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The Night the Kids Took Over Fenway Park

June 9, 2012 1 comment

Oh my.  There was a baseball game played in Boston last night that was one for the ages.  Washington’s two young phenoms put on a clinic as Stephen Strasburg struck out 13 and Bryce Harper pounded three hits including a mighty 420 foot blast to the deepest part of one of the most revered places in the game- Fenway Park.

Sometimes, words are completely inadequate in capturing the history and drama of a given event.  But the promise of the future and the remarkable nature of what occurred last night seemed to bring out the poet in members of baseball’s writing community.   Besides history, the game produced two of the best written articles you’ll ever read that captured every bit of it.

The Washington Post’s Adam Kilgore really outdid himself.   Here’s the piece in its entirety and worth every second of your investment.  This is but a taste.

A century’s worth of players have passed through Fenway Park, where history seeps through the emerald walls. Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper graced the cathedral for the first time on Friday night, and they did not dissolve into its annals. They made them richer, more complete: The old yard can say it bore witness to Strasburg and Harper at their unbridled beginning, the moment in time when the Washington Nationals became something fresh and different.

Two of the most arresting players in baseball spearheaded the Nationals’ assault on the Boston Red Sox in a 7-4 victory. Harper, the 19-year-old without an off switch, went 3 for 5 with a double, three RBI and a 420-foot, two-run home run. Strasburg, pitching on the two-year anniversary of his masterful debut, threw his first 100-mph fastball of the season, struck out 13 over six innings of four-hit ball and escaped a bases-loaded jam by throwing a 3-2 fastball with his 119th and final pitch.

It was their first visit to Fenway.  And as evidence of how much trouble is brewing for the rest of baseball with these two kids- the bigger the moment, the better they play.  They seize the spotlight with flair and greatness.  They both have a deep understanding and appreciation of the history of the game.  Harper said he was awestruck thinking he was hitting from the same batter’s box as Ted Williams.  Strasburg pitched his second best game ever, surpassed only by his major league debut, another one of those moments he seized two years ago to the day.

ESPNBoston.com’s Gordon Edes is also in fine voice this morning.  Impressive to me on a number of different levels, is that this is a Boston Red Sox beat writer waxing poetic about a visiting team.  But history is history, and a good reporter and a good writer knows when sublime drama eclipses such mundane things as rooting interests.

Strasburg, featuring a fastball that touched 100 mph, a changeup that violated the laws of nature and a curveball bereft of compassion, struck out seven Red Sox in a span of eight batters. There’s no telling how many strikeouts he might have finished with if his pitch count hadn’t climbed to 119 with nine outs to go.

“I knew I was up there, but I had so much adrenaline being at Fenway for the first time, it didn’t really matter,” Strasburg said.

But if Strasburg (7-1) is the rainbow, then center fielder Harper is the Transit of Venus, an astronomical phenomenon that appears, oh, once a century or so. Harper homered to the right of the 420-foot triangle in center, doubled and singled, driving in three runs and scoring two, in one of the most precocious performances the 100-year-old edifice has ever seen.

Both Kilgore and Edes point out that the only other 19-year olds to hit homers in Fenway Park were Mickey Mantle, Al Kaline and Robin Yount- all hall-of-famers.  The only 19 year-olds to collect three hits at Fenway were Kaline and Ken Griffey Jr.

There are not enough superlatives to describe the sheer wonder of what we are seeing with this baseball team from the nation’s capital.  The last time they were this good was in the 1920’s when they won their only World Series behind the arm of the Big Train, Walter Johnson.

But this squad has two players for the ages.  And I might add, in Davey Johnson, one of the greatest managers and baseball men the game has ever seen.  I am astounded I have actually lived long enough to witness something so pure and amazing and rare.  May we all savor and treasure it and appreciate the incredible good fortune the fates have conspired to give us.   Some of the greatest players in the greatest game ever devised have somehow managed to land on our doorstep, in a town that has seen nothing but baseball futility for well over 80 years.

God Loves Baseball

September 29, 2011 4 comments


What else can explain the most amazing night of any final day of any baseball season since the dawn of time?

Even the weather, a long rain delay, conspired to ensure that events in Baltimore, Maryland and St. Petersburg, Florida would play out in a perfectly simultaneous symmetry; the crushing collapse of the Boston Red Sox and within four minutes, the improbable, insane rally from a 7-run deficit, punctuated by a sudden line-drive homerun in the bottom of the 12th that propelled the Tampa Bay Devil Rays into baseball’s post-season.

Oh, and over in the other league, they played a game in Atlanta that went 13 innings that sealed the same awful fate for the Braves that befell the Red Sox. Twin epic collapses. On September 1st, the Red Sox had a 9-game lead for the final American League playoff spot and the Braves were up in the National League by 8 and half.

In Baltimore, the Red Sox were one strike away from winning their final game of the regular season.

In St. Petersburg, the Rays were looking straight into the abyss and the end of their season, down to their last strike in the bottom of the 9th.

In Atlanta, the Braves had to get through just one more inning.

For fans of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and the St. Louis Cardinals the game is sublime. Each team goes on to fight another day and both had to depend on the historic failures of others to reach the promised land. For those who give their hearts to the Red Sox and the Braves, it is a cruel and unforgiving sport.

But I will never be convinced baseball is anything less than the perfect game. It creates story lines and heroes and failures and drama that, in real life, surpass anything that can be imagined in fiction.

Let the playoffs begin. Get some rest, God. You must be exhausted from what you arranged to transpire on this memorable September night. I do understand if residents of Boston and Atlanta do not share this sentiment.

Baseball: Closing the Deal is the Hardest Task of All

September 26, 2011 Leave a comment


The Bruins are the defending NHL champs. The Celtics regularly make the playoffs. The Patriots are perennial Super Bowl contenders and the Bosox have won two World Series titles over the past decade.

But the entire city has been humbled recently and Sunday was particularly tough on the psyche of the Boston sports fan. Their beloved Patriots lost to the heretofore lowly Buffalo Bills and the Red Sox are teetering on the edge of an epic collapse that would set a new standard for epic collapses.

With tongue firmly planted in cheek but sharing the general angst being felt by the city’s sports fans, Boston Globe sports columnist, Dan Shaughenessy, went so far last Friday as to ask the Commissioner of Baseball to disqualify the Red Sox from the playoffs even if they do somehow manage to back into post-season play, saying they just don’t deserve the honor given the horrific way they have played in September.

Their brilliant centerfielder, Jacoby Ellsbury, may have saved their season with a two-out, 14th inning, 3-run homer that beat the Yankees last night, but even so, they cling to a 1-game lead over Tampa Bay and the paranoia in Bean Town is palpable. Their starting pitching is in tatters, their dugout demeanor has been deflated and defeated.

On Saturday, the horror of this September that they opened with a 9-game Wild Card lead, was in abundant display as Red Sox leftfield bust, Carl Crawford, botched a line-drive out that led to a pair of 2nd-inning runs, followed shortly thereafter by a Derek Jeter 3-run blast that put the Bosox hopelessly behind 6-0. Carl Crawford was supposed to be one of their free-agent saviors after the Washington Nationals unexpectedly stole the guy they wanted, former Phillies outfielder Jayson Werth, in an off-season acquisition.

Aside from accidently screwing the Red Sox by forcing them to pick up Crawford, the Nationals have had a good old time over the past couple of weeks derailing hopes and planting doubts in otherwise, really good baseball teams. They took four games from the Phillies in Philadelphia after the Phils had clinched the division. Oh, big deal, you say, the games were meaningless. Yes, but that set the stage for baseball’s best team to go into an 8-game slide they finally ended Sunday. Probably not the way you want to go into the playoffs.

And the Nats took two out of three this weekend from the Atlanta Braves who are vying with the Red Sox for an almost equally disastrous National League epic collapse.

Getting the last three outs in a baseball game is a famously difficult task. Getting the final victories at the close of baseball’s marathon 162-game season is even more difficult. White knuckles and fear seem to overwhelm the emotions of normally rational and competitive men.

For perspective, here in Washington, D.C., we are immensely proud that our baseball team is about to finish in third place in their division. We are ecstatic that our football team has started the season with two victories and we appear to be on the road to a .500 season. For all those Phillies, Braves and Red Sox/Patriots fans accustomed to the rarefied air of constant success- this week in sports is proving that, at the very least, you should be really grateful your teams are even in the position of disappointing you.