Baseball is a game built on moments.
One pitch. One swing.
Gehrig got a tough break. Ruth called his shot. Bobby Thomson’s shot was heard ’round the world.
Moments that transcend the game and become legendary.
On a sleepy night in late June, as with hundreds of such seemingly inconsequential moments that preceded it, baseball happened, in its purest form.
A new legend had been born.
We will forever telling tales to our children of where we were when Leury García walked against Shohei Ohtani.
“Did you see his at-bats?”
Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa, no stranger to greatness in his decades around the game, could hardly contain himself recalling the moment after the game.
Cut to the fourth inning.
Already down two runs, you could feel the energy build as Luis Robert and slap-hitting first basemen José Abreu’s back-to-back singles were followed quickly by a line out and strike out, putting the game, if not season on the shoulders of a single man.
You would forgive any normal player for succumbing to the crushing weight of this level of pressure.
But Leury García is no normal player.
As responsible for his team’s playoff success as any other on the roster, the Chicago’s longest-tenured player stepped into the box knowing that this type of moment was why he played the game.
He was born for this pressure.
He steps in the box and goes to work.
With nerves of absolute steel, he watches a 101 mph fastball almost kiss the edge of the zone. Ball one.
Leury is locked in.
Ohtani stands on the mound, appearing shaken, and with shoulders tightened he leaves a slider helpless, spinning up in the zone.
Leury, a predator seeing wounded prey, aims squarely towards San Bernardino, only narrowly missing due to the incredible bat speed of his mighty swing.
Ohtani wipes sweat from his brow; he survived.
His fear emanates from his next fastball, which misses the zone badly. Two balls, one strike.
Though scared, Shohei trusts in his physical gifts and bears down on another slider. Hesitance forces an overcompensation, as the pitch finds itself well low and inside.
Walking back to the mound, Ohtani takes a long pause, as his life to this point flashes through his memories, all the way back to being a young boy in Japan, dreaming of one day playing against the best players in the world.
The culmination of all those hopes and dreams have cut a path to right now.
Shohei steels his psyche and returns to the battle at hand.
In Leury’s eyes, you can see recognition of the young competitor on the mound. He has earned the respect of the veteran, and Leury digs in ready to face the man head-on.
Pitch five. Six. Seven. Eight.
Fastball, fastball, slider, and fastball again.
Leury treats each pitch with the utmost respect, moving his body and hands to swing at each offering, even if against his own better judgment: The delicate dance of athleticism.
Two players at the height of their powers, competing as if they are completely alone in the world, each acknowledging that their enemy is deserving of their absolute best.
However, all days must end.
The Angels’ phenom showed immense heart, but not as much as the man he was facing.
Like a master who sets down all his knowledge to his disciple, Leury knew intrinsically that the greatest lesson he could give his opponent, was the lesson that there are still higher mountains to climb.
By showing Ohtani his back, he would be carving him out out a path to follow into the future. passing the torch to the next generation of great players.
With a final pitch to come, the two competitors share a look as if they both know what is about to happen.
Time slows as Ohtani unleashes a curve ball, the only weapon remaining at the end of this long battle. High and spinning, instantly recognized. Leury knows it is a ball, right out of the pitcher’s hand.
Guided by his immaculate knowledge of the strike zone, Leury simply closes his eyes and lets fate take over.
The ball hits the catchers glove with inevitability: Ball four.
We have just witnessed the impossible: Leury García has taken a walk against Shohei Ohtani.
The ballpark crowd is hushed in recognition of the history it has just witnessed.
With his back against the wall, Leury reached deep down and did the impossible — a feat none of us would believe if we hadn’t watched it unfold with out own eyes.
Up against the reigning MVP, a superplayer seemingly created in a lab rather than on the back fields, Leury García showed us that heroes come in all shapes and sizes.
But he wouldn’t just stop at hero. What he accomplished would put him at an even greater level.
On this night in Anaheim, we watched him truly became Leury Legend.