2010 American League Championship Series, Game 3: Rangers 8, Yankees 0.
Note: We’re expanding here at Taste My Sad. Don’t worry about it. I’m sure many of you out there aren’t baseball fans (which is just silly), so I will attempt to write about this game, and baseball in general, in a way that isn’t too, well, “inside baseball.” Also coming this weekend: Taste My Sad’s first foray into sad music. (Or not. Who knows when I’m ever going to do anything in my life. I haven’t even done Simon Birch yet and I’ve been promising that for weeks.)
Category: Sad baseball game. (Not to be confused with sad baseball movies, one of which we may cover later in this blog. I’m thinking Field of Dreams, which isn’t so much sad as weepy.) Baseball is famously considered to be America’s “national pastime.” (This is really a misnomer; most people who like to watch baseball don’t actually play it, as it’s much easier to sit on a couch and yell at a highly paid professional athlete for striking out than it is to actually step into the box and try to hit a 90 MPH fastball. That’s why softball was invented.) Pastime or not, I think that baseball is a pretty essential part of the experience of being an American, a concept that much older and smarter people than me have written about at length. The particularly sad thing about baseball (the 2002 All-Star Game notwithstanding) is that every game has a winner and a loser. Having been called a “loser" many times (often by loved ones), I can authoritatively tell you all that it's quite a sad thing to be.
My familiarity with this issue: There are very, very few things that I love in this world more than baseball. I have loved it for basically my entire life. I have thousands of baseball cards still in my old room dating back to 1990, the year after I learned how to read. I used to imitate different players’ batting stances in the backyard: Cal Ripken, Tony Gwynn, pre-steroids Barry Bonds, and of course Bernie Williams, my favorite player. I have a connection with the sport that predates my conscious understanding of such things; I loved it before I knew what it meant to love something. It is something that I am drawn to innately, not by choice. I cannot, and will not, escape it.
The issue that many of you may have with my authority on writing about sadness and baseball is that I am a devoted fan of the New York Yankees, a franchise that has been (seriously) described as “the Evil Empire.” Major League Baseball, unlike the other major professional sports, does not have a salary cap, which means that teams are free to spend as much money as they want on the salaries of their players. The Yankees generate the most revenue of any MLB team, and although they do have to distribute some of their money to the poorer teams under the league’s revenue-sharing agreement, they still have the highest payroll in baseball by a considerable margin, and have had this distinction every year since 1997. (In 2010, the Yankees spent $206 million in player salaries; the Red Sox’s payroll of $162 million was second-highest, and the Pirates’ $35 million was lowest.) The Yankees have the ability to pay players who are free agents (those who have finished their contracts with their current teams and are free to sign with any team) more than just about any other team, and have done so extensively in the past decade or so. (For example, before the 2009 season, the Yankees signed three major free agents, pitchers CC Sabathia and AJ Burnett and first baseman Mark Teixeira, all of whom were major contributors in their World Series run, and all of whom earn salaries of over $16 million a year.)
So yes, being a Yankee fan is not easy to reconcile with my anti-capitalist and pro-underdog worldview. But some things are more important than politics. I decided I was a Yankee fan in 1993. Dion James, a light-hitting outfielder who would only hit 32 home runs in his 11-season career, was at the plate. I was watching the game with my dad on Channel 11 and I said, “he’s gonna hit a home run.” And sure enough, on the next pitch, he did. And that’s when I became a Yankee fan. You don’t think about politics or economics when you’re seven and you’ve just magically caused something to happen on TV. You just fall in love, and you stick with it through thick and thin, and you deal with the ramifications later.
It’s been a good run. The Yankees have won the World Series five times in my life (1996, 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2009), more than any other team in that span. Fans of other teams have criticized me for complaining about the team, and will no doubt criticize me for this post, both because of the Yankees' competitive advantage and their unmatched degree of recent success. I acknowledge all of these concerns. But it’s not a competition. Just because you’re sad about your team doesn’t mean I can’t be sad about my team. I do not begrudge the fact that fans of the Red Sox (who, you'll recall, have the second-highest payroll in baseball) are upset about how this season turned out. Live and let live, folks. Moreover, I empathize with those teams who never even sniff the playoffs while the Yankees are expected to make it every year. I cannot imagine how much that must suck. But at the end of every season, 29 teams end up not winning the World Series. The Yankees have been that team many, many times in my life. There is enough room for everyone at the sad table when it comes to baseball.
And trust me, I’ve known sadness as a Yankee fan. We were three outs away from winning the World Series in 2001, and, unfathomably, we blew it. And I cried. In 2004, we were up three games to zero on our hated rivals, the Boston Red Sox, one game away from making the World Series, and the Red Sox won the next four games. That was the first time in history a team had done that. I had just started at college, in a dorm filled with obnoxious Red Sox fans and Yankee haters, and I just hid in my room for like a week. (I literally cannot think about that series without getting mad or depressed. I am both of those things right now, just typing these sentences.) So while the Yankees may represent everything that’s wrong about baseball (a charge that I find pretty ridiculous, but whatever), they’re still my team.
(For those of you not aware of how the baseball playoffs work: there are three rounds of playoffs. The Yankees, having beaten the Minnesota Twins in the American League Divisional Series, are now playing the Texas Rangers in the American League Championship Series. The winner of this series will go to the World Series and play the winner of the National League Championship Series, either the Philadelphia Phillies or the San Francisco Giants.)
Game summary yoinked from ESPN.com: “[Cliff Lee] went through the New York Yankees like a buzzsaw again, striking out 13 and pitching the Texas Rangers to an 8-0 victory Monday for a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven AL Championship Series.” (For a while I was widely known as John “The Buzzsaw” Krizel. This is bullshit.)
What I thought of the game: It sucked.
How I, John Krizel, related to the game: There’s an old saying in baseball, attributed to known master of malapropisms Casey Stengel: “Good pitching will always beat good hitting, and vice versa.” This statement, ridiculous on its face, is actually so much more accurate than 99% of what is written/said by baseball writers and TV commentators. One of the great things about baseball is that nothing always happens. Good players have bad games, bad players have good games, the Yankees don’t always beat the Royals, etc. But baseball’s chattering classes consistently find it necessary to tell us what is and is not possible on the baseball field, particularly in the playoffs. Many seem to believe that it is an incontrovertible fact that good pitching will always beat good hitting (minus the vice versa) in the playoffs. And that drives me insane. Especially in the instances when they are right.
Cliff Lee is an excellent pitcher, one of the best in baseball. He is not (as nearly everyone who writes or talks about baseball for a living suggested leading up to this game/series) invincible, unhittable or not-human. Sometimes he doesn’t pitch well, and sometimes the Rangers lose even when he does pitch well. Unfortunately for me, yesterday was neither of those times. From the first inning, you could tell that Lee was on his game. You could also figure this out from the near-orgasmic praise that the TBS announcers lavished on Lee for the entire game. Lee got the first eleven Yankees out, striking out seven of them, before finally walking Mark Teixeira. This ensued:
ANNOUNCER: (sarcastically) Wow, if I'm the Rangers, I’d get someone warming up now, huh? (general laughter)
ME: (in my living room) Shut up, ASSHOLE.
One of the most wonderful things about baseball is its infinite possibilities. There’s no clock, no timer; a baseball game could, conceivably, keep going on and on for eternity if a team just kept getting hits or fouling off pitches. One of the saddest things about baseball is, in spite of its infinite possibilities, how it can sometimes be just so hopeless. I’m sure I was not alone among Yankee fans in feeling that, so long as Cliff Lee was in the game, we would never score a run, ever. (This is a rare feeling to have about the Yankees, who scored the most runs of any team in the league this season.) Rationally, I knew that Lee wasn’t invincible, and that as he threw more and more pitches he would start to get tired, and maybe make a mistake and our hitters would pounce on it. For much of the game we were only down by two runs, a deficit that is anything but insurmountable. And in the later innings I started to have some hope. Lee had thrown 122 pitches through eight innings, and thus would almost certainly not be coming back out for the ninth. The Rangers would probably bring in their closer, Neftali Feliz, a formidable pitcher in his own right, but still a rookie, pitching in Yankee Stadium in the playoffs. The Yankees had come back from a five-run deficit in Game 1 of this series. And in baseball, anything is possible.
And then the Yankees gave up six runs in the bottom of the eighth inning and that was that.
How I felt after the game ended: Angry and depressed and annoyed all at once. It wasn’t fun. But then I went to sleep, and I woke up today, and I thought, Game 4 is on tonight. And baseball is still awesome.