Two words: Donnie Moore.
It’s easy to dismiss them as the biggest bunch of red-wearing, dildo-banging (or as Freud might have said, sometimes a Thunderstik is just a Thunderstik), dead-cowboy-worshiping yokels in the grand history of the national pastime.
A crowd so obnoxious that it could almost make you wish that the Braves had slipped into the series, just so it could be subjected to three consecutive cacophonous nights of tomahawk chopping. A crowd so obnoxious it made America switch en masse to Camryn Manheim. Go back and look at the official Major League Baseball highlight DVD and you’ll notice that—honest to Jeffrey Maier—one of the Angel faithful reached over the low Camden Yards-style retro fence in right field and bopped Reggie Sanders on the head as he tried to retrieve the Garret Anderson double that would prove to be the final nail in the Giants’ coffin.
But the truth is that at least 73 of these rubes can remember a time before David Eckstein was a folk hero. A handful actually have more than dim memories of the awfully exquisite (or is it exquisitely awful?) autumn of 1986, when every day provided another Houdini act and another heartbreak. And the fact is that while Calvin Schiraldi and Bob Stanley managed to get over it, at least one pitcher never would. (I’ve still got the gruesomely malapropos headline clipped from the Bergen Record sports section: “Ex-Angel Kills Self, Slays Wife.”)
For baseball has nothing if not equilibrium. It is the ultimate zero sum game. The pitcher fails to exactly the same degree as the hitter succeeds. The degree to which one team experiences a life-from-death catharsis is offset by the haunted-in-the-wee-hours despair of their opponents.
And human nature being what it is, I think that Tim Worrell will remember hanging a fastball to Darin Erstad far longer than, say, Chone Figgins will bask in the afterglow of scoring one of baseball’s most improbable tying runs. In October 2054, Figgins will pop in his own personal highlight tape for his grandkids—what’s a VCR, Pops?— and they’ll watch dutifully, roll their eyes, and then scamper off to play on the holodeck. On that same afternoon, Worrell’s waifish granddaughter will walk up all wide-eyed and ask, “Grampy, did you ever play in the World Series?” And he’ll shake his head, grumble something about salmon, and retreat to the downstairs bathroom for a double shot of NyQuil.
From games like Game Six, we’ll all—all nine of us watching at home—keep a time-capsule moment. For some it will be that Iliad of an at-bat, when the other F-Rod finally gave in and came inside, and Spiezio took him out. (Oh, by the way, his band sucks . . . ) Despite the fact that I’ve bled black and orange this autumn, I remember being actually a little relieved at that moment: They’ll make a game of it, and I’ll have something to write about.
Little did I know that I’d get a John Feinstein-book’s worth. Imagine this. You’re the best player anyone under the age of 83 has ever seen. The second coming of Babe Fucking Ruth. The thawing of Ted Williams. And as you stand in the outfield, you realize that in six short outs the only thing you’ll share with Title Free Ted is a batting title and a bad attitude.
Sure, in post-seasons past you’ve made Bobby J. Jones look like Sandy Koufax. But now you’ve gotten that spider monkey off your back in grand and glorious fashion, slashing homers at a Troy Glausian pace, making the assembled media forget, with a few swings of the bat, that they had killed a million trees reminding the public that you had done exactly diddly-squat in 97 post-season at-bats. Now they celebrate your glorious redemption as if it were their own: Just tearing you down to build you up, big guy. That tired backstory is behind you, as much ancient history as an anthrax joke.
But no, it’s all a little tease, Lou Reed’s femme fatale come to life, building you up just to put you down.
All this baggage manifests itself in the corporeal form of a Garret Anderson flare. Oh shit, the ball is going to drop. But out of the corner of your eye, you see Chone Figgins dashing to third, challenging the arm of a guy who’s been called the best left fielder in the history of the game. It’s a rookie’s desperate act of hubris. Pick it up, peg it to third. One out. One on. Nen in. And this mini-rally soon becomes something you joke about during the Pets.com shredded-stock-certificate parade.
But just as you’re about to snare the horsehide sphere barehanded, to seal the deal, the ball skitters sideways and squirts out of your bare hand. Picking up a baseball is perhaps the simplest act in the game, one that even young Darren Baker can accomplish when he’s not involved in a play at the plate. And yet at this moment, it eludes you.
When you finally find the handle 1.3 seconds later, there’s not even a play at second.
Now your miscue doesn’t have the Zapruder quality of Bill Buckner’s mea culpa, but you know in your heart it may have had even more effect on the outcome. (The Mets had already tied the game before the Buckner error, while with a clean pickup and a strong throw at this moment, the Gigantes probably win the World Series.) Hardly anyone notices the tiny bobbles on the next two balls you play—Glaus’s deal-sealing double and Eckstein’s lead-run Game Seven single—but standing quietly amid the din you wonder if this is how it started for Chuck Knoblauch. This game sucks.
But baseball is a game of balance in the larger sense, too. Unless you’re a Red Sox fan, what goes around comes around. Sometimes it takes three days, and for a brief shining moment Mariano Rivera channels Byung-Hyun Kim. And sometimes it takes 16 years for Donnie Moore to be avenged. For baseball’s greatest player, and its most recently snakebitten team, only time will tell how long before it all comes back around.