After the sloppiest game in World Series history (1973, Mets-Athletics, Game 2, 17 runs, 28 hits, 6 errors), Tom Seaver gave a great synopsis: "You couldn't write a book about this one that would tell anybody how to play this game."
Pace Tom Terrific, the Rockies' more mundane shellacking of the White Sox last night, 8-1 at Coors Field, was a game befitting a book on baseball's lessons. If not a book, then at least a short chapter, somewhere after the game's mechanics and the occult glory of the two-strike count, a chapter devoted to the curious lessons that come not from reading about the game, but steadily watching and reveling in it.
Our short chapter would have three headings, followed by a few paragraphs:
1. The National League offers the superior brand of baseball.
Tell me the last time you raved about a designated hitter getting two singles and a double. Now tell me about the thrill you had watching Jordan Lyles, the Rockies' pitcher recently transplanted from the American League, go three for three, including a double. And two RBIs, to boot.
Or tell me the last time you chuckled when a manager opted for a reliever to face a designated hitter. Now tell me about your belly laugh watching Robin Ventura sulk to the mound in the fifth inning to take away the ball from Sox starter Felipe Paulino, instead of asking him to face the slugger Jordan Lyles a third time, and with the bases loaded. Ventura's strategy, it should be noted, was unsuccessful, with Lyles driving the ball back up the middle for a hit.
Baseball, so the saying goes, is about anticipation. Or as one writer put it, it's a game of anticlimax, waiting for the memorable, the impossible. Set aside the strategy that comes from the pitcher in the lineup, or the inevitable, near-predictable failure to record a hit. Those are often the moments between the anticipation. The greatness of baseball, and one root of its joy, is that you're almost always guaranteed to see something new in a ballgame. Lyles gave us one of those moments last night, and his moment was a gift only the National League could give.
2. The player who ends a frame with a great defensive play inevitably makes a great play at the plate in the ensuing frame.
This is one of those baseball truisms that's probably not true, but feels true. Troy Renck noted it last night on Twitter, because it was there in last night's game.
In the top of the sixth, Troy Tulowitzki sprinted to his right to field a grounder from Jose Abreu, twisted into an off-balanced pirouette sure to impress any danseur, and threw to first in time (with the help of a good grab by Justin Morneau).
In the bottom of the sixth, Tulo came up first for the Rockies, and the third pitch reaffirmed the aforementioned truism. Tulo dropped his hands and battered it just above the right field wall. The crowd cheered the ball's flight, but paused briefly, just to be sure it cleared the fence. Tulowitzki, who last night stayed busy in the field and at the plate, was also busy proving one of the (maybe dubious) axioms that baseball watchers hold dear.
3. The box score can't tell you everything.
Other than the hits and the recorded outs, Tulowitzki's good night is unappreciated by the box score. Unlike our eyes, our ears, our mental recordings of the game, the box score is impassively unconcerned with the thrilling play. It jots the numbers, the all-important numbers, in the relentless drive toward objectivity.
Tulowitzki wasn't the only victim of baseball's cold calculation. DJ LeMahieu's line last night (1-3 with a walk and run batted in) was pedestrian. But his at bats were anything but. In the second inning, with two outs and Paulino looking (relatively) sharp, DJ worked a walk. Normally, clearing the pitcher's spot would be accomplishment enough, but Lyles started his night with a line-drive double, and LeMahieu smartly scored all the way from first. In the next inning, with two on and two outs, LeMahieu jumped on a 1-0 slider and just missed getting underneath it to give it good carry. Instead, it nearly fell in too softly, as Sox left fielder Alejandro De Aza had to sprint in for the catch.
Redemption found DJ in the fifth, when he was aggressive again, taking the first pitch from Paulino into right field, scoring Tulowitzki and loading the bases for Lyles, who kept the inning going himself with one of his RBI singles. He struck out in the seventh, but no one fared well that inning against Chicago's Jake Petricka, and in any event, the game was in hand. On balance, a good night for the Rockies' second baseman, but one that would go unnoticed in the box score.
The box score was kind in one respect, generously crediting the Rockies with 22,500 fans at the park on a cold night in LoDo. But whatever the actual number of fans who were there last night, and whatever number watched or listened at home, there were lessons for them in the game, ones that most knew by heart.