One of the peculiar things about baseball, one of the things that make it blessedly and joyously different from the other major pro sports, is that a whole lot can happen without much changing. The sport demands a nuanced, rapt attention to details, because if one lacks those, they will not be able to tell action from inaction on the diamond. Of course, this is also why many football- and basketball-first fans blithely label our game boring or tedious.
At issue is this: Barring a diving or leaping catch or a dazzling strikeout cluster wrought by nasty stuff, run prevention in baseball–the process of recording outs critical to advancing the drama to its climax–is usually seen as a bore. If an out was recorded and a rally died, unless one cheers for the team who escaped the jam, fans too often consider that nothing happened. This phenomenon is born of the differences in relative success rates of defense and offense in the major sports. Good quarterbacks complete 70 percent of their passes, and while scoring plays are rare, defensive stops are rarer, especially today. In the NBA, each team scores 50 distinct times per game. Direct actions to prevent a basket hardly ever go unnoticed, because they so rarely work. In baseball, pitchers win nearly two-thirds of their battles with batters, so outs seem less special than thwarted third-down conversions.
Moreover, in both of the other major sports, defense can transition directly into offense. You can return an interception for a touchdown, but good luck getting a run added to your team tally for turning a double play. A steal becomes a fast break dunk, but a strikeout doesn’t become a towering home run.
All of that to say this: there’s exceptional excitement to be had in baseball, especially late in close playoff games, even if the result of the key confrontation therein is not new runs on the scoreboard. Jayson Werth and Lance Lynn will be remembered for years for their 13-pitch skirmish Thursday, which ended with a game-ending home run. I doubt Jay Bruce and Sergio Romo will be remembered for more than a few .months for their 12-pitch tussle in the ninth inning of Game 5 between the Reds and Giants. When that one ended (with a fly out to left field), we weren’t even left with the indelible image of the Giants piling onto one another. There was still an out to get. But that was at least as exciting an at-bat, and the result was exciting, too. Bruce had 34 homers in 2012. Romo might be the best right-handed reliever left in the playoffs. What more could one ask for than Bruce against Romo as the tying run, and a ball rising off his bat?
The Wild Card games may have been contrived, but ignoring that for the moment, there have been four winner-take-all games already this October, and we get two more today. Enjoy them, and don’t wait for cleats on pentagonal rubber before you decide you’re having fun.Next post: Notes on a Quadrupleheader, Pt. II
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