The Odd Pleasure Of Doing It Again
I blacked out like Jayson Werth. In a stream of alcohol directed at pregame jitters that went undiverted through The Passion of Adam Wainwright and slowed to a trickle as the Cardinals shoved hip-foremost back into it, I watched the ninth inning of Game5 through a literal latticework of fingers. Werth said he didn’t remember the Game4 walkoff, like someone thrown into a pool at her twenty-first birthday party, obliviated; he went immediately to the Nationals’ video room to watch the tumultuous 13 pitch at-bat. After Game5, I immediately watched all the highlights again not because I felt gloaty (even though I did) or because Postseason.tv’s bank of tricky camera angles precludes any view of any play that is wholly representational (even though it does). I watched all the highlights because short-term memory loss dropped on me like a ninja from a bamboo tree and that’s what a blackout is.
Things like WPA graphs and Leverage Index points are fancy ways for baseball wonks to come down after the game; on their faces they don’t mean much to civilians. Saying Daniel Descalso posted a .496 WPA doesn’t deepen what he actually did, which is hit a home run to get the Cardinals within one and then get the two-RBI hit that tied it. Old-fashioned baseball fans like to deride the statheads for never actually watching games, but Descalso’s WPA means we can, actually, believe what we just saw: a scrawny infielder who looks like he balances pizza-warmers on his bike handlebars leading a revolution.
Underdog status shouldn’t come naturally to the franchise with the second-most titles, but the Cardinals have taken to it like scales from eyes. You don’t get to be the most written-off defending champion of the modern age by scaring people; you get there by politely asking for the time and memorizing their eye-color. The Cardinals have turned into loose, blue-collar killers who accept payment over pool tables and don’t wear thousand-dollar suits. Their whole identity as an organization has changed so radically since the events of the last calendar year they may never go back to being the Yankees of the National League, with one of baseball’s biggest diasporas, a city that adores them rather frightfully, and 11 World Series championships. Even if they win everything for the second straight year, they’re eternally the new kids. The St. Louis Cardinals have seceded from the baseball establishment.
Against the Nationals in their latest Mutual Elimination Game (MEG), they were down to their last strike five different times. Yadier Molina laid off the same pitch Allen Craig struck out on and worked a walk. David Freese clinically reviewed each pitch of his own walk, before Descalso stroked the first pitch of his plate appearance off the second-baseman’s glove, tying the game. At this point Drew Storen, the Nationals’ heavily-vetted closer, looked approximately as chalk-outlined as the Rangers’ Neftali Feliz did last October as the Cardinals came back in Game6. Storen and Feliz have seen things you people wouldn’t believe.
Now we get to Pete Kozma. If commenters on VEB have for months bewailed watching Daniel Descalso try to hit a baseball, Kozma is the third-rate rookie who, during his cup of coffee last year, spat in it. He was one of the worst hitters in his minor league and his book for the Cardinals appeared to be closed. A replacement player in every sense including the literal, for a week this October he’s occuping so much space over his head he is either disembodied or an airborne toxic event. Bo Hart to his friends, his permanent place in Cardinals history is now secure even if he returns to his natural state of boring, no-hit shortstop. His game-winning hit, which by the way is the first by a rookie in a post-season game in 88 years, bounced in front of Jayson Werth, who may or may not remember it.
During his on-field interview, Kozma was so calm it was irreal. Later we found out Wainwright, down 6-0 and about to leave the mound in disgrace, told his infielders to pick him up and Kozma said You Got It. Baseball abounds with this kind of instant apocrypha, but Kozma clearly has a lot of self-confidence. It’d be delusional if he hadn’t done what he did.
Davey Johnson, the Nationals’ old-saint manager, spent the series feeling casually superior to Mike Matheny, his Cardinals adversary. Then he pitched to Kozma with a relief pitcher on deck. Johnson managed the glitzy, character-driven Mets teams of the eighties and after they won the famous 16-inning Game6 against the Astros in the 1986 NLCS, he said he felt like he’d been pardoned. I wonder how he feels now? After the game Johnson looked like he’d seen his own ghost. He looked ancient. Matheny, on the other side, was JFK at Hyannisport.
Baseball doesn’t keep you young. (Winning does that). But I’ve been a fan of the St. Louis Cardinals since I was six years old and games that will live forever, like last night’s, turn back the clock to the last time you were able to be really, genuinely, earnestly excited about something. There’s no irony in sports; you remember these games and they tell you flatly where you were in your life. Even if you watched through the Venetian blinds of your fingers, you still have a story to tell.
Baseball came and ate my week. Here’s why: DirecTV’s doing a pre freeview of its Extra Innings package which lasts through the weekend and which affords me, of all ironic word choices, access to every Cardinals game WITH THEIR OWN BROADCASTERS.
Between all this and boning up on sabermetrics, which I am still a noob in, I barely have time to drink and livetweet Idol, which I am not a noob in.