National Pastime

It’s April and the baseball season has started.  As a Nats fan I’d know the month without a calendar from the mere fact that Adam Eaton is on the DL.  Over the last three days we’ve been given reason to remember why this sport is our “national pastime,” amusing, entertaining, and thrilling us consistently for six months of competition and then another of postseason drama.

Three days ago the up-and-coming, but not there yet, Atlanta Braves jumped all over the ex-defending champ Chicago Cubs to lead 10-2 after 3 ½ innings.  It was still 10-5 going into the bottom of the 8th.  But in that frame the Cubbies scored nine runs, transforming a 5-run deficit into a 4-run lead.  This feat was accomplished not by a lot of long, loud hits thundering off Cub bats.  No, it was more the two hit batsmen, the wild pitch, and the 5 walks (four of them in a row, three of them RBI walks) that did it.  The Braves got two outs on the Cubs before the first of the nine runs scored.  The two singles and a double, the only Cub hits of the inning, were almost incidental.  The Wrigley crowd went home happy.

Colon hurls

Bartolo Colon gets all of his 285 pounds behind a pitch.

Next, a couple of days ago it was the all-Texas showdown between the Rangers and the Astros.  The Astros are the current defending World Series champs.  So naturally the Rangers sent out Bartolo Colon to quiet them down.  At 5’11” and 285 pounds, Colon is baseball’s version of a sumo wrestler.  He is rotund, but beneath the outer layer of fat lurks the body of an athlete, apparently.  Colon has pitched in the big leagues for 22 years, nearly a quarter of a century.  He’s been with 11 teams in both leagues, and as a member of the L. A. Angels he won the Cy Young Award in 2005, when he also led the AL with 21 wins.  Possessor of an efficient, low-stress delivery, he pounds the strike zone and pitches to contact.  But he is 44, and he almost didn’t find a team this year.  Yet against the Astros he was awesome.  He carried a perfect game into the 8th inning, and positioned the Rangers to win in ten, 3-1.  Forty-four, and nearly perfect.  Go figure.

And then there was last night’s Nats-Mets game, and another improbable rally.  As with the Cubs, the deficit was five runs, the homestanding Mets having racked up a 6-1 lead behind the strong hurling of Jacob deGrom, leader of a strong starting rotation and at least a couple of pounds lighter this season solely by virtue of former beard and flowing locks shorn to conventional athletic standards.  He carried his handy lead into the eighth, but after opening the frame by sandwiching a pair of hits around a whiff, he had thrown 103 pitches.  He was relieved, and the fat was in the fire.  Three more hits, a hit batsman, and four walks (2 of them RBIs) later, the Nats were up 7-6.  In the ninth the Nats got one more on a leadoff homer, and it looked like they’d need it after the Mets’ Asdrubal Cabrera doubled with one out.  But in an inexplicably bonehead move, he attempted to steal third with the tying run at the plate and first base open.  He was out.  One out later, the Citi Field crowd went home unhappy.

What other sport can beat this combination of skill, derring-do, and luck, triumph and defeat?

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