Saturday, April 21, 2012

Perfection and Disaster Coincide Giving Baseball an Early Lift

A stellar 24-hours of baseball began with a star-studded, Hollywood-esque birthday party for Fenway Park as the Red Sox (and Yankees) celebrated the historic landmark's centennial. The festivities were all flash and no substance as New York handily beat Boston 6-2, the visitors leaving not as much as a party favor for the host team. As many of us watched pitcher Felix Dubront and the Red Sox seemingly redeeming themselves by ripping the Yankees a new one with a 9-0 lead in the fifth inning in the second game of the series, perhaps we assumed Boston had the game in hand, playing at home and using Fenway's birthday blowout from the day before as some added motivation. When Mark Teixeira hit a solo home run in the sixth inning putting the Yankees on the scoreboard 9-1, barely an eyelash was batted. Still a 9-1 ballgame in the seventh inning, before any of us had time to contemplate a New York comeback, Fox switched it's live coverage over to the White Sox game in Seattle as a perfect game was in the making. Those of us watching live were lucky enough to catch the last few outs as White Sox pitcher Phil Humbert threw a perfect game, only the 21st such feat in the history of major league baseball. The last perfect game was thrown by the Phillies' Roy Halladay back in 2010. The drama unfolding on the television was palpable at home on the couch as perfection seemed to be in jeopardy when Michael Saunders, leading off for the Mariners in the ninth, got ahead in the count 3-0. The 29-year-old righty remained composed, coming back from the deficit to eventually strike out Saunders en route to a masterful perfect game. What ended as a joyous, historic occasion marked by the Mariners home crowd giving the visiting pitcher a raucous roar and standing ovation in Seattle morphed into a historic swing of a different kind across the country in Boston. A mere 11 minutes after Fox completely switched its coverage, taking the White Sox-Mariners game full-screen, the network returned to Fenway Park where the game was still in the top of the seventh inning, yet the scoreboard looked noticeably different. In those 11 minutes, the Boston bullpen allowed New York to load the bases giving Nick Swisher ample opportunity to hit a grand slam, which is exactly what he did. The comeback was officially on as Swisher's slam put a dent in the lead (9-5), but no, the Yankees didn't stop there. A three-run homer from Teixeira put the Yankees right back in the game as the visitors had clawed their way out of a 9-0 hole, scoring seven runs in the seventh inning, trailing only by one run, 9-8. I'm sure you know where this is going. Things only worsened for the home team in the eighth inning as the Yankees scored ANOTHER SEVEN RUNS to complete an epic comeback. The dichotomy of Humber's perfection in Seattle and the perfect storm resulting in Boston's unfathomable collapse was an emotionally bipolar experience. Contrary to popular East Coast-belief, the entire universe doesn't care about your average Yankees-Red Sox series. If you don't live out East, aren't a fan of either team, or aren't a baseball nut, a New York-Boston series a few weeks into the regular season isn't that enticing. But a comeback from a 9-0 deficit is. And so is a perfect game, no matter the name or face of the pitcher. On one hand, we saw nine strikeouts, five groundouts and 13 flyouts on 96 pitches, good for a 4-0 White Sox win and perfect game, dog pile and gatorade bath included. On the other hand, we watched the Yankees score a mind-boggling 15 runs in 23 at bats leaving the crowd ruthlessly booing the home team and its new manager Bobby Valentine. After the layers of cheering teammates were peeled off from on top of him, Humber was quickly ushered to the dugout area and a headset draped atop his head as the world was ready to hear from the pitcher immediately following his dominating display. Shaking and unable to grasp what he had just accomplished, Humber, coming off of Tommy John surgery, told the television audience, "I'm just so happy. There are so many good things that are happening right now…I've got a little boy on the way, I just want to say hi to my wife back home, and you know I love you baby. That's for you." Humber altered the record books, his performance the 18th no-hitter in White Sox franchise history and the third perfect game for Chicago. A few thousand miles away, the scene at Fenway couldn't have been more opposite as the heinous loss dropped the Red Sox to 4-10 on the season leaving those in the New England region frowning while those in Chicago, and even Seattle, smiled. The Yankees 15-9 victory also required a re-write of the record book as it marked the fifth time in franchise history in which New York has overcame a 9-run deficit, the third time against Boston alone. The last time the Sox surrendered a nine-run lead to the Yanks came in June, 1987. Saturday's game tied the biggest comeback in Yankees history as well. The pitching line for the Boston bullpen? 3 IP, 12 H, 14 R, 13 ER, 5 BB, 2 K. YIKES. Reports out of Boston claim a closed-door meeting with Valentine, GM Ben Cherington and team owner John Henry took place after the game. The knockout combo of a perfect game and epic failure couldn't be more perfect for the game of baseball at this moment as the start of the season had yet to deliver substantial drama. Ironically, the Red Sox were the first team to provide any real regular season intrigue as Valentine got the pot to a slow boil after publicly criticizing Kevin Youkilis, but that was small potatoes compared to Saturday's stunner. The fire and ice we experienced Saturday left fans wanting more, which is exactly the kickstart baseball needed in April.

1 comment:

Jerry said...

I'm still talking about the perfect game. Just showed my boys the replay of the entire game so they could see history-in-the-making.

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