The Post-Season and the Playoffs

ALCS - Detroit Tigers v Boston Red Sox - Game TwoLast week, I shared about my journey into sports fandom.  Since that post, much has happened in the life of the teams that I follow, last night in particular.

It’s October, which, for baseball fans, means post-season.  For my family, it also means birthday season and this past weekend, it meant a trip to Connecticut for a wedding of one of my wife’s good friends.

The Red Sox were not really supposed to be a contending team this year.  Last year was a disaster and no one knew what would happen this year.  Turns out, they ended the season with the best record in baseball.  An unexpected surprise of a season on many fronts.

While we were in Connecticut, the wedding reception that we attended was during Game 1 of the ALCS (American League Championship Series).  Thank God for smartphones.

I knew that hits and runs were going to be at a premium as Detroit (the Red Sox’s opponent) has some of the best pitchers in baseball.  I had no idea that they would no-hit the Red Sox for the majority of the game.  When all was said and done, the Red Sox only got one hit and the Detroit Tigers beat them 1-0.

For a season that has been surprising, this was not the way that I wanted things to end.  It was just downright humiliating.  The team has way more grit and guts than this, to simply go down with no hits.  Unfortunately, there was no silver lining ahead.

The next pitcher for the Tigers was the American League favorite for the Cy Young award (the pitcher’s award).  Hits and runs would again come at a premium.  Sure enough, that’s what happened.

This time, we were closing up our family weekend when the game came on.  I was completely exhausted from all of our adventures over the weekend, so I decided to go to bed and just read the linescore in the morning.  My daughter had other ideas.

For some reason or another, she decided that she was not going to succumb to her exhaustion and just began crying uncontrollably.  After some time of my wife and I both attempting to get her to calm down, I finally decided that we would just leave to go back home.  I knew that it would be a challenge, driving through the night for 7 hours, but my adrenaline was pumping and I was frustrated at my daughter’s inability to be soothed.

We quickly packed the car and I checked the score of the game as we left.  It was looking like a replay of the night before with the Red Sox being no-hit through the first 5 innings again.  This time though, the Tigers managed 5 runs.  My adrenaline pumped harder and I was even more frustrated.

I had told my friend earlier (a native of Michigan who was pulling for Detroit) that unless the Red Sox did something that night, they were doomed.  Losing both games in your home ballpark is not only abysmal but it’s downright inexcusable as well.  Some teams get into a groove in the postseason, it looked like the Red Sox were finding their slump.

Like I mentioned in my post last week, I have endured much in my following the Red Sox.  This would have been par for the course for them to lose so miserably.  But in the midst of all of that turmoil, I had also experienced some ecstatic moments of improbability, many of which were invoked by a man named David Ortiz.

After packing my family in the car, we headed out.  I knew that I would not hit my destination until about 4 in the morning, so I was going to do whatever I could to try to stay awake and alert amidst the drive.  I bookmarked the game on my phone and kept checking back with it.  I “watched” the Sox score a run and barely cut into the 5 run lead that Detroit had built up.

Baseball is a game of numbers and statistics.  Players come up against pitchers who’ve they have faced multiple times and the commentators begin to roll out all the reasons why the player should or should not hit this pitcher.  The player’s statistics are compared to the pitcher’s statistics and the commentators predict the outcome.  I don’t know the percentage of times that the commentators are correct, but I’ve always felt that there is an unspoken rule that if a commentator says something about a pitcher or player’s ability to do this or that, they are almost setting them up for failure.

For instance, I can’t tell you how many times I have heard a commentator say, “He’s been staked to a big lead here by his team.  He is 39 for 40 in his chances when staked with that kind of a lead.”   This being said only to be followed by a meltdown of gigantic proportions.

But the post-season is different.  This seems to be the way with most sports.  On any given day, the good teams are the ones that play not up to their own potential but to the potential of their opponent.  They might be a team that’s got a 1-20 record, but when they play an opponent that everyone expects to slaughter them, they somehow muscle out a win.  It’s just the phenomenon of sports, and the post-season magnifies it.

Back to my ride, driving through New Jersey, my entire family is sleeping and I am checking ESPN.com on my phone.  The improbability of a win was overshadowed by the events that took place.  In the bottom of the 8th inning, the Red Sox had managed to load the bases with 2 outs.  A very probable hero came to the plate in the form of David Ortiz.  His ability to hit in a clutch situation during the 2004 postseason was legendary.  Could he do it again?  Could he muster some of that legend and be the hero?

When you are a baseball fan, you play out all of the scenarios in your head.  That’s just what I did.  I knew that there was a potential for tying the game, but things had not gone well up to this point.  Still, I “watched” my tiny phone screen updating me about the events as they unfolded.

Then………IT happened.  With one pitch and one swing, the game was tied.  The most unlikely of situations had come true.  An inning later, the Red Sox muscled out another hit and won the game in walk-off fashion.  The Red Sox would live to fight another day.

Now, this was not an elimination game, but it sure felt like it.  When a potent offense is stifled and limited to one hit and that same offense strikes out 30 times over the course of 2 games, things seem desperate.  I knew that the situation was desperate, and I think the Red Sox did as well.

I don’t know what tomorrow holds.  The teams travel to Detroit to play 3 games (potentially).  The same pitchers will take the mound and display their dominance once again.  What will the outcome be?  Who will win?  I’ve given up looking at statistics.  This is the postseason, where anything goes.  Anyone can be a hero.  Who will be tomorrow’s hero?

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