The difference, in baseball, between victory and defeat can be– often is— a matter of inches. We can see this above, with these images of how close Miguel Cabrera was to snagging a pair of key doubles in yesterday’s come-from-behind win over the Tigers. But it was also evident in the mere inches Prince Fielder beat the ball to first base on a pair of hits that didn’t make it out of the infield, in the slight difference between a ball and a strike during Casey Janssen’s impressive ninth, and in essentially every single other play that took place over the course of the six-plus hours from the scheduled first pitch until Andy Dirks lined out to Maicer Izturis.
The difference is so razor thin that the notion of players being able to control the outcome of every action is obviously absurd, and yet expecting such control, precisely at the most crucial times of a game, is exactly what many fans often find themselves doing. That’s just the nature of fandom, yet if naturalness was the singular prerequisite for something being publicly acceptable, every day there’d be armies of dudes shitting and pissing in the streets. The visceral reactions that sports can provoke have a lot to do with what draws us to them, I think, but… holy shit, the way they get vented sometimes is just bizarre to me– not just for the matters of inches that make all the difference in the games we love, but in baseball, especially, because of how utterly fucking banal all the failure is.
The game isn’t simply an exercise in random chance and “shit happens,” but with the balance between victory and defeat so delicate, it doesn’t take a lot for a poor pitcher to get out an excellent hitter, a poor batter to tag one off a great pitcher, an OK fielder to throw just behind a slow runner, or worse team to beat a better one. Sometimes fortuitous breaks continue to go one way unabated with little rhyme or reason (see: Orioles, Baltimore (2012 season)), but far more than anything else, talent gives a club an edge against these faint margins. It may not do so in a short-run tournament like the WBC, or in out-of-whack early-season standings, over the course of a season, it will show through.
The Blue Jays teams that won the 1992 and 1993 World Series’ won fewer than six games for every ten that they played. Think about that: the greatest teams this club has produced– that they’ve talked about around here for twenty years, and that they’re still talking about– lost sixty-six and sixty-seven times in a year respectively.
That’s a lot of failure. A lot of uncontrollable results.
If this season’s version of the Jays wants to match those accomplishments, they were no less likely to after falling on the wrong side of this game of inches in their first two series’ as they are today, following yesterday’s barely eked-out sigh-of-relief victory. That truth doesn’t gibe very well with the bipolar psychology of fandom, and so maybe that means those of us (say, for example, me) crusading for sanity are really just pissing into the wind. But if the message of yesterday’s delicious utter destruction of panicky idiocy was anything, it’s this: trust in talent. More than anything else– far, far more than looking at playoff odds with 154 games to go– it will determine who prevails.
Top image via commenter Brumfield Wants Noise.