At this dinner meeting with people from church, with a small smoky fire, bratwursts and italian sausage, pumpkin bread, it was fall, near the end of September and the whispers of October hum on the horizon. Things turn inside and then wrap up, and the St. Louis Cardinal fan/homeowner turns on the television. St. Louis taking care of business, Braves stumbling, Boston in a rain delay and the Rays left for dead. A Red Sox fan looks at the TV-- “Call the game,” he says and “Yankees killing the Rays.” There may/
may not have been a high-five and I fell back into a recliner. The recliner sunk and sighed; relieving itself.
It’s been weird for sure, how many collapses can there be? How many comebacks are allowable? How could everyone complain about no races 3 weeks ago to be overwhelmed by races? This system only makes sense in baseball, a return charge in basketball doesn’t seem right, there always seems to be a master killer who slaps on the silencer--Jordan or Magic or Bird or Kobe, who usually restores order. Or seems to restore order.
Baseball is the only sport infused with “gods” and “forces” and “superstitions,”something supernatural infuses and pumps into it, when the facts and figures gave 90+ percentage points of playoff odds for the Red Sox and Braves to make it in and then they don’t, something doesn’t work, isn’t correct, baseball the only sport where the prayers actually seem to matter --
"There is no human explanation for what happened here," Ben Zobrist said. "That just doesn't happen in baseball. This is what you would dream about happening."
--The quote in the St. Petersburg Times, the Rays’ hometown newspaper, a place where the fictionalized Moneyball plays on multiple screens across the area and where the real edition occurs again -- maybe the A’s weren’t as successful as they could have been -- maybe they trusted the numbers too much, flaunted their science over reason to the ultimate end -- maybe this team’s pajama pantsuits and checkered suits and dress-up days imbues the unquantifiable element of “loose,” no good acronym for that one -- just what it is, a feeling and chemistry and an enduring hope from the top down.
It’s the numbers plus magic. Amazing.
To what end as a Rays fan does it come up odd that Carl Crawford bobbles a catch, one millisecond mistake and the Orioles score, a step too slow, a weak link between the ears, the pressure is real, the pressure has been real, this cursed city, these overbearing fanatics, nothing loose about, just the expected heartbreak; someone pull out the pajamas for Carl Crawford, because he desperately needs some sweet dreams, and he’s not getting it in Boston. His mind has been haunted in September, a month early as his old team catches his current team, him once the impetus for the Rays greatness now a big reason for his current team’s fall, it is too...amazing.
I’ll use the word “curse,” I’m not afraid. Curses start somewhere and I’ll claim it here, and it may never happen again but perhaps this anvil of Boston could not/would not overcome this Tampa Bay jocularity, and the main link (no, not Joey Gathright) could not overcome his $100 million
The Rays were riding dreams, the Red Sox were failing expectations. All perspective, confidence, whatever it is, the psychological nature of this sport is still important. Yes, it has the most advanced stats and somehow the most splendor and wonder.
The conversation would of course be different if Atlanta and the Red Sox maintained their lead, and some years they will. But it’s these years of wonder that keeps us in it every time.
I won’t say I left that dinner thinking the Rays would win, in fact I didn’t turn on the television until the Dan Johnson home run--the guy who hit a game winner in early April, the figured 1st base starter, making his way back somehow for an improbable at-bat, and this could have been a calculated pick from Maddon’s Binder of Statistics, but we all prefer to think of it being the magic that killed the Red Sox in 2008, the magic and power of the moment. When the magic meets the moneyball, everything feels justified, all the craziness then becomes bankable, in some unexplainable way.
We like Longoria even through a difficult season, hitting these home runs, on the redemption, now perfecting the Rays’ resurrection with a homer that wouldn’t be in any other place, but this wasn’t any other place, it was the place, the place to be, the right place, the only place, the perfect place.
The perfect place for a comeback. The perfect place for a collapse.
What a relief.