BOSTON, October 18, 2013 -- Just like your favorite blue jeans, the faded pair with the relaxed fit, or those old brown shoes or maybe even your favorite, partially torn college t-shirt, the sport of baseball somehow has a way to make things better just by being there every fall. Watching the sport, whether on television or in person, provides a cathartic release like none other. Whether you're a St. Louis Cardinals fan, an L.A. Dodgers groupie, a supporter of the Detroit Tigers or a member of the Boston Red Sox nation, the past two or three weeks provided some relief from the gloomy details of an embarrassing government shutdown, much like the sport helped a nation heal from the darkest depth of post 9-11 terrorism. Somehow. baseball makes us all feel a little better.
That was certainly the case last Sunday when Max Scherzer ruled the mound a day after Anibal Sanchez and a cast of supporting relief pitchers were blanking the BoSox 1-0 deep into the autumn night at Fenway Park, near Kenmore Square in Boston. An amazing thing happened that Sunday night for Boston, as not a hometown hit was made through five and two-thirds innings and only three base runners stared down but did not touch second base, and that was the fact barely a soul left the ballpark, even after Scherzer mowed down his 13th batter due to three strikes and out. The faithful nearly departed, but had hope.
That very afternoon, they stood in Fenway's darkened corridors, fixed on flat-screens tuned to the NFL game where Tom Brady and his Patriots were trailing the New Orleans Saints, 27-23. With only 2:23 left in the final quarter, Brady tossed a first and ten interception to Saints defensive corner back Keenan Lewis and every bit of common sense told the Fenway faithful to head back to their seats to watch the grounds crew manicure the infield. But a quick New Orleans "three-and-out" gave New England fans some hope and with only 1:13 remaining, Brady worked his magic like few quarterbacks ever before him.
With 11 seconds remaining, Brady rushed to spike the ball to stop the clock, not a time-out remained, Second and 17 yards to go, Brady lofted a pass to wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins and the comeback was completed and the Patriots won, 30-27. That comeback was on everyone's mind when Boston's third baseman, Will Middlebrooks doubled to left with only one out in the Sox' half of the 8th inning. A base-on-balls to Jacoby Ellsbury was followed by a Shane Victorino strike-out, so two outs, two on as second baseman Dustin Pedroia stepped up.
Like a good "Billy Joel" song, Baseball has that way about it. The pace is slow, methodical and the action very sporadic. Sometimes, like Games 1 and 2 of the American League Championship Series (ACLS), barely a highlight can be logged unless your idea of a highlight is someone swinging a wooden stick and missing thrown balls, albeit the balls whizzing by at 95 miles per hour. The drama builds, however, for those who wait.
Pedroia singled and the bases were loaded for David Ortiz, the Red Sox big-time slugger who goes by the nickname, "Big Papi." Now, it might become "Big Grand-Papi," as Ortiz drive to right barely cleared the outstretched glove of Tigers' right fielder Torii Hunter and both the ball and Hunter disappeared as they each made their way over the hip-high wall in Fenway's right center field. The home run ball was snatched by the Sox' bullpen catcher, crouched down as he was warming up closer Koji Uehara. (Sox Manager John Farrell's strategic optimism not to be overlooked). Hunter went head-over-heels in an instant as his momentum took his upper-body right over the wall. Home run, David Ortiz, and tie ball game!
The Red Sox went on to victory in the bottom of the ninth after Jarrod Saltalamacchia drove in the game-winning run as Fenway Park and its 38,029 fans went into a state of pure delirium.
Fast forward to this weekend and the storylines are plentiful.
In the National League, the St. Louis Cardinals seem to be in control as they return home with a 3-games-to-2 series lead and 22-year old pitcher Michael Wacha taking the mound against the Dodgers. Wacha is an amazing story as he burst onto the MLB scene as a 2012 first-round draft choice of the Cards. His postseason 2-0 record and 0.64 ERA are numbers to take notice of as St. Louis tries to the World Series. The LA Dodgers, with likely Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw, likely NL Rookie of the Year winner Yasiel Puig amongst a line-up of sluggers and veterans, could force seven games.
In the American League, Boston returns home, just like the Cards, with a 3-2 series lead and young pitching ace Clay Buchholz on the mound. Nice? Not so fast, as Detroit will throw soon-to-be-awarded AL Cy Young award winner Scherzer on Saturday and 2011 Cy Young award winner Justin Verlander on Sunday, if the game is necessary.
That all amounts to a crowning postseason for Major League Baseball. After a season where performance enhancing drug suspensions and an all-out circus surrounded New York Yankees star Alex Rodriguez (still fighting PED accusations and a record 211-game suspension) took the air out of the MLB balloon, just days after an amazing All-Star Weekend, the power of baseball's on-field performances have carried the sport to lofty heights, once again. The four teams battling for the 2013 title have a combined 28 World Series championships to their credit. Postseason television ratings are up and the Fall Classic match-up will be a dream, regardless of the winners staking claim to a pennant this weekend.
Baseball is back and we need it, now more than ever. Baseball is back where it "oughtta be," just like the government, except we rejoice on the diamonds of Boston, Detroit, Los Angeles and St. Louis while the sorry group of law-makers in Washington make their very constituents shake their heads in disbelief.