No Such Thing as a Gifted Win

At the conclusion of quarter finals win in the 2003 national championship Wiffle Ball tournament, I lined up along with the rest of my teammates for the obligatory post-game handshakes.  Everyone did it after every game.  It was sort of a ritual.  You line up, slap hands, and tell your opponent “good game” even if you don’t really mean it.

Well, on this particular occasion the pitcher for the opposing team didn’t mean it and he didn’t even bother to pretend.  As he slapped hands with all five members of our team one-by-one, he told each of us in a sarcastic tone:  “Too bad I couldn’t throw strikes.”

Our team – the Stompers – won the game 5 to 1 based largely on a second inning where the pitcher issued a bunch of free passes and walked runners in.  His message was clear – had I been able to throw strikes, you wouldn’t have won.  In his eyes, he had given our team a gift.  As far as he was concerned we hadn’t won the game, rather it was his team that lost it.

The fact that we were the ones advancing while his team was heading home made it easier to brush of his non-congratulations, but it still irked me afterwards.  Regardless of how the win came about, we got the win.  We could have swung at the balls he was throwing or issued our own walks.  The fact that we didn’t do those things contributed greatly to the end result.  We didn’t make mistakes and they did.  That is why we won and they didn’t.

As you can see, I am not entirely over it.  So Derrick Anderson of The Gunners – if you are out there – here is something I’ve wanted to tell you for ten years:   You didn’t hand us that win.  We earned it.

(Now I can move on with my life . . .  maybe.)

The point of the story as it relates to the Orioles is that teams can become winners by doing nothing truly extraordinary except for making very few mistakes.  The Orioles have proven that point many times this season and it was on full display once again this weekend in Arlington, Texas.

The official scorer charged the Rangers with three fielding errors this weekend (to the Orioles’ one fielding error), but the difference in fielding acumen between the two teams is not accurately captured in errors (it rarely is).  The Orioles generally made the routine plays and also made the slightly more difficult – but still makeable – plays.  Texas booted some routine chances and failed to make plays on at least three other balls that were ruled hits, but were plays that should have been made.

On the base running side, the Rangers got caught in a crucial run down during Sunday’s game that cost them a run – or at the very least, a chance to add on additional runs.  They swung at pitches out of the zone virtually all series, making it a little easier for the Birds’ pitchers to make it through innings unscathed.

The Orioles – for the most part – played a more mistake-free brand of baseball.  They weren’t perfect, but in all facets – fielding, base running, hitting – the O’s were much more solid than the Rangers.  It is why despite some shaky relief outings and many runners left on base it was Baltimore that came away with the 3-game sweep and not Texas.

After the series finale on Sunday night, Texas second baseman Ian Kinsler had this to say to reporters:

“We lost three games to a team I feel like we should beat.  It’s not very characteristic of us . . .”

I couldn’t help but flash back to that 2003 Wiffle Ball tournament upon reading that quote.  The Gunners’ pitcher should have thrown strikes.  He didn’t and lost.  Ian Kinsler feels the Orioles are a team the Rangers should beat.  They didn’t.  “Should” only gets a person or team so far.  At some point – usually sometime immediately after the point when you lost the game due to your own miscues – it all just starts sounding like excuses.

In sports, there is rarely an instance where a team truly beats themselves.  Most of the time if their mistakes cost them the game, it is also because the other team failed to make those same mistakes (or made less of them).  A co-worker of mine said today that he was excited about the sweep, but it doesn’t mean a ton because Texas looked bad.  My response was that it didn’t matter how poorly they played.  The Orioles still needed to play better which they did.  There is no such thing as a gifted win and certainly not a gifted series sweep.

Games are won and lost in many different ways.  Sometimes, simply making fewer mistakes than your opponent is good enough for a win.  There’s nothing wrong with that.