Meaningful Games: “Listen to This Crowd!”

A pennant-race dispatch from Invisible author Andrew Forbes (What You Need). He’ll be blogging in this space, come hell or high water, until the final out of the year, and in April 2016 we’ll be releasing The Utility of Boredom, a collection of Forbes’s baseball essays. 

The Blue Jays and Yankees are locked in a pas de deux for first place in the American League East which, while dramatic and compelling, has turned my game time snacking into stress-eating. The Yanks arrived in Toronto this week trailing the Jays by two-and-a-half games, after Toronto dropped a weekend series against last-place Boston and the Yanks took two of three from their crosstown rivals (though Sunday’s victory was less a Yankees win and more a quintessentially Mets-ian bungle). Even those with only the barest understanding of the standings’ trigonometric formulae could tell you: if New York were to sweep, there’d be a flip-flop atop the East.

In the first game, on Monday night, Toronto built an early three-run lead for David Price, but then the Yankees loaded the bases. “Yankees all around him,” said Jays’ radio man Jerry Howarth (the subscription virtually paid for itself when I learned you could watch the game but overlay the radio feed; radio announcers are almost always better than their TV counterparts). Then, amid a chorus of boos, up sauntered Alex Rodriguez who, as luck would have it, has hit more grand slams than any other player in major league history. Lou Gehrig collected 23 over his lengthy career. Rodriguez has two more than the Iron Horse.

What happened next has my vote for the highlight of the Blue Jays’ season thus far. Better than 47,000 people had passed through the Roger’s Centre’s turnstiles that night, and I bet you a good number of them would agree with me. They got to their feet as Rodriguez, lips pursed, pushed the count full, including three foul balls, almost all on pitches inside. Unflappable, Price looked around at all those Yankees, and threw. Rodriguez slashed one down the right field line that was certain to drop between Jose Bautista in right and Justin Smoak running out from first. It landed inches foul and kicked toward the stands, accompanied by the sound of mass exhalation.

Rodriguez appeared greatly inconvenienced by this turn of events. Catcher Russell Martin visited Price on the mound, and then Rodriguez stood in again, and again Price looked over his right shoulder at the plate, and Martin’s signs. Again he went into his delivery, and rocketed forward, releasing the ninth pitch of the at bat. Rodriguez swiveled his hands, and then stilled himself. The pitch sailed toward Martin’s glove, and Rodriguez swung through Price’s cut fastball away, strike three. At that point, the match hit the powder.

Not in all his years as a broadcaster, said Howarth, had he ever seen or heard anything like this. The next Yankee hitter, Brian McCann, flew to centre for the third out, and the inning was over, the disaster averted. Forty-seven thousand remained on their feet as Price walked to the dugout. It was a collective leave-taking of the senses, a throaty affirmation of being, and of being there. “Listen to this crowd!” said Howarth.

It left me buoyant, and temporarily unconcerned with standings, or magic numbers, or prognostications, though of course all of those things informed the crowd’s reaction, and mine. But that moment was so wonderful.

Everything could fall apart tomorrow. The bats could go cold, the losses could pile up. Next time, or in another iteration of our reality, the line drive that Jacoby Ellsbury hit on Price’s first pitch of the night, and which Price miraculously caught by throwing his glove in front of his face, could end the ace’s season. But for an instant I imagined all of that jubilant energy invested solely in that single moment, that terrific rejoicing, that exultant sending-off of two decades of losing. It was glorious and—what the hell, I’ll say it—even if that turns out to be the best we get from here on out, well, it sure was something.

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