Tuesday, October 2, 2012

One Inning Can Change the World -- As It Did On Bucky Dent Day

In the movie Field of Dreams, Kevin Costner plays Ray Kinsella, who builds a baseball field on his Iowa farm, and sees the eight banned Chicago White Sox players from the 1919 World Series come back to life.  James Earl Jones plays Terence Mann, a reclusive writer.  (In the novel it was based on, Shoeless Joe, author W.P. Kinsella makes it the real-life writer J.D. Salinger.)

They go to Chisholm, Minnesota to meet Dr. Archibald Graham, who, under the nickname Moonlight Graham, played 1 inning in right field, without coming to bat, for the New York Giants in 1922.  But they find out he died in 1972, 16 years before the film takes place.  Yet taking a walk outside his hotel, Ray meets Graham, played by Burt Lancaster.  (The book reflects the real-life truth: Graham's single game was in 1905, he died in 1965, and they knew that before they ever set out, having read it in The Baseball Encyclopedia -- the seven-pound, 2,000-plus-page record book that we used before Total Baseball and then the creation of the great website Baseball Reference.)

Ray asks Graham's ghost if he thought it was a tragedy that he only got to be a big-league ballplayer for 5 minutes, and never got to bat.  Graham tells Ray, "If I'd only gotten to be a doctor for 5 minutes, now that would have been a tragedy."

(In real life, on June 29, 1905, Graham actually played 2 innings, the 8th and 9th, against the Dodgers at Washington Park in Brooklyn, and was on deck when the 3rd out was made in the top of the 9th, so he almost got to bat.  He played in the minors from 1902 to 1908, and took his medical degree and hung out his shingle in Minnesota, although he was from North Carolina.)

Ray: "So now, I don't know what we're doing here."

Terence: "Maybe it was to see if one inning could change the world."

Ray: "You think it did?"

Terence: "It did for these people.  If he'd gotten a hit, he might've stuck with baseball."

And he while he might have gone on to have a good career, and gone on to do something good after baseball, he would't have been able to do all the good he did for the people of Chisholm.

*

Last night was a busy night in Major League Baseball.  The Washington Nationals clinched the National League East -- I'd erroneously concluded that they'd already done so a few days ago -- while the Detroit Tigers clinched the American League Central, and the Oakland Athletics clinched the AL's second Wild Card berth.

Due to their cost-cutting, a lot of people thought the A's might have a historically bad season.  Instead, that di-stink-tion has fallen to the Houston Astros.  In their first 49 seasons of play, they never had a 100-loss season.  Last year, they lost 106 games.  They have matched that this season, and there are still 2 games to go.  To put that in perspective, the Nats and the NL Central Champion Cincinnati Reds are dueling it out for the best record in baseball, and each has "only" 96 wins.

*

As for the Yankees, and their race for the AL East crown with the Baltimore Orioles: As we've seen, 1 inning really can change, if not the world, then certainly a season.

For example: On October 2, 1949, the Yankees played the Boston Red Sox, in the last game of the season, and the winner was going to win the AL Pennant (in the pre-Divisional play era).  The Yankees led 1-0 going into the top of the 8th, when Joe McCarthy, who'd led the Yankees to 7 World Championships but was now managing the Red Sox, sent up Tom Wright to pinch-hit for pitcher Ellis Kinder (in the pre-Designated Hitter era).  This proved to be a mistake, as Mel Parnell and Tex Hughson -- pretty good starting pitchers for Boston -- let in 4 more runs in the bottom of the 8th.  The Sox pulled 3 back in the top of the 9th, but the Yankees held on to win, 5-3.

(Among the Yankees who played in that game, 63 years ago, only Yogi Berra and Jerry Coleman are still alive.  From the Red Sox, only Wright and Hall of Fame 2nd baseman Bobby Doerr survive, following the death this season of Johnny Pesky.)

Yes, one inning can change a season.  Red Sox fans know this well.  On October 2, 1972, the Sox began a 3-game series with the Detroit Tigers at Tiger Stadium, which would decide the AL East.  (Only 2 Divisions per League back then.) Whoever won 2 out of 3 would win the Division.  In the top of the 3rd, Carl Yastrzemski doubled off Mickey Lolich.  Tommy Harper, who was on 3rd base, scored easily.  Luis Aparicio, the legendary shortstop of the Chicago White Sox, was on 1st for the Red Sox and should have scored easily.  And yet... If you made a list of the Top 10 players in the history of baseball known for baserunning, Aparicio might be on that list.  But he tripped rounding 3rd, and had to hold there, and Yaz was thrown out trying to stretch his double to a triple.  Reggie Smith then struck out to end the inning.  The game was tied 1-1, but should have been at least 2-1 Red Sox.  The Tigers ended up winning 4-1, and won the next night to win the Division.

Yes, one inning can change a season.  Red Sox fans know this well.  On October 2, 1978, the Yankees and Red Sox played that famous one-game Playoff at Fenway Park, the Boston Tie Party.  When the top of the 7th began, the Sox led 2-0 and Mike Torrez was pitching a 2-hit shutout.  Think about it: Today, Torrez would probably have been told he'd pitched a great game, and let the bullpen handle it from here.  Although, to be fair, Sox fans generally don't blame Torrez for what happened next.  They blame manager Don Zimmer.

But Torrez was left in.  He got Graig Nettles to fly to right, but allowed singles to Chris Chambliss and Roy White.  Jim Spencer pinch-hit for Brian Doyle, who was subbing at 2nd base for the injured Willie Randolph.  (Fred "Chicken" Stanley took over at 2nd the rest of the way).  Spencer flew to left.  And then up came Bucky Dent.  You know what happened: As Yankee broadcaster Bill White said on WPIX-Channel 11: "Deep to left, Yastrzemski will... not get it! It's a home run! A three-run home run for Bucky Dent, and now, the Yankees lead it by a score of 3-2!" Then Torrez walked Mickey Rivers, and then Zimmer pulled him for Bob Stanley.  Mick the Quick stole 2nd.  Thurman Munson doubled him home, before Stanley finally ended the rally by getting Lou Piniella to fly to right.  It was 4-2, and the Yanks would win, 5-4.

*

Yes, one inning can change a season.  Red Sox fans know this well.  Last night, if you don't count the bottom of the 2nd inning, the Sox would have beaten the Yankees, 2-1.

Here's how that bottom of the 2nd went: Robinson Cano led off, and hit a towering blast to dead center field, his 31st home run of the season.  Mark Teixeira, finally off the Disabled List, was called out on strikes. Nick Swisher singled to center.  Curtis Granderson homered, his 41st of the season.  Russell Martin hit one out to right-center.  It was reviewed, and the home run was upheld, his 21st of the season.  Eric Chavez drew a walk.  So did Derek Jeter.  Ichiro Suzuki singled to short right, loading the bases.  Alex Rodriguez hit a sacrifice fly to left, scoring Chavez.  Cano came up again, and doubled home Jeter and Ichiro, his 47th double of the season.  Teixeira came up again, and hit one out, his 24th homer.  Swisher came up again, and doubled to right, his 35th double.  Granderson came up, and, finally, the Sox ended the carnage by getting him to ground out to 1st.

9 runs, 8 hits, 4 of them home runs, 2 walks, and a sacrifice fly.  No errors, wild pitches or passed balls: This wasn't a mistake-prone inning, the Sox just got pounded.

Give CC Sabathia a 9-0 lead, and you might as well let him pitch from a hammock.  He went 8 innings, allowing 2 runs on 4 hits, and didn't walk anybody until the 8th.  Freddy Garcia, entrusted with an 8-run lead, pitched a scoreless 9th.

Yankees 10, Red Sox 2.  WP: Sabathia (15-6).  LP: Clay Buchholz (11-8), who allowed 8 of the 9 runs in the 2nd.

10-2! We beat The Scum, 10-2! We beat The Scum, 10-2! We beat The Scum, 10-2!

(Who said this game was meaningless?)

And the Tampa Bay Rays, eliminated from Wild Card contention by the A's win, beat the Baltimore Orioles, 5-3.  This gave the Yankees a 1-game lead with 2 games to go.

*

So here's the story: Tonight, the Yankees send David Phelps to the mound at Yankee Stadium II, and Jon Lester starts for Boston.  The Orioles are sending Miguel Gonzalez to the mound at Tropicana field against the Rays' James Shields.

If the Yankees win and the Orioles lose, the Yankees clinch the AL East tonight.  If only one of those things happens, the Yankees can still clinch tomorrow night with a win or an Oriole loss.  But if the Yankees lose and the Orioles win tonight, then it's a tie going into the last game tomorrow night.  If it ends in a tie, then, on Thursday (I don't yet know the time), there will be a one-game Playoff at Camden Yards to decide the AL East title.

That 1 inning from September 8, when Teixeira was incorrectly called out for the final play, sealing an Oriole win over the Yankees at Camden Yards, remains, for the moment, a 1 inning of great significance.  And it will remain so as long as the Orioles are in the MLB postseason picture.  After all, it could end up making the difference between:

* The O's winning the Division, and not.  (As yet undecided.)

* The O's getting home-field advantage in the Wild Card play-in game, or not.  (As yet undecided.)

* Or even the O's making the Playoffs (which they have), or not.

One inning may not "change the world," but that September 8 top of the 9th is still looming large over this season.

At any rate, Happy Bucky Dent Day.  Come on you Pinstripes, beat The Scum!

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