One hundred and sixty-two games is the length of the baseball season in the major league. The first of April to the third of October. If the World Series 2021 goes to a sixth match, that match will be played in November. MLB executives hope that potential games will be played on the west coast. If it happens to be played in Chicago, Boston or New York and the temperature drops below 40, the story will not go unnoticed. Why? Because people want the baseball season to end in October. They’ve had enough.
The speed and length of the baseball season make our thoughts about baseball closer to our thoughts about life in general, and less like a sport. This is alternately convincing, satisfying, unbearable and discouraging.
There are 162 chances to lose. Four of MLB’s 30 teams will be wild cards. As of August 25thth, the average length of an MLB game in 2021 was 3 hours and 9 minutes. These four teams will have played baseball for about 510 hours during the season, and then play a match, lasting three to four hours, to decide who will advance to the division series. Although the wild card in one game is exciting, it is cruelty to the team (and its fans) that loses one game. Something like an Olympic sprinter who trains for four years and then runs one medal-decisive race. It’s just one game, rather than a best-of-three series because MLB is afraid of November and because baseball never had a wild card in the first century of its existence. Only in 1994 did MLB expand to include a wildcard. Then they waited until 2012 to add a second.
This year’s wild-card race is particularly heavy, with rivals in the American League East taking turns beating each other for the playoffs in a match. After the Tampa Bay Rays had a wide lead in the division, the race has found the Red Sox, Yankees, Jays and a pair in AL West – A’s and recently hot Mariners – jockeying for two places.
Why do we follow sports? Is there the possibility of acknowledging losing in a concrete way? Unlike losses in life, which are abstract and infinite, the loss of one game is tangible. In the wild-card game, the loss hangs. The death of a season, amplified by hopes and expectations to recover by October, then ran in an instant.
Baseball was an obsession in my home and my region. Great -Boston. Baseball is a simple supplement in the evening. After work. According to obligations. After dinner, there is baseball, for seven months of the year, more if you are struggling with spring training.
Some people prefer basketball, football or soccer. These games have different rhythms. Each game is an event, full of action and movement. Baseball is a game of patience and waiting. A game with ugly balls and pitching changes. They say, “It’s a marathon, not a sprint,” but the reality is more like a very long walk. It goes on the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine. When you look at that map, you can call everyone who walks this trail crazy, but especially those who insist on continuing past Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
This slower rhythm is why listening to baseball on the radio works for me. If you like the descriptions of the game and the anecdotes that are sprinkled here and there, and you want something to accompany your slow dog walk, baseball on the radio works well. This weekend, my beloved Red Sox hosted their rivals, the Yankees. Our family is a Sox-and-Yankees household. My wife is from New York City, and we’ve seen the Red Sox Yankees together since 2003.
On Saturday we drove to Petaluma, an hour north of the Bay Area. A pumpkin patch with games and inflatable climbers. Our daughter was a horse lover and was especially fond of her first pony ride. We read the field for pumpkins, a field with lost basketballs. We drove home with the game on the radio. Giancarlo Stanton’s eighth inning grand slam put a stop to it as I drove off for my own late afternoon.
Sunday night, when the teams were independent in the position and one week left, we watched the match with the muffler and the radio on, due to ESPN’s insane announcement. When the game was two, I felt cautiously optimistic, but cautious about the bullpen, as I have been most of this season when Garrett Whitlock has not been on the mound.
The Sox built the 3-2 lead on a mistake by Yankees outfielder Joey Gallo, who dropped a soaring pop-up from the bat of Kyle Schwarber, whose percussion music was extended when Yankees third baseman DJ LeMahieu dropped another pop-up on ugly territory.
In comes Adam Ottavino to clean up a mess on the eighth. He’s an eccentric guy. Months ago I read an article in the Boston Globe about how Ottavino communicates with the empty stadium hours before each match. He walks barefoot around the grass and up on the mound. He visualizes each pitch and imagines success, channeling positive energy. After reading these details, I immediately went to Ottavino. These details gather. They humanize.
Yankees star Aaron Judge went on the plate. Ottavino held right-handed hitters to a .210 stroke average this year. His deleted slider worked. With a one-two count, the referee popped slightly to the right. Sox first baseman Bobby Dalbec, who was in a position to make the catch, hesitated as he approached the wall where the photographers were hiding, in front of the grandstand. The referee managed to stay alive, overgrowing four straight courses, including a course that appeared to be strike three, but was dropped – perhaps by transfer to the hand that threw – by catcher Christian Vazquez. The Judges’ two-round double to the center put the Yankees ahead 4-3. After the match, the referee told the media: “I felt like a cat. I felt like I had nine lives out there. ”
Giancarlo Stanton added two more tries with another shot without a doubt. I could not help but laugh at the way things went apart. The playoff-like series of three games showed all the weaknesses that Sox fans have been worried about all year.
No dominant ace Chris Sale has returned to the rotation, but missed time after testing positive for COVID, and may have been strategically slotted to avoid this match as the front office hopes he meets the Yankees in the potential wild-card game next week. A questionable bullpen and less than stellar. There are six more matches on this very long trip. Another season will end for 20 teams and 20 fan cities. And while we work our way through October, several teams will go home, until only one is left.