Coming into Game Four of the 2012 World Series, the Tigers were in trouble. They were in a three game hole which is never a good hole to be in when the fourth loss means elimination. To win the series was akin to climbing mount Kilimanjaro and as I was sitting at my desk waiting for Max Scherzer to finish his warm up tosses I became overwhelmed with a sense of the epic.
Either the Tigers would lose, a feat I wouldn’t have been surprised to witness, or the Tigers would stay the inevitable if only by a game or two; they had to play game six and seven in San Francisco after all. Either way, I knew their season was short lived. I decided I would live blog in short fiction form, using Don DeLillo’s masterful Pafko at the Wall, as a launching pad. Four hours and four thousand words later I was done. After a brief edit to catch misspellings I posted and soon The Final At Bat became the most read post in WW’s short history, tallying several tens of thousands of page views within a few hours/days.
I’m reposting it today because today is the relaunch of the 2013 blog campaign. It will serve as a reminder of the type of season Detroit was gifted last year, and as a standard for myself, and the rest of the writers here, to build on.
And so without further delay I present The Final At Bat below, unedited, the original post with original comments can be seen here.
A Brief P.S.
Now, I haven’t done any research but I wonder when the last time, or if there’s ever been a time that the World Series ended by a strikeout looking to the eventual American League MVP (Cabrera), the ball smacking into the mitt of the eventual National League MVP (Posey).
He doesn’t have the money for this but doesn’t care. He figures, one can never assume that this type of series will happen even twice in a lifetime so he nabs a ticket right behind the third base line for the price of a 72 inch flat screen that’s not nearly close to being on sale just so he has the right to stand outside this cathedral of consternation and gaze happily into its gates with the patrons of protection standing guard with their scanners and nanny packs stuffed with ripped ticket stubs.
The sky is white grey the color of cold oatmeal and there is a salty taste in the air. A concerned few wonder if there will be a rain delay at some point and panic and wonder if they left their umbrellas or jive pink ponchos in their Expeditions or Blazers or Humer H3′s. The women tell the husbands to run out and collect the objects to which the husbands reply, ‘You think I have a chance at getting back in here with those electronic scanners? They’ll say I scalped and cause a fuss and I’ll never get back in here.’ It’s probably true. Baseball games these days are a much different experience from when they were kids. This isn’t 1972 when they were able to stand at the gates of Old Tiger Stadium and jump through the lines at opportune times. Back then, once you were inside you were lost in the masses and there was no getting out until the final pitch ended. These days you’re scanned for bombs and guns and bottles of water by those minimum wage treasurers who are just happy to earn eight bucks an hour so they can be inside the basilica walls to watch the part time millionaires play for three hours and dash hopes that their dreams of Ben and Cody and Jasper and Matthew could ever play ball professionally. Not because their kids aren’t good at baseball but because kids named Miguel and Rafael and Juan and Carlos are so so so much better.
But, still, the stadium speaks to you. It calls out in lines of bright color and amphitheater black, screams to you with the smell of cutgrass and foamy beer filled to the brim of plastic cups. There must be forty thousand of you who stream inside like jagged pillars wearing Joseph’s coat of dreams. How many listen? How many look at a neighboring stranger and harp about the price of a shriveled dog cooked lukewarm and how the boss screwed you this morning and you nearly missed the game that you paid a half a month’s salary for? How many listen when she tells you that a social media challenge presented by the latest mobile phone has been issued between the two fan bases and that you should feel free to update multiple times throughout the game using the appropriate hashtag. Is it your buddy who whips his smartphone out and pound pound pounds away at the touch screen then curses under his breath but loud enough for a certain number of people to hear? Apparently there isn’t very good tower reception where he’s standing and he’s quite frustrated with this.
Arguments ensue in random places and time moves on which frightens the men and bothers the women.
The color guys are behind home plate in their balcony of explanation wearing salmon orange ties and blue blazers who scratch their great shiny foreheads off camera and talk into their microphones about Leyland who refused once again in the tunnels to explain the reasoning behind his batting order which is a source of great frustration among the social fan base and therefore a viable topic of conversation, you know, ratings and such.
Dickerson, who’s called games since the last days of Ernie Harwell is talking into the mike about how the Tigers offense needs to attack early if they want to have any chance of winning this game. Wayne, the producer of WCBS Radio is on the phone with his assistant.
“Got to get a masseuse or someone like that up here, Price’s throat is about to collapse on itself and he hasn’t even gotten thru the pregame.”
“No, no, that won’t work. We need to get someone who knows what they’re doing to help out here. He’s been at this since February and he shouldn’t even be working part time much less every night given the condition his throat is in.”
“Just get it done.”
Back in the crowd he settles into his seat, a good one in fact it’s the best one he’s ever had, three rows behind the end of the infield a seat away from the concrete aisle in case he needs to use the restroom and close enough to the field so that he can see CABRERA spelled out in Old English Blue just above the thick bold 24 and he breathes a sigh of excitement as he gazes out over the rest of the park and soaks in the magnificent colors of a professional ball field. And it’s not just any ball field, he tells himself. A ball field is a pretty sight on an average July night but this, this is a World Series game, six years since the last series was held in this stadium and 28 since the last championship in this city. He can never get used to how much smaller the stadium looks up close than how it appears on television. You can have all the HD and 3D you want, he thinks to himself, but nothing, absolutely nothing compares to the beauty of a major league field in person.
Of course, then he remembers the fact that the team is down three games to none and that the narrative of this series has quickly gone from “A.L. Pennant and beyond” to “let’s not get embarrassed here” rather quickly. It’s the offense that’s so petulant, so miserable. The Tigers may be in the World Series, sure, but when their two best hitters aren’t hitting the team looks as bad as the Houston Astros, in fact four or five of these guys would fit perfectly on the former Colt .45’s roster and some very well may find themselves there before spring training hits.
He watches as the field clears out of personnel and players and not long after that the pregame festivities begin. God Bless America is sung by some famous person who doesn’t really know what baseball is and as the pink sun sets slowly into the fair weather sky the crowd begins to roar like an ocean of angry sea monkeys and he stands there soaking in the forty thousand plus, soaking in the possibility of this being the last game of the season. There’s no real way to make someone care about the game. It’s not like you can take your wife or your football frenzied uncle to a playoff game and make them understand the history of the team. They don’t think back over the last six months and know anything about the tough luck losses and disappointing players. They don’t know about the long August and September games which at times feel like a slowly turning knife in the small of the back. They don’t know about the exhilarating feeling of impending success or utter doom with a week to go and no one is sure if the Tigers are even going to make the playoffs. They don’t really care about the five game series against Oakland that Justin Verlander won when he needed to most, they hadn’t paid attention to their utter domination of the Bronx Bombers. It’s just a game to them. But it’s not just a ballgame to the forty thousand plus. It’s not just something you do to relax, not this deep into the season. It’s a journey, a path that you’ve taken with the dozens upon dozens of millionaires out on the field. It’s romantic and ridiculous and you just don’t care about anything other than a win. You throw stats out the window. You throw names out the door. Someone needs to step up. Someone needs to make baseball last a little bit longer.
Someone needs to win game four.
And then it begins. Scherzer finishes his warm up throws and Pagan strolls up to the plate, slowly, confidently. He’s had a good couple of days for the G-men of San Francisco Bay but that first 90 mile per hour fastball for a strike set up a leadoff punch-out and just like that the game is underway and the game’s most effective strikeout artist of the year is doing just what he does best. After a popcorn-yankee fly and a second strikeout against Kung Fu Panda, Scherzer marches off the mound to the thundering roar of the Detroit faithful, hoping that the offense could score a run and earn a lead for the first time, unbelievably so, in the entire series.
But a two out Cabrera walk does nothing as pressing Prince pops up in the infield and the Bengals once again leave their half of the inning scoreless.
Pence and Belt combine for five total bases in the top of the second and give the suddenly national favorite Giants a 1-0 lead
One guy says: “It’s over.”
Another guy says: “This team is an emotionless disaster.
Our protagonist who hears these two chimes in: “It’s only one run, you can’t say that yet.”
“Where have you been? This team couldn’t score if they had a guy start on third base every inning.”
That is true for the bottom of the second as Dirks, Peralta, and Infante all make easy outs after a leadoff single from Young. Two innings, two men left on base. Down one zip. Thankfully, the top of the third leaves the score unchanged and after one out in the bottom of the first third of the game, Jackson works a walk and after a failed bunt attempt the Triple Crown winner strides to the plate.
“This is it,” one guy says.
“Blast.” Another adds.
“Has to do something here. They haven’t led at any point in the World Series,” declares a woman.
And then with Cain having chucked two 90 mile per hour fastballs for a ball and a strike he lobs up a changeup, one that speeds in a bit too fast, at something like 86, and Cabrera swings, and the ball launches towards the right field fence and with this wind push push pushing out away from home plate that white meteor is picked up and sent right into the stands.
He feels the stadium explode. Forty thousand people leap to their collective feet, at least those who weren’t already standing do so as the ball disappears into the bleachers and suddenly for the first time in twenty innings the Detroit Tigers find themselves ahead in a game.
And nothing happened for two innings. A sigh of relief has fallen over the city. The game was slowly creeping to an end. With a lead you wanted the game to move along, to end, just so that your boys could take one and get the ball back to Verlander.
But then the sixth inning happens.
Scherzer is still in the game, dominating. Through five innings he has struck out six and only given up that one run. He has given up four hits and walked one. What more could you ask for from a guy who had battled arm fatigue over the last month of the regular season and here he was possibly pitching the last game of the season a few days before the month of November would begin.
A single on a soft ground ball to third base that Cabrera can’t handle. That’s the problem with such an offensive minded club. Would a more athletic player made that play? Perhaps so. No one knows. But it’s a moot point. Kung Fu Panda comes to the plate. He’s already made himself a name with those three bombs in the first game of the series off the Tigers best pitcher. It would just be so the Tigers luck if he launched another one right here.
But the seventh pitch of the at bat was whiffed at and the round mound of pound was sent back to the bench, a failure this time.
Unfortunately, for Mad Maxwell, he can’t find the same result with Posey who launches a second pitch changeup into the left field bleachers and suddenly the Giants lead the game again, 3-2, and the silence that blanketed the stadium before is perhaps even worse than the thunderous roar that deafened his ears three innings earlier.
Somehow, it doesn’t feel like disaster and he’s not sure why. Maybe it’s because Cain is starting to falter. Maybe it’s because the Tigers really have hit the ball with some sort of authority tonight. But with Cabrera, Fielder, and Young due up in the bottom half of the end of the second third of the game, you just knew something would happen.
But nothing from Cabrera. Nothing, again, from Fielder. And it was weird. It felt as if something would happen. And of course something did. It was a slider on the outer half of the middle of the plate that did it. The pitch didn’t move much and that was why Young could handle it. And he did, he lifted it into the cold rainy air, the slight mist tried but could beat the white sphere down out of the right field atmosphere and when it landed he game was tied.
One guy cries out: “Get a ball in the air to right field tonight and it’s like winning the lottery. Tie game!”
Another screams: “That ball was Jewish. Had to be Jewish!”
A third: “Oh this is going to be torturous.”
And he can’t help but agree. Although, did anyone really want a boring game? Easy games are for May. Easy games are for Toronto fans.
The seventh inning is just as dramatic. Scherzer gets knocked out of the game and Smyly relieves him successfully. Then Dotel successfully relieves Smyly and the Giants can’t score in the seventh and there’s hope, hope that the Tiger bullpen can pull this off. Of course, the Tigers make Cain look outright dominant, especially when Jackson strikes out to end the inning, but Cain is seen receiving handshakes upon entrance in the dugout and it is naturally assumed that both starting pitchers are now out of the game.
The top of the eighth is a bit scary but after Dotel walks the leadoff guy he manages to get the Panda to bounce into a double play, then he strikes Posey out and the Tigers now have six outs to the Giants three.
Garcia pinch hits for Berry and facing new G-man Affeldt, falls behind one and two. But three fouls later, eight total pitches all fastballs, the pinch hitter finds himself trotting down to first base
“Let’s go” screams a fan.
“Let’s go” screams forty thousand fans.
But Cabrera swings through a couple pitches and Fielder finds himself in a position to return the world series goat that had been delivered to his house that morning.
He falls behind 1-2 on a nasty 76 mile per hour curveball from Affeldt and then swings feebly at a fourth offering. Once again the two most dangerous Detroit hitters fail when they are needed to deliver and it is left to Young, the Free Agent to be, the most frequently mocked member of the team, and yet the most productive offensive force this postseason to deliver, once again.
The count at 2-2. Garcia stands at first. The game knotted at three.
And then another strike.
Affeldt walked the first guy, a rookie, a twenty one year old bruiser, and then struck out over $45 million bucks in salary with ease.
Baseball knows no law.
There is a slight sense of panic in the air. He recalls back to the beginning of the game where the mood sat between disastrous and something that was halfway hopeful. Now? What’s this? We have Phil Coke, the ridiculous wrangler of a personality who struggled with his mental game for most of the year on the mound for the Detroiters and he starts the ninth off with a strike to Pence who is as awkward as Coke is weird. And Coke continues his postseason reincarnation and strikes Hunter out with three easy pitches. Belt comes up, works the count full and then strikes out on a heater right smack dab down the middle of the plate and Coke pumps his fists, the crowd evicts their approval and Coke starts the next guy off with another strike, swinging of course. Blanco is that annoying player who is peaking right when his team needs him to but right now the U.S.S. Coke doesn’t care because right now he’s seeing red and black and blue and firing missiles and he gets the little outfielder looking and our reliever is just as good as your reliever, San Francisco. Take that.
So Dirks finds himself at the plate to lead off the bottom of the final third of the last third of the game. A run wins it. A run sends them to die another day. A run hammers home hope. The possibility of not losing this series. At least not yet.
But six pitches into the at bat, Dirks strikes out and it’s hard to justify taking the lefty Affeldt out of the game even though he’s at 26 pitches and so Bochy leaves the guy in the game to face a righty in Peralta. Peralta launches one to deep right center and it’s just deep enough and Pagan has to turn just awkwardly enough to make it exciting but in the end after all the roaring of the crowd and the excitement in Dickerson’s voice it’s just a long out and Bochy senses he is pushing his luck so he takes the reliever out of the game in favor of this right handed Casilla character.
Infante who doesn’t have much power is the first dude to face him.
He’s sitting there thinking about how the Tigers just have to win this game. It’s been such a dramatic affair and Detroit’s not giving up even if they are facing utter elimination. Here they are, at home. A loss now means failure in their last at bat. A win means a rip roaring jumping walk off. There’s no way they can lose and–
–the pitch hit him. Casilla hits Infante right in the left side of the left hand and Infante goes down in obvious pain. But a runner. A runner with two outs. Could it be? As Worth trotted out to first to replace Infante, Laird strolls to the plate, a chance to be a hero.
He grounds the ball into the dirt in the direction of third and Pablo tossed to second to record the force and postpone the game that the Tigers need to win, the game that the Tigers cannot afford to lose.
The game heads to extra innings.
Phil Coke has now faced seven batters in the World Series and struck out seven. That’s sort of insane, something he didn’t know from his really good seat behind the third base line. But that all ends with Theriot who leads off the innings with a single. Crawford is instructed to give up an out to move the runner up, so he did, and bunts Theriot over to second on a sacrifice to the pitcher. Coke then throwa down his Unabomber face and strikes Pagan out on four nasty pitches. And here’s Scutaro, the man named Marco, who won the NLCS MVP but is just hitting at a 20 percent clip in the world series.
“This is the man to get for Phil Coke,” says a fan.
But Scutaro singles up the middle of the field and Theriot scores to make it 4-3 and the silence returns even when Coke gets Pablo to make an out somewhere on the first pitch of the next at bat to end the top of the tenth and the Tigers run off the field with Jackson, Garcia, and Cabrera due up in the bottom of the frame.
A car insurance advertisement asks if you need a blender with 23 buttons to chop an onion.
Sergio Romo places his bearded frame on the mound, the closer for the G-men and here comes Jackson.
Jackson strikes out.
We’re looking at a walk off. A walk off on Woodward Avenue.
Kelly pinch hits for Garcia.
Because baseball knows no law and neither does Leyland.
All the fans want to see is the Tigers live to see another day.
Kelly, but of course, strikes out.
The Tigers are down to their last out. It seems only appropriate that it’s Cabrera.
What does he do?
Takes a breaking ball for strike one.
The outfield is as deep as they can go. If he hits it out there it’s either over the fence or a single.
Breaking ball off the plate away.
Breaking ball whiffed at for a strike.
Breaking ball low and away.
Nothing’s been faster than 80 miles per hour.
A foul. Off a breaking ball.
Strike three called. A fastball at 89. Ten miles per hour faster than any other pitch in the at bat.
Baseball knows no law.
The Tigers know no victory.
He’s not used to the cold, you guys, and there’s a shiver in his spine that feels absolutely abysmal.
He didn’t have the money for this but didn’t care. Win or lose one can never assume that this type of series will even happen twice in a lifetime so he nabbed a ticket right behind the third base line for the price of a 72 inch flat screen that’s not nearly close to being on sale just so he has the right to stand right outside this cathedral of consternation and gaze happily into its gates with the patrons of protection standing guard with their scanners and nanny packs stuffed with ripped ticket stubs.
The sky is now black the color of blackboard and there is still that salty taste in the air and the stadium still speaks to you, calls out in lines of bright color and amphitheater black, screams to you with the smell of cutgrass and foamy beer filled to the brim of plastic cups. There must be forty thousand of you who stream out of her like jagged pillars wearing Joseph’s coat of dreams. How many listen? How many look at a neighboring stranger and harp about the price of a shriveled dog cooked lukewarm and how the boss screwed you this morning and you nearly missed the game that you paid a half a month’s salary for? How many complain that is was all for nothing, that it was a night wasted, a season lost?
How many care to recognize the irony that the team’s most valuable player hit the two run home run to put them ahead but then ended the season looking at a third strike? How many realize that the best reliever on the team all postseason was the one who lost the game?
He turns just as he hit Woodward Avenue and turned back to look at the cathedral of failure with a stick sad look on his face and a feeling of emptiness in his heart.
“Hey what third world country gets all those Tigers World Champions t-shirts?” A kid asks loudly, sarcastically as he blows by with a bunch of friends.