I can’t fault anyone for not caring about baseball. It probably has the least action of any team sport, especially out of the ones that are nationally televised. No other sport has stretches barren of action like baseball. Ground out. Fly ball. Foul. Foul. Foul. Foul. Pickoff move. Pickoff move. Pickoff move. Foul. This is not the hard-hitting, breakaway touchdown-running game of football. It’s not the fast-paced head-to-head contest of basketball, hockey, or soccer. It’s a bunch of guys who spend the majority of three hours standing in the grass between opportunities to wave a piece of wood at a little piece of hurtling cowhide.
To be sure, my attachment to baseball is purely sentimental. I couldn’t pick this game up now. But I’ve been with it for years. I fell asleep to Ernie Harwell’s voice as he called games when I was a kid. All I knew was that the Tigers were the good guys, and if they won, I won. I didn’t know anything about pennant races or playoff rotations or magic numbers then. They were awful for years, but loyal fans stayed with them, assured that winning seasons would return, and they did. So I’ve got emotional stake in them, my team.
Today, I consider myself as big a baseball fan as I have ever been. Never have I cared, thought, or known more about baseball than now. Last week I went to a game when the Tigers had a chance to clinch the division, to ensure a playoff spot, and I literally dreamt of baseball the night before.
Tonight is their biggest game of the season. And unfortunately, it’s drenched in disappointment. If I would have written about the Tigers last week when I wanted to, this blog would have been a lot different. But much has changed since they were up three games with four to play. The reality is: they shouldn’t have had to play today. They shouldn't have needed game #163. They should have clinched long ago. You can count on one hand the teams that have dropped a seven game lead in the last month of the season, and none has ever blown a three game lead with four to play. No team has ever failed to make the playoffs leading their division since May 10.
Tonight, they have to win to get in, and they have to do it at the Metrodome, potentially the last Major League Baseball game ever to be played there. And they’ll have to play with the off-field drama of Miguel Cabrera, the MVP candidate who went drinking with the opposing team over the weekend, during the most important series of the season. Not only did he go drinking, he went heavy-drinking. Like, blow a .26 on the breathalyzer heavy drinking. (If I remember my Responsible Decisions classes from middle school, that means something like 26 beers.) He went home and got into a fight with his wife. She called the cops, and the general manager had to pick him up at the police station in the morning. That night, with scratches on his face from his scuffle, presumably still drunk or hungover, he went 0-for-4, just like he did the day before, and the next day he went 0-for-3, effectively ending any MVP talk. He’ll play tonight, and he’ll get booed. He’d get booed at home, too. I’d boo him. I don’t know why he even played on Saturday. He should have been benched. Hungover, scratched – the guy shouldn’t have been batting cleanup.
But all of that aside, they still have to play the game. They’ve still got a chance. And I’m still going to watch, because it’s my team. While they were fading away over the weekend, epic-failing to end the season, Tigers fans everywhere gave up on them, groaning, mourning the end of a season filled with, apparently, false hopes. But if they win tonight, it’s all forgotten, the season will be a near-miss but a success nonetheless.
I don’t know what’s going to happen, but if they can win, there’s a great story in there. If Rick Porcello, the 20 year old rookie, can win the most crucial game of the MLB season so far – not just for the Tigers, but for any team – it all wraps up nicely. The Rookie comes through, the story continues, and that knucklehead Cabrera gets off the hook for nearly killing our season. We’ll begin to think about the Yankees, who clinched weeks ago and haven’t really played a meaningful game since. We’ll talk up our pitching staff, we’ll look ahead to the ALCS, the World Series, and we’ll dread a rematch with the Cardinals.
So, the game starts in less than an hour. Maybe you’ll be into it, maybe not. I assume that by the time you read this, it will be long over and we’ll be looking at the Yankees or we’ll be looking at firing and trading a few select staff and players.