Monday, October 26, 2009

ARCHIVE: The Beauty of Baseball

By Kellia Ramares

[Originally published on by baseball blog on April 24, 2009]

Danny Haren pitched seven innings of shutout ball for the Arizona Diamondbacks against the Colorado Rockies, Wednesday, striking out nine along the way.  But the score at the seventh inning stretch was 0-0. So unless the Diamondbacks scored in their half of the seventh, it looked as though the best Haren would do would be to gain a no-decision.
The lack of run support for Haren has been thoroughly frustrating.  In his three previous starts, all quality efforts that met with defeat, the Diamondbacks could manage only one run for him, total for the three games.  Diamondbacks broadcaster Daron Sutton, the former play-by-play man for the Milwaukee Brewers, saw Rockies starter Jorge De La Rosa in the Midwest.  He said Jorge was erratic in those days, showing flashes of brilliance, but then blowing up. On Wednesday, however,  he was every bit the ace Haren was.

Haren had been due up to bat in the bottom of the seventh, and he had his batting glove on.  He was ready.  But he was removed for a pinch-hitter, one Ryan Roberts, the 25th man on the roster.  Roberts lined the first pitch he saw over the second baseman's head, driving in Chris Young from second base.  Chris Snyder, who had been at first base, made it all the way to third, and eventually scored the second run.
Thus we were treated to one of the most beautiful things about the game of baseball: in the long season, everyone is needed.  Dan Haren is All-Star.  You watch him pitch as he has pitched the first four starts of the season and you know there is a Cy Young Award in his future -- at least one.  But on this day, it took the last guy to get a place on the roster this spring to get Haren a victory.  This reminds me of the postseason in 2005.  In the fifth game of the National League Championship Series, the St. Louis Cardinals were facing elimination and Brad Lidge of the Houston Astros, one of the premier closers in major league baseball, was looking to shut them down.  The Cardinals kept scratching and clawing until they got their big hitter, Albert Poujols, to the plate.  And Albert hit a three-run homer that did not come down until three years later, when Lidge, now with the Philadelphia Phillies, capped a perfect season with the world's championship.  The showdown between two All-Stars in the postseason is the kind of thing that fans pay for.

But in the World Series that same year, the Chicago White Sox and the Houston Astros went to extra innings in Game 3.  And I mean extra innings.  In the top of the 14th inning, the White Sox sent up two of their best sluggers, Jermaine Dye and Paul Konerko.  Both of them made outs.  Up came Geoff Blum, who was a late-inning replacement at second base for the Sox.  He was number 25 on their roster all season and had the least playing time of anyone on the team.  He hit a home run and the White Sox went on to win that game and also the next one for a Series sweep. 

So you never know who's going to come up big in a baseball game, even an important one like a World Series game.  Given the pitching rotation, your ace doesn't always start.  Given the batting order, your slugger doesn't always get a chance to hit when you need him most.  And since being successful 3 times out of 10 is good in baseball, whereas in any other business you'd be fired--unless you're a banking CEO--you can't even count on the sluggers to come through half the time.  So guys like Blum and Roberts do get opportunities to shine. You don't see this in football or basketball as often because the last-second shot or the desperation pass is a designed play meant for certain players to execute.

Roberts made the most of his opportunity.  And for that, Dan Haren can be grateful.