I was glued to my phone as the At-Bat Lite app (don’t judge me) slowly brought me news of Yu Darvish last night. It was a marvel to watch, even if I wasn’t actually watching. Darvish dealt his way through 26 batters, carving up a lineup that has gaping holes and will struggle badly at times this season, although on occasions they will also look quite good.
That Marwin Gonzalez broke up Darvish’s perfect game, and that he did it with a sharp single up the middle, was as enthralling and joyous a moment as the perfect game itself would have been, just for different people. It’s so early. I don’t want to believe that this season is going to mark some sort of inflection point at which the trend toward fewer runs scored and less contact becomes a black mark on the game. I also want to see these stolen moments, the things that define the seasons of bad teams, and make it worth your while to follow baseball even if your club stinks.
Marwin Gonzalez wouldn’t be playing anywhere else in baseball. If someone hadn’t had a mini-stroke, or something, and pressed the wrong button, even the Astros would have been starting Tyler Greene and not Gonzalez. He is in the lineup solely for his glove, even on a team bereft of offensive punch. He couldn’t cut it with the Chicago Cubs after the 2011 season, even though the Cubs went on to play Luis Valbuena for a substantial part of 2012. He’s bad, although perhaps not as bad as he will now be remembered. He is a typical light-hitting utility infielder, and only a strange confluence of events had him on a big-league roster Tuesday night, much less skipping a ball back through the box for the biggest hit he will ever collect. The Astros had to be really, really bad. They had to be willing to embrace that. They had to decide not to start Ronny Cedeno against a right-hander.
Yet, there he was. These are the things you’ll remember about the 2013 Astros. Near misses. Cute moments. Players who poke their heads out of obscurity for just an hour or so, then dive back into infinite anonymity. I am a Cubs fan, so I know the feeling. I remember Juan Pierre stealing a home run from Barry Bonds when Bonds was chasing a milestone, in 2006. I remember Ted Lilly’s lost no-hitter against the Chicago White Sox in 2010, broken up in the ninth inning by Juan Pierre. I remember last season’s final game, when I was among the muted masses who modestly celebrated a walk-off win in the Cubs’ final game, on a ball laced into right field by Bryan LaHair. LaHair had an unconscious April for the 2012 Cubs, and in that final game in October, he hit a towering opposite-field home run before turning in the game-winning hit. That was the last game he will ever play in the Major Leagues.
Yu Darvish will throw a no-hitter someday, maybe even a perfect game. Baseball might really be in trouble, in terms of the entertainment value of its product, because pitching is threatening to dominate the game on a level we haven’t seen since the mound came down in 1969. For one night, though, a player whose career is perpetually on the line got a hit that was more important to him than stopping it would have been, and the story of the evening turned out to be his. That’s great. Baseball is back, and so long as it tantalizes us, promising drama and then obliterating it, withholding it and then delivering it suddenly, it will always captivate me. Marwin Gonzalez carried the day.
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