As I start this article, on Tuesday, shortly before the (presumed) pitching match of the year and the latest in the Most Important Game of the Year for the White Sox, my dog scrabbling at the floor, desperately trying to retrieve a ratty tennis ball that he rolled under the radiator. There’s something poignant in his lost hope at trying to pull it out — he never will, his paws are too big, his thumbs non-existent. He’s trying though, dammit. He has hope.
I get up and grab it for him, rewarded by a Caravaggio painting of wet, grateful eyes. It’s the last thing I’ll have any control over for the rest of the night.
When you read this, you’ll know if the Sox won this game or not, if Dylan Cease bolstered his Cy Young campaign and drew us within sniffing distance of the postseason, or if despair is setting over the land again.
Because that’s the thing with baseball. On Monday, we were all ready to consider the season once again lost heading in the eighth. Twitter cynics (or realists, or clout-chasers, or some combination of the above) were already bemoaning a poverty franchise.
Twenty minutes later? We’re World Serious.
That’s what hope can do. Even in the context of an endless season, of tens of thousands of at-bats, a few hits — a dribbler, a drive, a blast down the line, a shot up the middle — can turn despair into belief. It can change the perception of a season. For one night, at least.
Dylan is out of the first with three fly outs.
It’s rare, in baseball, to have a meaningful game combines with an exciting matchup to result in a memorable game. This is one of those rare times when the first two aspects align. This game probably doesn’t mean much to the AL-leading Astros, essentially nothing in terms of the standings, but they like to beat us, seeing us as irritating little gnats — and they are not incorrect to do so. So the historic aspect of the pitching matchup harmonizes with our palpable desperation and their aloof condescension.
Three and out for us, but three hard-hit balls. We’re gonna win. LFG.
A bowl of soup later, and we’re up 1-0. Dylan looks a little off — relative to his season — walking the leadoff hitter in the third. They’re talking about his age. There’s a nice clip from Dylan talking about looking up to Verlander when he was a kid. This makes me reflect on how old Verlander is, and how long I have watched him pitch, and how I am still nearly a half-decade older than him, and we’re moving on.
As the first two Astro-men walk, the thought of the postseason starts to slip away, before a strikeout of Alvarez bring me back to October. God, baseball is the cruelest sport, as every single moment carries with it doom and glory. What was it Melville said? “I feel my topmost greatness lies in my topmost grief!” He was absolutely goddamn right.
A pickoff! A liner Vaughn absolutely should have caught if he grew up and trained as an outfielder his whole life or if we were an organization that had outfielders playing the outfield! My topmost grief.
And that’s possibly the first time that Dylan’s given up two earnies since Verlander was a rookie. Or something.
After a few desultory innings, we’re back in the top of the fifth. Altuve homers. I hate getting beat by Altuve. We’re watching the gif of him fouling it into his groin to bring balance to the universe. It isn’t working.
Dylan didn’t have it. While Vaughn should have caught the ball in the second, the walks were on Cease. It was his least-effective start in a while, and against a godly Verlander, probably won’t be enough to get the job done. It’s not over yet, but a pall has fallen over the game, a cloud of resignation.
The biggest problem with the game, though, is the hitting approach. Except for the second inning, the fellas are swinging at everything. Two-, three-pitch at-bats. That’s somewhat understandable with Verlander, but in the second he was putting things in the dirt trying to get Sox hitters to chase, and they didn’t.
There’s a spot in nearly every game, and every season, where you hit the doldrums. The game is idle as a painted ship upon a painted ocean. That’s usually what we say when José Ruiz comes in. It’s like the sixth inning and you’ll probably go a couple of hitters without much happening.
I know some people are down on Ruiz, and rightfully so, but he’ll give you a 1-2-3 when you don’t expect it. This seems like one of those innings, with a quick K and an easy grounder to start.
It’s the doldrums, though, in which the game hinges. You never know when the albatross curse is lifted, and a storm brews. A 3-1 game can move to a four- or five-run deficit that makes fans start thinking about traffic on the Dan Ryan. The two-out double sparks highway thoughts. A botched pickoff sends up white flags.
A ground out lets you breathe again.
A bobbled single followed by a no-doubt double play makes you breathe angrily.
And then it’s Vince Velazquez pitching against Jose Altuve, and you kind of wonder why you’re still watching. You’ve got a good book by your bedside. You have fine liquors for sipping. You know it is still just one game in the season, and at the very worst it negates last night’s win. You know that the Guardians are losing.
But that’s the worst part about hope. Or maybe the best part. No one has ever been able to figure that out, from our most dweeby nihilist philosophers, all terrible beards and boring cynicisms, to the most dewey utopians, who might have worse beards. Is hope good or bad? Who the hell knows?
Watching Altuve get screwed by blue is nice, though.
Bottom of the seventh leads off with yet another hard-hit ball that dies about 10 feet short of the warning track, another quick butterfly that’s quickly ethered. A Josh Harrison double turn into a single after an awkward turn. But no injury. That’s good. Tying run is at home.
A walk puts the tying run on first.
AND THEN GAVIN SHEETS DOES THAT!
That’s what baseball does. From painted oceans to roaring storms. Season is back on, my droogs. Would have been nice to get that run from third in, but Verlander throwing the 99-mpher was, objectively, as a baseball fan, absurdly cool.
Two strikeouts and two strikes and then bad luck for Jimmy Lambert as dude sticks out his stick. Now the game, which seemed right within the Chisox grasp, feels like it might be on a hinge.
That’s silly, of course, it is one a hinge with every pitch. But in the eighth in a tie game as an agonizing season creaks between promise and despair? That’s a mighty hinge.
A fly out. We’re coming up in the eighth. Paragraphs start jumping like heartbeats.
The eighth! If you’re reading this, you know if it is fireworks or fizzle. You actually already know if the game ended well, or if I am going to be walking around after the game irked and bitter. Lucky you, or maybe not. I still have hope.
Two on, no one out. Tony made the right pinch-runner call without (I think) being coached by a fan.
Holy moly, this Yaz at-bat is long. And it ends almost as poorly as possible. But there’s still a spark. If Yoán has the kind of sexy swing he had last night ...
That hit hung like the season! I had no idea if it was too hard or not. And it drops, and now we’re going to have a save situation. Two nights in a row he drives the go-ahead run in the eighth. My dog jumped in the air along with me. This is good.
There’s a poem I like, by Alice Oswald, called “Vertigo”.
let me shuffle forward
and tell you the two minute life of rain
starting right now
lips open and lidless cold all-seeing gaze
You, who know if Liam saved this, have shuffled forward. Are you happy? Will I be happy? What does your all-seeing gaze see about the rest of this season?
Go pound sand, Altuve.
Yuli Gurriel, grab some damn bench.
But it’s one pitch. One pitch wins it, one pitch puts it to the bottom of the ninth, extends agony and possibility.
Yordan Alvarez. Strike one, 1-2, swinging strike.
Strikeout! Sox win! Pick up a game!
And a terrible hope descends across the land.
I love it.