The air in the Bronx was heavy last night, thick with smoke, a haze of particulate matter that had been drifting ominously southward from immense wildfires in the Canadian wilderness. The fires are remote to us, both geographically and in human imagination, burning remotely in the vastness of the continent. They are dangerous, but seemingly as far from New York as the moon.
But of course, the moon isn’t really that far in the grand scheme of things, and its nearness dictates the tides in what is still, for all its steel and concrete and slick-haired millionaires playing games of dice with our lives, a port city, dependent on water. And Canada really isn’t very far away. And smoke, risen into the sky by wildfires exacerbated by drought and the lurching here-and-now disaster of climate change, has to go somewhere.
And so it drifted south, unconcerned with how hazy it made our days or even how beautiful it made our sunsets. It drifted on ceaseless currents, making mockery of our sense of control, before settling over Yankee Stadium as the White Sox took the field in a season where the idea of control is more mythical than moonmen.
We’re getting closer to first pitch here at Yankee Stadium and the air quality is real bad. It’s ominous. Smells like smoke.— Max Goodman (@MaxTGoodman) June 6, 2023
Meanwhile, Triple-A SWB just postponed their game due to poor air quality… pic.twitter.com/UZMoAvpYTL
Baseball is a game predicated on precision and dictated by chance. It is a sport where you can measure the decimalized minutia of spin-rate but the greatest pitcher of our time can noodle himself out of relevance with a string of injuries. Greatness comes in a sharp twitch over the eyeblink of a millisecond, but the season can slog on formlessly for months.
That’s what has been happening with the Sox. We’ve looked to the field for signs of improvement, and have seen portents of a turnaround. A suddenly resurgent bullpen is backing up starters who can, on good days, be enough. Liam Hendriks gives the team some energy. A few wins turn into a few more. A series sweep against the Tigers flows into a win against a real, genuine Yankees team.
Monday’s game, under that malicious bruise of a sky, revealed more omens than most weeks, for good and ill. Lucas Giolito pitched six no-hit innings, not terribly efficiently, but without any danger. If Lucas is back to near-acedom, that could be a turnaround.
Seby Zavala hitting two home runs can dowse a parched man to water, but given his performance, the oasis is usually an illusion. But being able to cling to another Seby game gives some life and shape to a gray string of dull losses.
Of course, there were bad signs. Luis Robert Jr. and Andrew Benintendi getting signals messed up for the Yankees first hit, and Robert looking like he gave up slops some gloom-and-doom entrails onto the table (although who would think there was a ball that Luis wouldn’t want to catch; that’s the opposite of the usual knock on him). The Yankees getting to within two runs with a runner on second had most Sox fans sure that this was going to turn from something exciting to a memorable throatchop of a loss.
But they got out of it. And Liam came in. And promptly gave up a no-doubter of a homer to the gross villain Josh Donaldson, in a perfect Yankees storyline. It was all too trite, a storybook ending for the “shitheels always get their way” plot of contemporary American life. But then Liam closed the door, and the Sox walked out with a win that can leave you feeling good or lucky.
But hell, why not both? Why are they in contradiction? Life is based on luck and on things out of our control. The shifting wind could cause your picnic to become a choking nightmare, a thick fog where the sun refracts an eerie orange, or maybe the skies could clear and your fields become Elysian. A pitch that takes a fraction of a second before dropping could clear the fences, or it could spin a touch more and leave the batter looking like a dunce.
You can’t control the smoke. You can’t control the spin rate. You can’t change these currents that swirl unseeing and unseen around us. All you can do is do what people have done for tens of thousands of years: look into the indifferent sky and try to create a narrative that makes sense. Maybe the signs we saw under a blood-dark sky will give this season a sensible form.
It’s too early to tell, and not too late to happen. All we can do is try to breathe, and hope it resembles something pure.