There’s a scene in the television show “The Office” which anyone who has seen the show will immediately recall. It’s in the final episode with Michael as the boss, as his coworkers sing a touching song, “9,986,000 Minutes,” in honor of all the time that Michael worked at Dunder Mifflin. It’s a little bit cheesy, a little bit off-tune, but a lot a bit touching if you were a fan of the show.
Watching the baseball season, I often have a similar thought. Last season, there were 49,606 games and 158,587 plate appearances across the league. It’s not quite 9 million, but if we convert each of those plate appearances into the four or so pitches, each of which take nearly 30 seconds — it’s a significant amount of time.
In a sport that drowns out the noise with the largest sample size of any professional sport, it would seem the little moments could often get lost in the shuffle.
Anyone who has ever been the fan of a baseball team knows that is patently false, of course.
Instead, an MLB season — from a fan’s perspective — is a series of endless vignettes weaved together under the hyperlens of fandom. Baseball fans just aren’t able to zoom out. When a moment like Steve Cishek’s throw to first base during Wednesday’s loss occurs, it doesn’t just disappear into the abyss, it becomes one of the blood-red stitches on the ‘L’ half of the 2017 throw blanket.
Be a baseball fan long enough and these moments begin to slow down in real time. As Cishek goes for the ball, you notice the slight twinge of panic as he sees Jorge Polanco further down the line than expected. Cishek’s arm angle seems to drop at the speed of lazy sundial, slowly signaling the end of the day, or the end of a playoff run.
There are hundreds of thousands of these moments every year across the baseball landscape. Undoubtedly each and every team, both ahead and behind the Rays in the wild card race, has had moments where a pitcher missed a throw to first. That’s the beauty of baseball, it should all even out.
Ask any fan if that’s the case, and the answer will be far more varied. I still hold Brad Miller’s brick hands against him for his error during an early-season Blake Snell start. “If Miller just turns that double play, maybe Snell goes on to toss a shutout that game, and he has the confidence from there to stay up at the big league level all season. Maybe his ERA is closer to 3.00 than to 5.00 and maybe that’s the difference of a game or two in the wild card race.”
We play these games with ourselves endlessly despite knowing better.
Moments like Cishek’s throw stick like a popcorn kernel in our teeth, bothering us for days with the floss of a next-day victory often not enough to rid us of What Could Have Been. In theory, a 162-game schedule should make every loss a bit more palatable. Instead, we end up channeling our inner Michael Scott from above and just admitting: “Yeah ok… this is gonna hurt like a m***** f*****.”