I get asked all the time - "why do you love baseball?" "What's so great about it?" "It's a boring sport, how can you sit through a whole game?" All of those questions were answered in one game, on a sunny, New York Saturday afternoon.
Back in June, I planned a little father-son trip to the Big Apple this past weekend. As part of my son's first ever visit to NYC, I wanted to take him to a ballgame. So, I checked both the Yankees and Mets schedules. The Yankees were on a road trip on the left coast, but the Mets were home, in their new, gorgeous ballpark. Perfect. I'll take him to Citi Field. When I found out the Mets were hosting the Giants, it made it even better, since Los Gigantes are the team I have been a die hard fan of, for over 30 years. As the trip and game grew closer, I began to check the Giants and Mets pitching rotations, respectively. I was counting every 5th day to try to figure out what pitching match up I'd get to see. And when Saturday rolled around, I had a dream pitching match up - Matt Cain vs. Johan Santana. I'm an old fashioned baseball fan. I don't like 11-10 games that feature 7 home runs. There's no strategy in that. It's just wait for the long ball and whichever team hits more, wins. To me, that's a home run derby, not a baseball game. So, when I saw that it was going to be Cain v. Santana, I was stoked. The two of them have a combined ERA that is less than some teams. And the game didn't disappoint.
The game had a little bit of everything. It reminded me what was so great about this game....not that I ever forget. Both pitchers looked unhittable for the first three innings. It just had that feeling that the game was going to be close throughout and very tense. Then came the 4th inning. Cain hit David Wright in the head with an 0-2 fastball. And it was Cain who became a little unravelled at that point. He clearly did not intend to hit Wright, and seeing him lying there clearly messed with Cain's head. He lost his focus and his control that inning and the Mets capitalized and took a 1-0 lead. That lead held until the 6th inning, when the Giants bats finally woke up against Santana. And, thanks to some very nice clutch hitting by the Giants, they took a 3-1 lead. Again, the game featured a bit of everything - including some retaliation for the Mets for David Wright. In the 7th inning, with Santana's pitch count rising, he decided to attempt to exact some revenge on the Giants' best hitter, Pablo Sandoval. Unfortunately, he missed, and two pitches later, Sandoval homered off him. And that is the beauty of baseball done right. Retaliation for your best hitter getting hit in the head with a 94 mph fastball is ok. It's part of the game. But the best way for the hitter to exact his revenge is NOT to charge the mound (see Youkilis, Kevin). It's to hit a home run off the pitcher and get your team another run. And that's what Sandoval did.
The Giants bullpen managed to blow the lead. But give the Mets credit. They had some timely hitting, and did it all without a home run. Just good, solid, situational hitting. They tied the game at 4 on a sacrifice fly and an amazing slide into home. These are the little things that make the game great. A tie score. A tense game. And good, solid, fundamental baseball. The game went extra innings. In the 10th inning, Bengie Molina came to bat for the Giants. I turned to my brother and said to him that the Mets would be better off pitching around Molina and dealing with another hitter. See, Francisco Rodriguez was pitching for the Mets at the time. Molina had caught Rodriguez in Anaheim for 4 seasons and was likely to know his tendencies very well. I had thought, if anyone on the Giants would be able to handle Rodriguez, it would be Molina. And Molina homered. And the Giants won 5-4. Little strategic things like that are what make baseball so great. Something seemingly so minuscule as a former relationship between pitcher and catcher can change the outcome of a game.
On this one bright, sunny, New York Saturday afternoon, I got to share a wonderful baseball game with my son and my brother (and his girlfriend). The game featured great pitching, timely hitting, good fundamental baseball, some tense moments between the two teams, a blown lead, extra innings, and ultimately the team I was cheering so hard for winning on a home run hit by a guy who probably should have been pitched around. It was a great game and a picture perfect day. Well, except for the little Korean girl sitting in front of me...but that's a story for another time.