The pitcher who couldn’t throw a strike threw a fastball down the middle, and the ball took off into the cold Detroit night sky. The merry-go-round of baserunners started to move, while the reliever warming in the bullpen continued to throw. The ex-Tigers’ star patrolling center field froze for an instant, as many centerfielders do on low liners hit right at them. In that instant of hesitation, a race between fielder and ball began, a race for the game, the season, and the baseball fate of the man on the mound. A race that was decided by no more than 6 inches.
Baseball is a fickle game. One pitch called a ball rather than a strike, one broken bat bloop that finds grass, one ball that just makes it inside the foul line can change the course of a game and, at the right time, a season. It is part of the unpredictability of baseball, where luck often infiltrates the sport and overrides skill, surprising us in fantastic ways at the most fascinating moments.
Last night, that thrilling, lucky, and unpredictable moment came in the first inning. If the ball is not hit right at a fielder, or if it had 6 more inches of carry, three runs likely score and the Yankees season might be over. Instead, we had our race between fielder and ball.
The center fielder, criticized in Detroit for his poor reads in the outfield, recognized that the ball was ticketed for a spot well over his head and turned to run it down. He took 6 or 7 strides, leaped backwards in the direction of the center field wall, and fully extended his glove to try and snag the ball, to try and avert disaster.
Baseball is also a game of narratives. If the ball eludes Curtis Granderson, we are likely talking about a season ended too early for a team that won more games than any American League club. We would be discussing Granderson’s poor initial read and wondering whether the Tigers were right about him. And we would be bemoaning the terrible performance of A.J. Burnett, who couldn’t get out of the first inning and confirmed his place in the pantheon of poor Yankee pitchers. Instead, in the race between fielder and ball, Curtis Granderson won by inches, AJ Burnett was redeemed, and the Yankees live to play at least one more game.
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