On the last night of the Bud Selig era, I completed my metamorphosis into the kind of fan he sought to create. As the ball leaped off Alex Gordon’s bat, bounded to Gregor Blanco and then, miraculously, as if seeing and darting toward the last rays of the summer’s light, skipped all the way to the wall, I started yelling. I was jumping up and down, pointing at the TV because home plate was somewhere in there, implicit, off-screen, shouting, “RUN!” And when Juan Perez didn’t field the ball cleanly, my voice cracked, my ankle turned, and still I shouted at no one, risking waking my young sons (don’t worry; they were two floors away and they never stirred), my voice straining even though this was the first time all night that I’d raised it: “RUN! RUN! GO!”
I should have been full of righteous indignation. At the ugly ends of previous seasons, like the 2012 Series that the Giants won in the rain, on an extra-inning run scored by designated hitter (this can’t be right) Ryan Theriot, I had kept my jaw set, muttered and mumbled to myself, gave credit where it was due but been eager to dish out much-needed criticism, too. Here was a potential game-tying error, just one out from a sublime end to a Series dominated by the man cringing from just in front of the pitcher’s mound, Madison Bumgarner. Here was an 88-win team trying to give away its slim edge over an 89-win team, in the least earned way possible, at the end of a World Series in which all but one game had been a blowout, after a Postseason in which fewer games went down to the wire than did so during the 2012 Division Series round alone. It may not feel like it to any of you, but there was plenty of room for cynicism surrounding this Series.
I do still revile Selig, for many reasons I have expressed so many places that no person interested in my opinion could possibly have missed them by now. He did many foolish things, many greedy things, and a few downright cruel things during his two-decade reign over baseball. As for the format of the game he leaves behind, though, he’s more or less won me over. It feels, more than ever (despite what TV ratings or lazy columnists might tell you), like he’s won over nearly everyone.
Why? Just take a look at these two teams, these beautifully tepid teams who reached what was once an apex reserved for the truly great in baseball. The Royals ceased to be special because of their history two rounds ago. The playoff drought that set them apart from any other team ended in late September. Eleven teams have waited at least as long for a World Series win as the Royals have. Yet, none of the public’s affection for the club diminished as they marched to the Series. That was true even once the runners stopped running and the home-run hitters stopped hitting home runs.
The Royals ceased to play an exciting brand of baseball, really, and yet, they remained engaging, even exciting. They’re young. They get a lot of players involved. There’s some personality there. They play the truest form of team baseball, no power, need to chain together hits to score; need four or five pitchers to win a game; those pitchers don’t strike out all that many opponents so the defense plays a big role.
Meanwhile, Madison Bumgarner broke all the modern rules about deploying pitchers. He made himself a folk hero, nearly a legend, with his performance this Postseason. Game Seven was the culmination and the coronation. He pitched five sterling, nearly spotless innings, marked only at the ends, with hits allowed to the first and second-to-last batters he faced. No runs. That came on two days’ rest, and gave him 21 innings pitched for the Series. He allowed just a single run.
All around Bumgarner were worthwhile stories, the man (Pablo Sandoval) playing for his free-agent payday, and absolutely killing it; the weary superstar (Buster Posey) just trying to get the club through; the grieving role player (Juan Perez) who came up big after the death of a close friend; and the lunatic (Hunter Pence) who somehow captured the soul of them all.
Game 7 ended up less than a perfect back-and-forth tilt. The play with the highest Win Probability Added was the final out (although, how cool is that?). The Giants are not a dynasty, no matter what anyone tells you: They didn’t even reach the playoffs during the two seasons chopping up their three-title, five-year run. The Royals are a sort of imposter, looking like an elite team for so much of the Postseason after playing .500 baseball for the huge majority of the season. Lots of things about this World Series were imperfect, and could have compromised my enjoyment of the whole thing, but none of them dented my enthusiasm in the least. You win, Bud Selig. I adored these two teams, and am thoroughly thankful that their battle lasted as long as it could have lasted.
I’ll analyze this game in a dozen different ways soon. It was fascinating from a strategic, mechanical and competitive perspective, and I want to spend a whole lot of time marinating over whether Gordon should have gone home, whether Ned Yost waited too long to pull Jeremy Guthrie, how Madison Bumgarner did that. There’s plenty to delve into. For today, though, this is it. I just wanted to express my gratitude for a great baseball season; for the rare folk hero who didn’t disappoint; for you, dear readers, who have grown in number of late and who have made writing much more fun and rewarding for me; and for that moment of excitement I couldn’t restrain, couldn’t even mitigate, the moment that will carry me through the winter even though it didn’t ultimately change the outcome.
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