Excuse my foray into non-Royals writing. I was inspired by the game last night and I wrote this. There wasn’t a post really scheduled for today, so I figured I’d just go ahead and post it here. Also Bill Baer who runs Crashburn Alley, the Sweet Spot Network blog for the Philadelphia Phillies has republished this at his site. Please check out the great job he does covering the Phillies.
There are thousands of plays in a baseball season. They are not all created equal. For example, on September 25th, the Kansas City Royals played a game in Cleveland against the Indians. In the top of the 7th inning, Mike Aviles grounded out to the shortstop for the 2nd out of the inning. The Royals were down seven runs to one, and both teams had long been out of the post season picture. A few die-hard fans of each team cared, but the individual play had little to no significance in the grand scheme of baseball. Plays like that are a part of baseball, they are needed to move the season to its conclusion. However, it’s not those plays that create history, primarily because they are so abundant and so ordinary.
Last night, fans around baseball were treated to a historic moment. Roy Halladay pitched a no-hitter in a playoff game, only the second time it’s ever happened. An individual game of baseball in many ways mirrors the season and even the entire history of the sport. A game is not complete until every out has been made, just like a season isn’t complete until every game is played. Many outs are merely mundane, simple groundouts to short, there seemingly to move the game a step closer to the end. Some outs, just like some games take on a much greater importance. Outs like the one to end a no-hitter take on supreme importance, and playoff games likewise. The convergence of an important out and an important game, elevate the moment to one of historic proportions.
I’d like to focus on the final out of last nights game moment by moment. An out that took roughly 10 seconds from pitch until completion, but one that encapsulates the drama of baseball.
It’s the top of the 9th inning, two outs and an 0-2 count on Cincinnati Red Brandon Phillips. Roy Halladay had surrendered only a single walk in this opening game of the National League Division Series. He’d thrown a first pitch fastball for a strike at 93 mph and followed it up with a 91 mph cut fastball outside which Phillips swung at and missed. Catcher Carlos Ruiz called for a curveball off-the plate, knowing that Phillips was likely going to swing at nearly anything to stay alive, and hoping the change in speed would have him swinging in front of the pitch. Halladay obliged with a 79mph curve, right were Ruiz wanted it.
Brandon Phillips, likely willing to do anything to stay alive and with that previous cut fastball still in his head, stretches out his arms and begins a very awkward swing at the curveball. The guy in the crowd wearing the white coat seems to be leaning in an attempt to will the ball past the batter.
Phillips gets stretched out just enough to get the very end of the bat on the ball. However the sink on the curve drops the ball to where it will hit on the lower half of the bat. The guy sitting down in the second row is holding a radar gun. He’s obviously some kind of scout. He’s not there as a fan, he’s there for his job and isn’t even going to soak in the last pitch of a no-hitter in a playoff game.
Phillips drives the ball down to the ground weakly and it takes a half-hearted bounce. Catcher Ruiz looks to be a little stunned that the ball is not in his glove and his body seems to be in a bad position to field the ball if it doesn’t get to the pitcher. The guy standing next to the leaning white-coat guy seems convinced that the no-hitter has already happened. He’s about four seconds from being right, but a lot still has to happen.
Phillips knows he barely hit the ball and his only shot at breaking up the no-hitter is to beat a throw from the catcher. Ruiz begins to realize he is in a bad position, but is moving in the direction of the ball and begins to remove his mask.
Halladay finally begins to move towards the ball, probably realizing that Ruiz has a very tough play to make with Phillips running across his face and more importantly, the bat being dropped directly in the path of the ball. The umpire, John Hirschbeck shifts his weight, driving off of his left foot in an attempt to get in the best position to see the play unfold. Meanwhile the scout speaks into a headset, probably telling his assistant the speed of the pitch so it can be recorded.
Halladay realizes that the play is not his, he’s got no shot at it and can only get in the way. Phillips hits the grass in a full sprint, and the ball hits the ground right in front of the still rolling bat. Meanwhile, second basemen Chase Utley starts moving towards first to back-up a potential errant throw.
Brandon Phillips takes the inside path towards first base, knowing that he is right in the path of the throw from Ruiz to first baseman Ryan Howard. Ruiz stoops to pick up the ball, which is now rolling to the bat and about to bounce back towards the pitcher.
Ruiz runs just past the ball because the way it hits the bat it gets directed in an odd direction. Brandon Phillips is about halfway to first and Ruiz has yet to pick up the ball. At this point, the entire play hinges on Ruiz being able to cleanly pick up the ball with his bare hand. Rain earlier in the day likely clung to the grass, making the play that much more difficult.
Home plate umpire John Hirschbeck signals that the ball is fair, while Ruiz’s momentum carries him to his knees. Brandon Phillips has moved a few steps closer to first, Utley continues to his backup position, first base umpire Bruce Dreckman gets into what he feels is the best position to see the play and Ryan Howard gets prepared to take a throw to the inside of the base, a throw which Phillips is still expertly blocking. Roy Halladay is watching it all unfold in front of him and if I had to guess, isn’t convinced he’s got a no-hitter.
Ruiz fires the ball to the inside of Brandon Phillips, the throw taking nearly all of his upper body strength, since he cannot rely on his legs for power. The ball quickly makes up ground on Phillips, but the play is still clearly in doubt. Fans in Philly are probably not breathing.
Chase Utley, sensing a bad throw moves quicker into position, while umpire Dreckman is firmly in position ready to make the call. The ball and Phillips are in a dead heat, the only question now is whether Ryan Howard can catch it.
History being made, the celebration ensues.
These small intricacies are typical of any baseball game, from a meaningless late September matchup between two basement-dwellers to postseason no-hitters. Its the competition inherent in the sport and the uniqueness of baseball which allow these rather typical series of moments take on the utmost significance.
Nick Scott writes about the Royals for Royals Authority, podcasts about the Royals at Broken Bat Single and writes about the Chiefs for Chiefs Command. You can follow him on Twitter @brokenbatsingle, on Facebook or email him at brokenbatsingle at gmail dot com.