One thing non-baseball fans simply don’t get about the game we love is its rhythm.
“The baseball season is too long. None of the games matter.”
It may seem like that — and sure, there is way less importance accompanying most baseball games as opposed to games in other sports — but it’s an endurance race. It’s built on series and series of series. It’s testing depth. Stamina. Mental toughness and physical toughness. It’s testing its participants’ ability to adapt on the fly.
“It’s just one guy throwing to the other guy over and over with the same view all the time.”
I get that, but if you pay attention you learn that what you should really be watching for is a sequence of pitches with early pitches setting up later pitches while the batter and pitcher are each trying to out-think the other. There’s so much going on in each at bat.
“It’s just boring. There’s no excitement.”
I’ll grant that no one is putting a bone-crunching hit someone, jumping, or sprinting frantically at almost any given time you pay attention, but that’s not where baseball’s excitement comes from. Baseball is all about slowly building tension. About how what happened two innings ago affects what’s happening now. About how what happened yesterday has bearing on today. About how a hundred small things result in one big thing later. About how, at some point, be it in the fourth, sixth, or ninth inning, you realize that everything prior has led to this and now, suddenly, everything is on the line.
And then you reach a point where the past six games, the past three series, and the past eight months — which began among the cactuses and the grapefruit, when a dozen teams or more thought they had a path to a championship — have led to one evening when only two teams remain standing. You get to a point where, despite the fact that the first five games seemed sort of a listless drag at times, everything suddenly picks up. The point where, suddenly, in hindsight, everything that came before mattered, made sense and built us up to a level where everything is exciting and everything is at stake.
Game 7 of the World Series. There’s nothing like it. And here we are.
The Game: World Series Game 7: Washington Nationals vs. Houston Astros
The Time: 8:07 PM Eastern
The Ballpark: Minute Maid Park, Houston, Texas
The Network: Fox
The Starters: Max Scherzer vs. Zack Greinke
Later this morning, a man will place a very important phone call. That man is Max Scherzer, and the phone call, we are told, will be placed to his boss, Dave Martinez, soon after Scherzer has woken up. During that phone call Scherzer will tell Martinez whether or not his neck locked up with spasms again as it did as he slept on Saturday night, preventing him from pitching in Sunday’s Game 5. If it has not, Scherzer will pitch tonight.
Scherzer was confident last night that everything would be fine. He received a cortisone shot and some chiropractic work that seems to have solved his problem and he feels good enough to pitch. He’ll get the start — having now received seven full days’ rest — and if he falters a fully-rested Aníbal Sánchez, Saturday’s starter Patrick Corbin, and closer Sean Doolittle will be, in one order or another, the first three men out of the bullpen to relieve him. No team wants to lose three World Series games and no team wants to try to have to win a Game 7 in a hostile environment, but the Nationals are set up about as well as they possibly could be to do the improbable and knock off the heavily favored Houston Astros and win the World Series.
Houston, of course, is not coming into this final battle unarmed. By the time late July rolled around there was no doubt whatsoever that the Astros were going to win the AL West and be playing in October. As such, their deadline acquisition of Zack Greinke from the Arizona Diamondbacks was not really about August and September. They had one of the best offenses in baseball and the top two starters in the American League already under their employ. Picking up Greinke was about winning a seven-game series when you have to have three starters. Greinke has been overshadowed a bit by both his teammates and the Nats’ starters during this series, but he’s also coming off nine innings of work over his previous two starts in which he has allowed only two runs while striking out 11 batters. He remains an ace who most any team would want starting a Game 7.
And, it’s worth noting, that he won’t be alone. Much was made of Gerrit Cole pitching what was thought to be his final game as an Astro in Game 5 on Sunday night, but there is every reason to believe that he’ll be up and getting ready in the bullpen tonight the first moment there is any trouble for Greinke. He won’t be able to go long, but he’ll be able to throw triple-digit heat for at least an inning and maybe more. If the Nats are to win this, they’ll have to get through not just one but two of the best pitchers in all of baseball.
At this point we’re out of analysis. The Astros are laden with talent and have a lineup stocked with guys who can change a game with one swing of the bat. The Nationals have been in four elimination games so far this October: the Wild Card game, Game 4 and Game 5 of the NLDS, and Game 6 last night. They trailed in all four of them and won all four of them. Last night their two most important position players — Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto — came back to life.
Tonight we have the icy-calm Greinke vs. the fiery Max Scherzer. We have an offensive powerhouse vs. a lineup containing two guys who have risen to the occasion and who are unfazed by the bright lights of the postseason. We made it through a month and a half of spring training, a six-month slog through the regular season and an intense, month-long march through October to get us to where we will be at 8PM tonight.
Welcome to the final day of the 2019 season of the greatest damn sport there is.