What Makes our National Pastime Great—Seeing is Believing

FlagBaseballI have been a baseball fan all my life, going back to the year 1968, when I was six years old, one year before my team, the New York Mets would win their first World Series, in their seventh year in existence. Though younger folks want constant action seen in football or basketball, and I am not knocking either of those games, only in the game of baseball can you be a fan for fifty some odd years and still not have seen everything. Now I can add last night World Series Game 3 to that list.

Though more frequent in little league and other amateur circuits, rarer than both no-hitters and hitting for the cycle is the inside the park home run. Ever since baseball fields had fences define boundaries for automatic home runs, hitting a triple has been rarer than hitting a home run, because to achieve a three-bagger, the ball must stay in the park. But the inside the park version of the round-tripper is even more difficult to achieve. One early members was when I was eleven years old on July 7, 1973, when my father took me to see the Mets play the Atlanta Braves at Shea Stadium. We sat loge reserved approx section 13 (Shea Stadium was odd numbers on 1B side and even numbers on 3B side with Section 1 behind home plate. So the lower the section number, the close you were to home plate). 1973 was the year Hank Aaron was chasing that Babe Ruth 714 mark and actually ended the season with 713—hitting the famed 715 on a Monday night in April 1974. So my father and I, although rooting for the Mets, were hoping to see Hammering Hank get one closer to that historic mark. Well, the game was on a Saturday afternoon and because my father worked for the Bridgeport Post and had to work that night to prepare his column in the Sunday edition, we left after the bottom of the eight to beat the traffic on the Whitestone Bridge. Aaron did pinch hit in the top of the ninth and we heard Lindsay Nelson’s call in the car on WHN radio. But what happened in the fourth inning was the highlight of the game. Braves outfielder Ralph Garr hit a “tweener” to the gap in left-center. Mets leftfielder Geroge Theodore (The Strork) and centerfielder Don Hahn (Hondo) ran into each other and had to be both carried off the field on stretchers. The ball made it to the warning track and Rusty Staub had to run all the way to left field to retrieve the ball. By then Garr made it all the way home and it was scored an inside-the-park home run.

One of the ironic facts about the New York Mets is that after they got past Casey Stengel’s “Amazins,” began to build a contender in the later half of the 1960s, and ultimately winning it all in 69, is that in their over fifty year history, they have been much more renowned for their pitching than their hitting. Tom Seaver, Dwight Gooden, David Cohen, Al Leiter, up and coming Matt Harvey (just had Tommy John surgery) and Zach Wheeler, and of course Mr. Santana who is the subject of what is to come. For the first forty-nine seasons, this team built on pitching as its number one arsenal never had one of their own pitchers pitch a no-hitter. There was the King Corn Curse—in their inaugural season in 1962, King Corn offered one million S&H Green Stamps to any Mets pitcher to throw a no-no. There was Tom Seaver’s bout with perfection in 1969 when he got twenty-five consecutive Chicago Cubs out and then a bloop single by a forgotten player named Tony Quals. There was a game Doc Gooden pitched in 1984 in Pittsburgh that ended in a one-hitter when Benny Distafano hit one hard to 3B not played cleanly by Ray Knight and it was scored a base hit. Shoulda-woulda-coulda I the worst way. In the major leagues, fielders are expected to field ground balls even if they are fired from cannons, but when they appear to be disseminated that way, official scorers seldom give errors. Sid Fernandez, David Cohen, even less renowned pitchers like current prospect Dylan Gee have been in similar situations and on a cheap single lost the no-hit bid. But June 1, 2012 will be immortalized in Mets history until the end of time and will be the most requested Mets Classics Mets TV network SNY will ever air. Johan Santana, one of the Mets best pitchers in the history of the franchise, recovering from shoulder surgery, broke the King Corn Curse and etched his name in stone in the Citi Field foundation. A slight brush with the human element saved the day when a ball snatched the chalk on the leftfield foul line but was called foul. And Mike Baxter, an outfielder prospect who grew up right in the borough of Queens ran back to the leftfield wall and made a spectacular catch injuring his shoulder to rob Yadier Molina of an extra base hit. Which goes to show no-hitters and perfect games only happen if nine men come out to play—twenty-seven strikeouts in nine innings has never been achieved. When David Freese struck out in the ninth after Johan threw 141 pitches, Mets announcer Gary Cohn exclaimed “It has happened!”

Now I would like to add to that list what I saw just after midnight last night on Fox Televsion at new Busch Stadium in St. Louis. The Cardinals scored first but big Pappy (David Ortiz), playing first base since you cannot use a DH in a National League park, and the hair-suited sluggers of Beantown were persistent and consistent and both teams went into the ninth knotted. With runners on second and third with one out, the Sox were forced to bring their infield in and play no-doubles in the outfield. John Jay hit a bullet to 2B and Dustin Pedrioa got the first out at the plate. The Red Sox catcher Jerrod Saltalamachia decided to get Allen Craig, who was recovering from injury and not running fast, at 3B and made an errant throw recovered in leftfield. But Middlebrooks, a late substitution at 3B, interfered with Craig’s ability to dart for home cleanly and Jim Joyce made an obstruction call allowing the winning run to score even though Salty technically tagged him out. I have seen umpires call obstruction before, but I have never seen a World Series game end this way. Even next year with review-challenges, this is one play that would not become reviewable because obstruction is a judgment call.

Although my team is not in the series, this is one of the best postseasons I have seen in years.

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