As a rule, spring training is loose. Players are quick to flash smiles from the on-deck circle, chat with fans before games, and rib one another between pitches. It's an infectious bonhomie.
But baseball's unremitting tension intrudes. Even at its most relaxed, baseball still creates a tension that the Arizona sunshine can't dissipate. Tension revealed itself in the 5th inning of yesterday's game against the Angels.
To that point, Juan Nicasio was having a pretty good day to go along with his pretty great March. He threw a mistake pitch to Howie Kendrick that landed on the right field lawn, and gave up a couple of other hits. Otherwise, Nicasio was enjoying an outing, like his previous spring showings, that's given some of us what economists would call "irrational exuberance."
There's no better example of that than the way Nicasio mistreated Mike Trout. In Trout's first at bat, Nicasio threw a breaking pitch that forced the slugger to turn his back before it fell into the strike zone for Strike Two. Trout, no doubt aggravated by the humiliation, swung hard at the next pitch, a wipe away slider that wiped away Trout. He fared no better against Nicasio the second time through: a slow roller to Arenado who, unruffled by Trout's speed, calmly fired to first for the out.
Then came the tension in the fifth. A leadoff home run cut the Rockies' lead to a run, and Aybar singled and moved to second on a groundout. Down a run, up came Trout for a third chance at Nicasio. The moment wasn't lost on the crowd. Angels fans, who were well represented at the game, sought redemption. Rockies fans wondered to themselves, and aloud, whether Nicasio could best Trout again. There was tension, even in March, and it grew as the count grew to 1-1.
Nicasio's third pitch released the tension. Salt River Fields has a smooth, angular architecture, but no line in that park is straighter than the one Mike Trout carved to center field with Nicasio's center-cut fastball. It rattled on the second tier of the batter's eye, well above the sign reading 410 on the wall. Trout's ball took so long to travel that, by the time it landed, he was very nearly to second base.
And with that, Nicasio's day was done. But more, his day was largely forgotten. It was little remembered how he'd beaten Trout twice, and how terrific his stuff had looked for most of the day.
Replaced in the mind's eye was the home run that seemed like it would never leave the air. Baseball's tension, while unrelenting, is also a little unfair. But it's in midseason form.