Thursday, October 30, 2008

Fifty years ago, the Giants moved to San Francisco when I was a 12-year-old boy, the perfect age for a kid to fixate on the hot new exciting team in town, particularly coming from a family of baseball fans going back at least to the days when Casey Stengel managed the Oakland Oaks in the Pacific Coast League. Since 1958, I have been rooting for the local National League team to win a World Series. The Giants during that period have made it to The Show exactly three times, losing to the Yankees in 1961 (if only Willie McCovey’s line drive had been a foot higher, Bobby Richardson wouldn’t have speared it out of the air & Mateo Alou would have not have been stranded at third base), to the A’s in 1989 in the Earthquake series (made especially joyless since the team that won was the only American League club I’ve ever felt any affinity with), and most recently in 2002 (the team was eight outs from a 5-0 victory when the Angels came back to win game 6 & then game 7 the following night). But the last real emotional connection I had to the Giants was with Barry Bonds, of whom I am still extraordinarily fond (as I was also of his dad, Bobby, likewise a Giant thirty-plus years ago), tho team president Peter Magowan’s brother Robin is a poet I’ve known & liked, both the man & his work, for decades.

The Phillies had been to the Series a couple of years before we moved here in 1995, but they were already in a downward spiral by the time we arrived, finishing third in 1995 & dead last the following year. From ’95 thru ’97, they never once even won 70 games. Finishing last in ‘95 allowed them to pick second in the next major league draft & they selected J.D. Drew, who then refused to sign with a team that dreadful, choosing instead to play with an Independent League ballclub, sort of the ultimate ignominy for a sports franchise. As a consolation, the Phils got the first draft pick again the following year & selected Pat “The Bat” Burrell, who had been the MVP of the College World Series with the University of Miami. Burrell, now an aging outfielder, doubled last night – the last of the Phillies starters to make a contribution – & it was Eric Bruntlett, pinch-running for Burrell, who scored the winning run, driven in by Pedro Feliz, whom the Phils had signed as a free agent over the winter, coming from the San Francisco Giants.

Considering that the Phils are one of the most power-oriented teams in baseball, it is worth noting that they won three of the four games in this year’s series by just one run. J.C. Romero, one of the keys to baseball’s best bullpen, became the first Puerto Rican pitcher in history to win two World Series games. The MVP was Cole Hamels who made five superb starts in the post-season and became the third youngest pitcher ever to win a World Series game (the two ahead of him are Ray Sadeki of the 1964 Cardinals – Sadeki would later be traded to the Giants for Orlando Cepeda in the most infamous deal of that team’s history – and an old-time Boston hurler by the name of Babe Ruth). The closer, Brad Lidge, on his knees in the photo above, had a season in which he was perfect, never once blowing a save. The team’s record with a lead after eight innings was 80-0 for the year. Basically, that’s impossible. But it also means that 23 times in 2008, they won when they did not have a lead after eight innings – that’s also close to impossible. And yet, as anyone watching this series could see, this was a team that often was its own worst enemy, leaving runner after runner on base. The Phillies stranded 16 men on base last night, the Rays just five, the last one being pinch runner (and Creeley-Ashbery-Hejinian reader) Fernando Perez.

All of which is to say that last night’s victory reached about as far back into my psyche as a baseball game can. The last half inning (which Bill Mohr reminds me was the top, not the bottom, of the ninth) was the first time ever I can remember my whole family watching a baseball game on the telly together. That was as satisfying as it gets.