Baseball is a wonderful thing. For three hours almost every day I can tune in and be distracted from whatever is going on in the world.
Rough day at work? It’s okay, Charlie Blackmon just led off the game with a home run. Kid wouldn’t sleep last night? That’s fine, just watch German Marquez shut down the Cubs and get a clutch two-RBI hit while he’s at it.
Last night’s game wasn’t like that. It was amazing because, for once, I was glad that it was reminding about real life and how hard it can be, but at the same time showing me human resolve in the face of great adversity. It wasn’t a distraction from the everyday but a reminder that baseball players live it, too.
Chad Bettis took the mound last night for the first time in the majors since September of 2016. Regardless of the outcome of the game, it was going to be an emotional experience for himself as well as his teammates, friends, family, and all of his fans. When the game was over, it was the greatest game I’ve ever experienced as a Rockies fan.
There were some awesome highlights and crazy plays that can make any game a good one. Trevor Story throwing out Ender Inciarte at home plate as he tries for a lead-off, inside-the-park home run, or Gerardo Parra sneaking a ground ball through a drawn-in infield and driving in Charlie Blackmon in the bottom of eighth to break a 0-0 tie would usually be the highlight of the day. Not last night. Last night, the biggest highlight was when Chad Bettis took the trip from the dugout to the mound to start the game and the celebration started.
Bettis already topped everyone’s expectations just by making it back to a major league mound. But he wasn’t done yet. Bettis demonstrated that he was exactly the same pitcher that he was before cancer became a part of his life. For seven innings, he looked like he hadn’t skipped a beat despite missing most of this season.
Considering the battles he has fought and won, a runner on third and one out in the seventh inning barely seemed to faze Bettis. Facing one of the top prospects in baseball in that situation wasn’t even a challenge. On the first pitch, Bettis got Ozzie Albies to pop up to shallow center field. Kurt Suzuki thought about trying to tag and head home but made the wiser decision as Blackmon fired a dart to home to hold him at third. A fly ball to center field from Dansby Swanson later, Bettis had done the unthinkable. He didn’t just return to the mound—he held Freddie Freeman and the Atlanta Braves scoreless for seven innings.
If it had been up to Bettis, he would have continued into the eighth, but Bud Black decided it was time for the Rockies’ bullpen to take the torch.
It was apparent in the faces and effort of the Rockies’ players that they wanted to win this game for their teammate and friend who went through so much. Despite being held scoreless due to the masterful pitching of Julio Teheran, the Rockies’ position players and coaches were giving it their all. No inning better illustrated this than the bottom of the seventh.
Carlos Gonzalez led off the inning with an infield single off of Teheran’s glove and then continued to show the hustle as he stole his third base of the year. After a Jonathan Lucroy walk and Pat Valaika strikeout, Black decided to pinch hit Nolan Arenado for the offensively ailing Story. While Arenado was unable to get a hit and the Rockies failed to score in the seventh, it was evident that the team was stopping at nothing to win one for Bettis.
Arenado even tried to sneak out onto the field to play third base after pinch hitting. Only the watchful eye of Black prevented him from risking his own health the day after being hit in the hand with a pitch to ensure that the Rockies would win in Bettis’ return.
Usually when tie games reach the later stages, every at-bat by both sides is nervewracking, but this game was different for me. Despite neither team having scored, this one always felt like a game the Rockies were going to win. With everyone rooting for Bettis, surely the baseball gods would have to oblige.
After a scoreless inning from Mike Dunn, the Rockies’ offense wasn’t going to be denied in the eighth. Charlie Blackmon led off the inning with a triple on a line drive to centerfield and would eventually score on Parra’s clutch hit. Gonzalez continued his recent resurgence with a two-run single into center field. Greg Holland’s 35th save locked things down and the celebration continued for Bettis.
Bettis’ journey from being diagnosed with testicular cancer after a routine self examination to having the cancer resurface in spring training and having to undergo exhausting chemotherapy has been well documented. Last night may or may not have been the final chapter in that story, but for one night it was a celebration showing that while cancer can be a vicious foe, it was no match for Chad Bettis.
For one night, baseball wasn’t a distraction from everything wrong going on in life; it was a reminder of everything that can go right. Even if the Rockies win the World Series this year, it will be no match emotionally for watching a young father and husband overcome cancer and get back to his normal life of being a Rockies pitcher—and a damn good one, to boot.