I was in the record store today, and I saw that a box set documenting the Red Sox' playoff run--featuring the last games of the ALDS and the ALCS, and all of the WS--was on the table of new items. And I'm also seeing more and more contract talks regarding Nathan Eovaldi, and the chances of Boston retaining his services. Someone could end up way overpaying for this guy, even by the standards of professional sports. But: if baseball gave out an MVP for the entire playoffs, like the NHL does with the Conn Smythe, it would easily--easily easily easily--have been Eovaldi last year. My thoughts: make him the closer. This man has, as a hockey coach of mine used to say, balls as big as grapefruits. BABAG! He throws smoke, he's fearless, he can overpower guys who only see him once--closer.
This was an op-ed I wrote after the WS wrapped, which I was unable to sell. Again, no sense burning it. Stuff of this nature will all come out eventually, between hardcovers--I'm sure there will be volumes of film writings, art writings, sports writings, music writings, to go along with the novels, story collections, collected correspondence, essay collections, children's books, memoirs, studies of life and culture--but in the interim I'll put it up here. Will show you, too, how utterly capricious the op-ed game is. For me right now, at least. Anyway, my favorite moment from the Red Sox' postseason was a losing moment. It was also one of the most inspirational things I've seen in sports, and it gave me another nudge forward, frankly, with what I am trying to do. Here it is...
What the greatest pitching performance in World Series history teaches us about being human in the dark folds of the digital age.
To some looking back on the 2018 World Series, it will seem that the Red Sox handled the Dodgers with ease, dispatching them in a so-called Gentleman’s Sweep in five games. There is a chance that this will obscure the greatest moment of these playoffs, or any playoffs, one that culminated in defeat rather than victory, but which went beyond the trappings of sport, as eternal truths were pitted against the parroted pseudo-veracities of our age.
It was for the thirteenth inning of this series’ lone game-for-the-ages that journeyman pitcher and mid-season acquisition Nathan Eovaldi took the mound for the Red Sox. Never before had he pitched on back to back days (and this was, technically, his fourth game in a row), a pitcher who had had no less than two Tommy John surgeries. Manager Alex Cora had depleted his pitching staff. There remained only one other hurler, Drew Pomeranz, who had a disaster of a season and hadn’t been used in weeks, and whose inclusion in the game wouldn’t have been much different from forfeiting.
As I watched Eovaldi, I knew that the Red Sox were going to lose. Even if they took the lead, he’d likely not be around to hold it, with the Pomeranz situation then rearing its head.
For 97 pitches, more than any Sox pitcher had thrown in a postseason start this year, Eovaldi, in the parlance of baseball players, dealt. Until the bottom of the eighteenth, when what was going to happen all along finally when the Dodgers finally hit their game winning homer.
And boy did he deal. He touched 100 mph on the gun, this guy with the pasted together arm, being asked to do more than he had ever done, more than any baseball players are ever asked to do anymore.
He was going to lose, you knew he was going to lose, that eventually a Dodger would run into one and send the ball over the wall, and yet I could not stop watching. This was something inexorable, like so much of life is. Something is going to happen, there is nothing you can do about it, save control what you can control, which is doing the right thing, putting yourself out there at full force, as though you are a one-person human gale.
Shots of the Red Sox bullpen made it look like a ghost town, as Eovaldi took to the hill again and again, inning after inning. This was a World Series of computers, with Cora and his LA counterpart Dave Roberts talking endlessly about “match-ups.” “So and so fares this well, historically, by the numbers, against so and so.”
Less and less in baseball, and in life, do we look someone in the eyes and say, “Can you get this done for me?” That’s what life is, that question again and again. It’s what we ask ourselves when we try to decide if we are ready to become parents, when we make the move to new job that once we thought out of our reach, when we dig down deep to be a good friend even though we have our own stuff going on.
This was the baseball version of that, damn your analytics, and not only was it human, it was Homeric. It was the stuff that, were he ported into our age via a time machine, Keats would watch and say, “I need to write a sonnet about this.”
The ballpark was quiet around three in the morning, as the game did not die, because Eovaldi would not let it, and you could hear every last grunt from him as he willed extra velocity on the ball.
Sport had transcended wins and losses, for this was more important, almost divine in the execution of a duty. It was a two-fold reminder: We are human, we are allowed to be human. We must be human. Not digitally edited composites of apps, expectations of what we cannot say, people playing parts rather than plumbing identity.
Almost every pitcher gets yanked too early now by baseball managers who treat even their aces like heirloomic Chinaware. And here was the irony of a guy who should not have been in there, who had to remain in there, because there was nobody else, and the Baseball Gods were proving a point to their human counterparts. Numbers generated from algorithms are far afield from a person’s will, what will cause them to choose to rise up in a given situation, their own version of the inexorable.
That was the most impressive thing I’ve ever seen an athlete do, and that was the World Series for me, more than that sports-based victory. This was a victory for being human. We don’t see a lot of those right now. As a Red Sox fan, I never thought I’d take a loss over a World Championship. But sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know until someone has stayed up with you into the middle of the night to help you learn it.