Fly the W: The Beauty and the Agony of Baseball

One game. After 2,430 regular season games plus the playoffs, it all came down to a single, solitary game. All the drama, angst, joy, and pain crystallized into one evening (and subsequent early morning) of incredible joy and painful agony. At some point, it stopped being ‘just baseball’ and transformed into something more. Those who stayed up to watch the end were fortunate enough to witness the unbridled joy of the Chicago players. The players knew the gravity of the moment, and they certainly delivered on it in the fullest, most raw way possible. I wanted to share my thoughts on what was the greatest baseball game sporting event I have ever had the opportunity to see. Bubba’s first Masters win has finally been knocked off the top of the leaderboard. 

The Agony

To talk solely about the Cubs here would do an incredible disservice to the greatness that was the Cleveland Indians. The Indians played their best baseball early in the series, and, although they lost, they should be proud of how they played. Sure, we can joke about the fact that a Cleveland team blew a 3-1 championship lead. But, come on. That Cubs team was not to be denied by anybody. The Indians played incredibly well and Francona outmaneuvered Maddon by several orders of magnitude. On paper, Chicago was dead and the curse set to continue. The comeback and the game 7 win were nothing short of magic. Cleveland’s pitching and bullpen were fantastic. Short of streaky batting success, Cleveland was great. It’s too bad someone had to lose this series. Though my rooting interest was with the Cubs (NL and longer drought), I often found myself wishing they were playing some evil American League team–like the Yankees. Cleveland is on the right track and, although this loss will hurt these guys for the rest of their lives, they’re going to be in the hunt for the foreseeable future. Still, there’s no greater agony for a fan than to lose game 7, at home, in extras. 

Maddon

Moving on to more agony: Joe Maddon is the worst tactician in the history of the World Series. It wasn’t agony for the Cubs–well, it kind of was–but it was mostly painful for every person watching the game. It all started in game 6. Once the critical decision points arrived, Maddon made poor decision after poor decision and the aggregate result almost lost the Cubbies the series. 

Game 6

  • Arrieta pulled with a huge lead and fairly low pitch count.
  • Chapman subbed in the 7th and left in for a non-save situation with 7 outs. 
  • Chapman pitch count ran up. 

Game 7

  • Hendricks pulled inexplicably after allowing a base runner in the 5th inning (total hits: 4 or 5). 
  • Lester installed and allowed two runs to score before settling in. 
  • Lester pulled for Chapman at a time when JL was dealing and looked unhittable. 
  • Chapman blows the save because he’s approaching 100 pitches total across 3 games in 4 days. 
  • Maddon keeps Chapman in with a noodle arm that’s 5 mph off his average velocity in a clear attempt to get him shelled.  
  • Maddon calls a safety squeeze with two strikes on the batter and gifts an out with the go-ahead run 90 feet away. 

Seriously, the baseball gods had to intercede on the behalf of Cubs fans. It began to rain so hard that the grounds crew had to roll out the tarp at the beginning of extra innings. Humorously, this occurred to a classic Joe Buck line of “You’re not going to believe this….” The rain, while brief, was long enough to shut Chapman down, much to the chagrin of the Indians and Chapman personally. But he was on pace to lose, and Maddon would have been drawn and quartered if the Cubs had lost like that. 

The Beauty

Baseball is a special game. It’s mystical and enigmatic. The Cubs winning this season after the longest drought in sports history is punctuated by a couple of wonderful things–not the least of which is the symmetry. 108 years without a World Series, and there are 108 stitches on a regulation baseball. 

David Ross

Ross substituted into the game alongside John Lester as his pocket catcher. He had a great ball game and managed to crush a home run to straight away center field. Ross is deployed for Lester mainly because John Lester is a freaking head case and likely hates change. But, he did an amazing job and helped keep Rizzo together during his “glass case of emotion” moment. 

Oh yeah. David Ross is 39 years old. He announced his retirement this season. He hit that home run in a tie game to take the lead. There are worse ways to go out than hitting a homer in game 7 of the World Series to take the lead. Also, as a testament to Ross’s legacy as a player, Jason Heyward bears mentioning. Heyward paid out of his own pocket to upgrade Ross to a hotel suite every night the team was on the road. The reason: so Ross could have his family come stay with him for every game if he wanted. When asked about this, Heyward remarked on their time together in Atlanta and commented on how well Ross treated him when Heyward was a rookie. Heyward saw it as the best way he could think of to repay Ross’s kindness. 

John Hirschbeck

I’ll get to the rest of this in a moment, but I wanted to acknowledge this on the heels of my point about Ross’s swan song. John Hirschbeck is not a household name, and Fox did him a major honor at the top of the broadcast by talking about him. You see, John Hirschbeck was the second base umpire last night and the crew chief of the team of six excellent umpires calling the game. Game 7 was Hirschbeck’s final game as a major league umpire. He has endured more personal tragedy than most people could ever dread in a lifetime. He lost two sons to a genetic disease and also left the profession to undergo his personal battle with cancer twice before returning for this last stint. 

I hate cloying, emotionally manipulative narration when the drama of the moment is enough. So, on that I will say only this, I found a great deal of personal joy when, in his post game press conference, Terry Francona specifically talked about how amazing the Series was and how Hirschbeck was on everyone’s mind. It just points to one of the purest things about baseball–the relationship between umpire and player is just as deep and rich as the relationships between opposing players. Baseball players seem to care far more about that sort of thing than other professional athletes. 

The Cubs

Kris Bryant charged, scooped up the slow roller, looked over to first, and delivered a dart for the final out. He did all this with as big a grin on his face as you could muster in such a serious, breath-catching moment. The world stopped–and hearts with it–in that moment. The only things in existence were Bryant, the ball, and Rizzo. With that, the Cubs vanquished the 108 year old dragon and the celebration in Wrigley started. I can’t say whether the city of Chicago survived the night. The sheer joy of the moment was palpable. As a viewer with no real dog in the fight, you were euphoric. You could not have asked for anything else in a game. It was all there. I personally wanted the Cubs to win, though they weren’t all that much more deserving than Cleveland in the long game–78 years is a lifetime too. But, with each mistake from Maddon, with each amazing never-say-die play from the Indians, you started thinking, “This is gonna be it. Cubs are going to lose.” The emotional rollercoaster should have left everyone watching exhausted. The fight in both of these teams is everything that is good about baseball. I loved this series, and I’ll say again that this game was the greatest sports event I’ve ever seen. 

Fox Broadcasters

I don’t envy the Herculean labor Fox had to undertake to broadcast the game in an election year. It seemed like nothing but political ads peppered the breaks and, with the sheer volume of breaks in baseball, it would have been easy to lose viewers with a subpar production of the game. That said, every decision Fox made about the production of this game was brilliant. Joe Buck and John Smoltz on the call were seasoned pros. Buck is really in his element as a baseball guy, and he has one of the best voices in broadcasting. Smoltz was invaluable as an analyst and color guy. I thought the two of them did an amazing job. Buck didn’t over call the game and Smoltz actually added value instead of the perfunctory cliches that plague the “analyst” role on most baseball broadcasts. 

The two of them would have been enough for a positive review of the production, but Fox outdid itself with the anchor desk–specifically, Alex Rodriguez and Pete Rose. Frank Thomas was alright, but A-Rod and Rose were both naturals at that job and offered original, valuable insight to the game instead of simply parroting what Buck and Smoltz said as the game went on. I loved to hate A-Rod when he was a player, but man he’s a solid baseball broadcaster. Kudos to Fox for making the series as enjoyable as possible in an election year. It was a hard task to be sure. 

This game was the manifestation of how good sports can be. From the players helping each other up after hard, break-up slides into second base to the intensity and skill that went into every pitch and at-bat. This game made us love baseball again. Unfortunately, it was the last one of the year. Well, I shouldn’t put it that way. There is nothing better for a sport than to have the best game of the year occur at the very end in the championship. Seeing that game and everything it meant did us all an immeasurable amount good. You saw the Cubs come back from a 3-1 deficit. You saw them win the World Series. You saw seventh game extra innings. You saw amazing plays. 

You saw history. 

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