Baseball. The game has been a huge part of my life. As proof of that statement take a look and see how many entries on this blog are about baseball. There are writings of times I attended old Kansas City Athletic games with my family. Tales of arriving at the stadium before batting practice and staying until the last out of the last inning. Stories of staying up late into the night as the A's or the Royals played extra innings to determine the outcome of a game. It tells of my wife whose life was baseballess until we started dating and how she learned to appreciate the game and then to understand the game and get excited about it when our son Brett was playing all those years. She almost hated to see Brett come to the end of of his time with baseball as he grew into a man and went out to the world to begin his life as an adult.
It seems baseball has been in my life in one form or another since the day I was born and it still is to this day. I have played the game, walked away from the game and returned to the game. I have coached little league games. I bought my son an OFFICIAL Wiffle ball and bat when he was around two years old. It wasn't the big red plastic bat with a ball the size of a softball, but the long skinny yellow plastic bat with the ball the size of a baseball. Before long he was hitting pretty well with it and I believe it was learning with that skinny bat and small ball that made him a threat at the plate through out his baseball time which lasted from five years old until he was eighteen.
In all of my years associated with baseball, I have never witnessed a no-hitter either in person or on television. I have never captured myself a foul ball except for one time during a little league game that Brett was playing in, and that doesn't really count. I have seen exactly one inside the park home run but have never witnessed a triple play. On October 2, 1968 I was sitting in school and missed watching Bob Gibson strike out 17 batters in game one of the World Series. That was before they played the World Series at night.
What happened on September 30, 2014 here in Kansas City almost makes up for all those things I have missed in baseball over my life. It was a game that may not go down in history as THE greatest game (certainly that belongs to Don Larson and his perfect game during the 1956 Yankees/Dodgers World Series) but it will definitely go down as one of best games ever.
If you have kept up with this blog over the years, you know that one of the basic foundations of my personal philosophy is that"Baseball is like life". I won't go into all the details that make that statement true, but I believe it as a solid way to look at life. If anything, the game played Tuesday night proved it better than I could ever write it out. I am not that good of a writer to show it better than the real thing unfolding before your eyes. It was truly an example of baseball imitating life.
This year, Major League Baseball unveiled a new playoff format. The three division champions in each league would start the playoffs in a best of five series to determine who would play in each leagues championship game. There would be a fourth team added to that picture, a team that would be designated as the wild card team. To become the wild card team and play against a division champion in a best of five series, you had to accomplish one little task. The two teams with the best records that were not a division champ would play one game to decide who went to a best of five series and at least a shot at going to the World Series. One game.
One single game. Winner take all, all being a trip to a playoff series against the leagues team with the best record. One game. Do or die. Either win, or go home because your season just ended based on one single game. That alone is a lot like life. One chance to make a statement and a chance to move up the ladder another rung. One game.
It kind of seems unfair to place the whole of a season on one game, but then life is like that. You get a chance and you either grab it and take it, or you make a slip and don't advance. Suddenly it is over and it was all because of that one game.
This year, 2014, found the Kansas City Royals having a great season. A bunch of young kids with a few veterans, mostly names unknown to the rest of the baseball world found themselves entering September with a shot at winning the Central Division of the American League. The fact that Kansas City even had a shot at the division was more or less a miracle in itself. The Royals main competition for the division championship were the Detroit Tigers, a team that has owned the American League Central for most of this decade. The Tigers are experienced, they are good and they are use to winning the division. Now they found themselves battling down to the last day of the season for what had become rightfully theirs in their eyes. The young Royals were pushing them and when the last day of the season was over, the Detroit Tigers had won one more game than the young Royals. One game. One more win for the Royals and one more loss for the Tigers and the Royals would be division champs guaranteed a spot in a best of five series. One game. That one game difference between the Tigers and the Royals meant that the Royals would have one game to prove themselves worthy to play with the division champions in a best of five series. That game was last Tuesday night, September 30, 2014.
The game would be played in Kansas City that night. It was the first time since 1985, when the Royals won a controversial World Series over the St. Louis Cardinals, that the Royals had played any games after the season was over. Twenty nine years since they had a shot at making a run towards The Series. The city was abuzz. It was exciting leading up to the game and the closer game got to be, the more nervous the city seemed to get. This was it. Do or die. The Royals chance of further advancement depended upon this one night in Kansas City.
Their opponent for that shot were the Oakland Athletics, or the A's as they were commonly known as. The Royals and A's had played each other several times during the season and for the most part, the Royals had bettered the A's each time the met. Still there were those games that on certain night the A's would beat the Royals. The concern in Kansas City that night was what kind of A's/Royals game would it be? Would it be like the majority of them during the season with the Royals coming out on top? OR would it be like those other nights when the A's would slip in a win over the kids from Kansas City. There would be no second chance. It was do or die time. of all the games the Royals and A's had played during the season, this one was more important than all of them.
Tuesday night arrived and the battle began. The A's scored two runs in their half of the inning off of a home run. Before the Royals even got to bat, they were down 2-0. It seemed that it was a sign that this was going to be the A's night. The kids in blue though were undaunted. After the first inning was over, the Royals had managed to push a run across the plate and the score was 2-1.
Neither team scored in the second inning but in the bottom of the third, the manager of the Royals, Ned Yost got the kids to be aggressive on the base paths and the Royals scored two more runs. After three innings, the mood had changed. Perhaps this was going to be one of those Royals nights against the A's as the Royals had a lead of 3-2.
The game was pretty quiet during the fourth and fifth innings. Neither team was able to score and fans of the Royals began to feel a little more comfortable as inning went by and the Royals still held the lead. Then came the sixth inning.
Oakland exploded in an offensive barrage that had the whole city of Kansas City believing that the end of the dream season had finally arrived. Oakland pounded in five runs in the sixth inning. The Royals made a threat in the bottom of the inning but were unable to score. After six innings it looked hopeless as the Royals found themselves behind the A's 7-3 with only three innings to go.
Baseball is a game that is structured to favor the defensive side of the game. Coming back from four runs down in nine innings is extremely difficult. Coming back from four runs down in three innings seems almost impossible. No one counted on the determination of the young Royals though. After a quiet seventh inning with neither team scoring and the top half of the eighth finding Oakland unable to score, the Royals cam to bat with only six outs until their season would be over as they were still down 7-3. The Royals dug deep into their souls though and fought for runs in the bottom of the eighth and came up scoring three times in the inning before Oakland could get out of the inning. Suddenly with one inning left to play in this one game the Royals were only down by one run. It was 7-6. All Oakland had to do was get through one more inning and they would DO and the Royals would DIE.
The A's did not score in the ninth and so the Royals came to bat only three outs from the season ending. Yost kept up the aggressive offense that the Royals had been showing during the whole of the game and it paid off as the Royals were able to get that single run across that would tie the game at 7-7 and stretch this one game into extra innings. The game had now become a sure classic that would be remembered for years to come, no matter who won.
Neither team scored in either the tenth or eleventh innings setting the stage for the twelfth inning. The A's got going and worked their way into earning one run in the twelfth before acquiring their third out. Now the Royals would have one more chance. If they could manage just one run, it would lengthen the game further. The fans in Kansas City were trying their best not to give up on their team. It was difficult to do though. The kids had already make an astounding comeback from being down four runs, did they have it in them again? I think even though they put on brave faces, deep down most of the fans thought that the Royals ride past the regular season was finally over.
The Royals were determined however and they weren't going to just let the season end. They would fight to the death and fight they did. The A's were unable to get three outs on the Royals in that inning. The Royals dug deep, got hits including a triple by Hosmer. By the time all was said and done, the Royals had scored twice in the twelfth inning and suddenly the game was over and the Royals had won that one game that they needed so badly. Now tonight they begin what they earned. They play the Angels, West Division Champions, in a best of five series to see who goes to the American League Championship Series.
One game, do or die. Yes baseball is a lot like life. One game, one shot, one chance to advance further than where you are now. Sometimes you have to dig deep inside yourself and do whatever it takes to make the most of that one chance. Sometimes you have to fight hard for that one chance. Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, how good you are, the chance slips away from your grasp.
One game. One chance. Do or Die.