One of my favorite baseball calls of all time is Vin Scully on Kirk Gibson's homer in game one of the 1988 World Series.
As the injured Gibson hobbled the bases, famously pumping his fist amidst a frame held together by sheer will and frayed duct tape, Scully uttered the now iconic line that will be remembered as one of the greatest even one hundred years down the line, assuming we're still doing this whole thing then:
In a year that has been so improbable, the impossible happened.
This anecdote only has a few connections to last night's Mariners game, but they are connections that seem apt for noting. For one, both were events organized by Major League Baseball featuring eighteen of the best athletes in the world! And if that doesn't do it for you, well, I guess the easy comeback would be that both baseball games were decided on a walk-off hit that saved the day for the home team.
But of course, winning game one of the World Series with your injured (and sick) MVP is quite a bit different than stealing a win in May to get to 16-19. Still, this still-young season has been, if you will, kind of improbable. The Mariners were supposed to be an American League juggernaut, built behind rock-solid pitching and a lineup stacked with good-but-not-great hitters able to bunch together hits enough to at least send the run differential above the line that makes all the numbers red.
And instead, it's been full of sleeping Griffeys and one guy exceeding expectations to open the year with a .457 record shining with mediocrity and oopsdom. That oopsdom was on full display last night as Red Sox starter Clay Buchholz, owner of a .362 BABIP on the year, held the Mariners to a single hit through six and two-thirds innings. I suppose hearing the Mariners were drowning in a sea of ineptitude isn't the most improbable thing in the world, but I mean for crying out loud look at this:
Seth Smith tied up the game with a solo shot in the sixth, and as pretty much everyone noted at the time, it really felt like a lucky dinger was the only way for the Mariners to put anything across the plate against such a
dangerous intimidating unhittable lucky competent pitcher. So in a way, it was very probable: J.A. Happ keeping runners off third base with seven innings of one-run ball. Mariners failing to give him anything in return because why do that? Mike Zunino and Brad Miller and Logan Morrison and Kyle Seager teaming up to get Mike Napoli in a foolish rundown that came off an aborted steal-turned-rundown that reeked of the best Hate Us Cause They Aint Us New England privilege. I mean, they don't just give runs away because you deserve them. Now Matt you may be saying. This is offensive to our kindly Boston brethren, and I demand an apology swift and with apt prudence! Well why don't you go ahead and click this here link and then get back to me. I'll be here all weekend.
Still, last night was improbable in that the Mariners ended up winning this here baseball game despite the aforementioned fact that they were being one-hit into oblivion like the way any of us would be able to do had we put on their uniforms and tried this ourselves, save for the fact that we wouldn't even have been able to foul off a single hit because we would have given Buchholz the first ever 81-pitch, 27-strikeout perfect game in MLB history. And yet, they won anyway. Not impossible, but improbable nonetheless.
After Tom put up two innings of solid relief, the Mariners came out in the ninth in a tie game to face Sox reliever Tommy Layne, 30-year old Sox loogy fresh off an appearance the night before that got Justin Ruggiano out on a BABIP'd fly to right. Lloyd countered Farrell's managerial ploy by pinch hitting Willie Bloomquist for Seth Smith, a move which seemed absolutely crazy and asinine until I realized that Bloomquist actually does hit lefties better than Smith, which is why Smith and Ruggiano were supposed to be two sides of a platoon coin when they were brought aboard, but still felt dumb enough to rightfully complain about. He grounded out in the infield. See?
Back in 1988, however, Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda was not sleeping at baseball games, and was, in fact, pulling off deft bait-and-switch routines like sending a decoy out to the on-deck circle in place of Gibson in order to draw a walk by Mike Davis, or sending him to steal second once Gibson managed a 2-2 count in the next at-bat in order to ensure he would be pitched to. History tells us the outcome, and in a word of vindication to Vin Scully, it really was improbable, and maybe, just a little impossible. I mean, think of all the things that could have gone wrong--Gibson was not only hurt, but sick, LaRussa could have read his pinch-hit ploy, they could have walked him to face a righty a minute later, Gibson could have struck out, the stealing runner could have been tagged, you name it. That all those variables met in some happy shining center illuminated by the red glow of departing brake lights screams impossible.
But after Bloomquist was thrown out, Crazy Legs Brad Miller beat out an infield blooper to reach first, and was sent into scoring position by Robinson Cano grounding out a moment later. With two outs and a right handed hitter in Cruz coming up, Red Sox manager John Farrell could have done what 39,477 Mariners fans were expecting to see happen in front of them--walk Cruz in order to let his LOOGY face the left-handed Seager for the probable out. But as Scully said almost thirty years ago, the season had a bunch of improbable things happen, I mean, come on, at least get the script right.
No, rather than let his left-handed pitcher, who was holding lefties to a .172 average with a wOBA of .229 on the year, he decided to go to the pen and get Junichi Tazawa to face Nelson Cruz for some improbable reason. I mean, I get that Cruz can strike out his fair share, but uh
LoMo ain't ever letting go of Nelson Cruz http://t.co/J8x8TeJRu2— Jose Rivera (@Jose8BS) May 16, 2015
ya blew it.
Still, the impossible would have maybe been a towering home run rather than a bloop single here. Or a win in which the Mariners suddenly skyrocketed up in the standings and traded like ten of their losses for wins to be sitting at 26-9, which would have maybe matched our preseason expectations. To hell with it, though, I'll take improbable any day of the week. Reality sure does taste like an old leather shoe doesn't it?
Because in order for Gibson's dinger to reach the iconic status that it now holds, the rest of that Dodgers season had to go in much the opposite direction. It's still only May, but as long as we are talking about the improbable before the impossible this fall, I'd say the whole thing could be chalked up as one big success. Or hell, they could just keep shitting the bed and give us mediocre baseball too, I mean, you be the judge.