Last night I saw Einstein on the Beach. It's a seminal and monumental opera by Philip Glass and Robert Wilson that, among other revolutionary ideas, completely dispenses with narrative. Instead, the opera is organized as theme and variations, much like you might expect from a symphony or a concerto. The different scenes may share unifying characteristics, but in series, they're nonsensical. Yet while they may be meaningless, they're still dreadful, tender, and joyous by turn, and gripping for a full five hours.
I think that the baseball season, after playoff hopes have slipped away, becomes a bit like Einstein. There is no narrative. There is nothing to win, there is nothing to lose. The same pattern repeats itself every day with little change, yet still we watch. Sometimes I get tired of it, but then the pattern changes just enough to pull me back in. And even without the postseason on the line, a ninth inning rally is special. We've seen just a few under 70 ninth inning non-rallies, so when the rally comes along, we notice the change. And just that slightest of differences -- the Desmond Jennings line drive up the middle rather than at the second baseman, the B. J. Upton home run out to straightaway center as opposed to yet another swing and miss on a pitch on the outside corner -- is transcendent.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. There is something to play for . There is a Cy Young to be won.
David Price was not great, but David Price is great. Going for his nineteenth win, Price didn't have have his best stuff, but everything was working well enough to be usable. Over seven and a third innings, he threw 119 pitches 56% of them fastballs. The rest he spread remarkably evenly between his curve, changeup, and cutter. He only inducede seven swinging strikes on the night (four on the fastball), but he still managed to strike out seven Boston batsman (while walking only one). And when the Sox did get to Price, they did it by the skin of their teeth. The sixth inning is what a bad stretch by a great pitcher looks like.
Jose Iglesias started the it off with a grounder into the hole between shortstop and third. Zobrist got to it, but only had the ball in the very tip of his glove, and it dropped out while he was setting his feet for the throw. Next, Price blew Jacoby Ellsbury away on a 96 mph fastball for strike three. Ellsbury must have been at least a half second late on the pitch, and he looked utterly disgusted (or maybe impressed) as he walked back to the dugout. Next up, Dustin Pedroia smacked a two out fastball the the other way into right field. It looked sure to be a double, but Matt Joyce made a fantastic running, over-the-shoulder catch to seemingly save a run.
Here is where things went south for Price. He got himself into a 2-0 count to Cody Ross. In this situation, one would assume that Ross would be looking for a fastball he could drive, so Price threw him a pretty good changeup low and away. But Ross came through for the Sox with a slightly better piece of hitting, and stayed back on the pitch, flipping it out into the alley for a double. Ryan Lavarnway immediately drove him home by hitting a hard grounder that deflected off the end of Zobrist's glove before finding its way into center field as well. Boston would actually go on to load the bases against Price and run up his pitch count, but he eventually got out of the inning on a Daniel Nava groundout to shortstop. The Sox added two runs against the Rays' bullpen, while the Rays added one against theirs to bring the score to 4-1 going into the bottom of the ninth.
With a three run lead, Boston brought on their closer, Andrew Bailey, to finish out the series. He started off working Matt Joyce with fastballs and cutters -- two down and in for balls, a few right over the plate -- that Joyce fouled off, and then one up and away that Joyce took right back up the middle for a single. Bailey is good but not great against lefties, but he is death to righties, and he was facing Keppinger next. Kepp worked a 2-2 count before Bailey tried to freeze him with his first and only breaking ball of the night. It didn't work, and Keppinger lined the pitch into center field for another single.
The comeback almost came early, when Bailey threw a 95 mph fastball down the middle to Luke Scott. Scott took a big swing that in another season (maybe next season?) would have been a game-tying home run. This, however, is not the season of Luke Scott game-tying home runs, and he was under it, fouling it back. He grounded the next pitch to James Loney at first, who couldn't get the ball out of his mitt to start the double play, so just went to the bag himself. One out. Carlos Pena worked a good at bat before lining over the shift into left to score Joyce and send Keppinger to third. Maddon immediately pinch ran Thompson for Pena, and pinch hit Vogt for Lobaton.
Now, with a rally brewing, an arguably quad-A hitter without a major league hit is not the most auspicious of pinch-hitting choices, but Vogt deserves major credit for being up to the occasion. He walked in a seven pitch at bat, in which he took every ball and swung at two of the three strikes (the one he took being a borderline pitch in a 3-0 count). Someday he'll get that hit, but today he was happy to walk to first and cede his base to the pinch-running Elliot Johnson.
One pitch to Desmond Jennings and the score was tied. Jennings lined a cutter up and away into center. Ellsbury muffed the pickup, which allowed Jennings to reach second, but with what would come after, the error made no difference. What would come after was a 2-1 elevated and outer-edge Vicente Padilla fastball to B. J. Upton. As soon as it came off Upton's bat, Ellsbury (playing far in) hung his head and Upton pointed to the dome. Both knew the game was over, although I'm not sure either knew it was a home run. It's likely that B.J. will not be back roaming The Trop half-time next year. I'm going to miss that Looney Tunes body, and that oversize wad of pink bubble gum, and the looping, long, fast swing that promises more than it gives. B.J came up at precisely the same time that I started following the Rays, so I intend to enjoy every last game of his that we have, regardless of playoff implications.
All these are the days my friends, and these are the days my friends. It could be very fresh and clean.
- Pedro Ciriaco started the night in center field for the Red Sox. He made two bad errors, one where he failed to take control of a fly ball situation when the other Boston fielder was not in a position to get to it, and one when he just lost the ball in the roof and let it drop in front of him. Valentine pulled him in disgust and sent Ellsbury (on his day off) out instead. Why? Does he think Ciriaco (who's usually an infielder) wasn't trying hard enough? If you think the guy has the tools to play center field, but he lacks the experience (as he clearly does), isn't a meaningless September game the perfect time to let him work it out? Or did he learn everything he needs to know about Ciriaco's ability from those two plays?
- One of the common characteristics of Philip Glass's music is "additive rhythm." Glass takes a string of notes of equal length, and then separates them into recognizable groups, demarcated by accents, pitch, or words. 1-2-3-4 1-2-3-4-5-6 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8. He then plays with the length of these groups by adding or subtracting the equal notes from inside them. It strikes me that this approach is uniquely suited to describing the rhythm of baseball. Baseball is all about different groupings of seemingly equal units. Every at bat is equal, but they're made of different numbers of pitches (although no count, no matter how long, can be written as more than 3-2). Every half inning has three outs, but there can be any number of at bats in the inning. A game is nine innings, but you can add more on the end whenever you need. I'd like to hear what Glass would write about Game 162. I recently discovered that I live on the same block as him, so if y'all raise the money, maybe I'll knock on his door and ask him.