runs.

Come on guys, don’t be the 2014 Angels….

If we lose this game we’re losing the series. Anyone who knows anything about these two teams knows we’re fucked—my roommates know better than anyone else. Dallas Keuchel, the Astros’ pitcher for game three, pitched the Wild Card game against the Yankees. Keuchel didn’t concede even the smallest ray of hope to the Yankees and my suffering roommates watched him turn the Bronx bombers in the Bronx bumblers. Yankees fans are poor sufferers and my roommates seem to think that cheering against the Royals will make them feel better about losing the Wild Card game.

“The Astros are totally gonna win—in three games,” said one after the first game.

“You think so?” I asked, for I did not think it would be so.

“Well, maybe in four games.”

“We’ll see.”

It’s all I could say without ruining everything. An insane optimism overtook me during the regular season—the kind that lends itself to believing in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the notion that you always get to be what you want when you grow up—and I am certain we will win the World Series despite last night’s game. But if I say it out loud, I’ll jinx it.

Right now though, as I slouch at my desk, I think my roommate might be right. Every ten minutes I look at the score.

Johnny Cueto has a hard time settling down and the Astros tack on another run in the third inning—a home run by Colby Rasmus.  But it’s only one run! This is good for the version of Johnny Cueto that is pitching right now, and he does not concede another hit during the inning. Does this mean Cueto has found his stride?

To make things equitable, we gain a run in the inning too, and the score is 4 – 2. Are we also gaining momentum? I tell myself it doesn’t matter. Syrian children are washing up on Greece’s beaches, glaciers are melting and there is an island of trash the size of Texas floating in the Pacific Ocean. This is just a baseball game. If we lose this series I will feel bad for the team, but I could focus on my other fall activities—the only ones I ever knew before last year: pressing leaves, sampling different squashes and root vegetables from the farmers market, concocting a Halloween costume.

Sometimes, when I need to put my mind at ease, I go on a run. When I can’t do that, I listen to Radiohead’s Everything in its Right Place. Before leaving work I plug in my headphones, find the song on Youtube, and sit at my desk with my eyes closed and my index fingers tracing circles in my temples. I wonder if anyone on the Royals listens to Radiohead. That would be interesting.

I will watch the game, and I will be fine with the outcome, I tell myself. I am a liar, but at least I am calm as I head to the subway and ride it to my friend’s place in the Upper West Side, where I’ll watch the rest of the game.

There is nowhere to sit on the train, so Middlesex does not make an appearance. I try to see where other riders’ loyalties lie. There is not anyone from Houston on this train, it seems. But I do spot a college student in a Cubs hat, a few people with Mets hats, and of course many with Yankees hats.

I get out of the subway and cross Broadway, heading towards Amsterdam. There are many sports bars on the way and I am careful to avoid looking at the glaring screens that are visible from outside. It is hard—if something good happens I’d want to see it the moment it happens. If something bad happens, though, I’d rather see the replay in the comfort of my friend’s apartment.

But try as I might, it is impossible to avoid a baseball game in the streets if New York City. At the last bar before my friend’s block there is a television sidled all the way up to the window, facing passerby. I see Hosmer at the plate, and see that it’s the bottom of the sixth, and I also see we have someone on second base.

I quickly avert my eyes and run to my friend’s building. He buzzes me in and I share an elevator with two men in Mets hats. They are smiling in anticipation of the game against the Dodgers later that night.  I wonder if they notice my Royals shirt beneath my partially buttoned jacket.

The elevator seems to move only millimeters at a time. I am bouncing with anticipation as it reaches the eighth floor and burst into my friend’s apartment.

“Hey!” He looks excited. I try to read his face to see if the excitement belies any status update about the game, but his excitement is essentially meaningless in that regard because he is always excited when watching baseball.  Also, as a native of this city, he has no official loyalty to the Royals.

“Hey?”

“Did you see?”

“See what?” I take off my shoes and jacket and trot over to the television.

“The Royals just scored a run!”

I had gotten there just in time to see the replay of Hosmer’s single. The main focus of the replay isn’t that he got a single—but how he looked when he got it. Before I see him hit the ball, I think there has been a mistake; this is not going to be a single! They are showing a strike! Hosmer’s knees are bent and his posterior is so far away from home plate it looks like he is preparing to do an Olympic dive, and he is swinging the bat like a child attacking a pinata. But he makes contact, and the ball softly wafts over the infield. Lorenzo Cain sprints home.

The hit is even more impressive when the numberheads run stats on it. The pitch was nine inches off the plate; during the regular season only 20 pitches that far from the strike zone have yielded hits.

The Royals get one more run to tie the game and eventually we win it, 5 – 4. I leave my friend’s place and cross Broadway to get to the subway. A drunk Giants fan tells me I’m ballsy to be wearing a Royals shirt.

“I hate your team,” she adds–a final, slurry salvo.

It’s not that I’m ballsy to wear a Royals shirt here. It’s just that she doesn’t want to see it. The Royals and the Astros are playing each other in the ALDS, and the Yankees and Giants, who are among the oldest and highest spending franchises in MLB, are out of the postseason. How the mighty have fallen.

I am in good spirits. The girl’s spite means that the Royals mean something outside Kansas City. Also, the Astros are officially not the 2014 Royals. The Giants girl stands on the other side of the platform, and I take out Middlesex. A friend’s business card is my new bookmark. I read all the way back to Brooklyn. Everything in its right place.

 

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