It is one of the first things you are taught as a kid. Life isn’t fair.
Apparently, neither is playoff baseball.
Baseball imitates life in many aspects, including this one. Some find that notion to be romantic or endearing. The idea that a game can so accurately reflect many of the nuances of everyday existence is charming to some people. Not me, however – at least not on this morning.
Life can be cruel, frustrating, and unfair. Games – by their very nature – are supposed to be fun. A game that imitates life right down to the most frustrating every day details? No thanks. Give me something I can invest my time in without being constantly reminded of life’s inherent unfairness. Most games grasp this concept. The Game of Life doesn’t include squares for “Get a divorce and pay alimony for 30 years” or “get a terminal illness at age 40”. No, just multiple chances to become a millionaire. Nobody really wants to imitate real life because real life isn’t fair. Milton Bradley (the toy maker, not the ill-tempered baseball player) understands that. The baseball gods don’t seem to care.
The bottom of the 4th inning of last night’s ALCS Game #3 was a microcosm of how baseball can be unflinchingly cruel to those who play the game and those of us who live and die by it. The Kansas City Royals have made a living this postseason watching bloop singles fall in, broken bat hits find an empty spot of grass, and soft hit balls hug the line for doubles. They added to their universe leading bloop hit total in the 4th inning with a pair of perfectly placed soft hits, including another one of the broken bat variety. With one out and runners on first and second, Wei-Yin Chen smartly pitched around the one Royal hitter – Billy Butler – who has given him trouble during his career. Chen tried to get Butler to chase a pitch out of the zone and walked him instead. He then got Alex Gordon to roll over weakly on a good pitch. Unfortunately, it was hit too weakly to record a double play. Just like that – two perfectly placed bloop hits, a well-advised walk, and a soft ground out – and the game was tied.
In everyday life, everyone knows you can do everything right and still not end up where you want to be. We get that. We generally accept that. I just don’t need to be reminded of that when watching a baseball game, but there has been no escaping those reminders this postseason. Everywhere you look, no matter what the Baltimore players do, everything is coming up Royals.
Around this time two years ago, I wrote a similar ode to the harsh unfairness of the sport we all love after pinch hitter Raul Ibanez replaced the embarrassingly rich but struggling Alex Rodriquez and immediately tied the game on a home run. The Yankees – the elite of Major League Baseball – pinch hitting a 40 year old for the highest paid player in the game and having it work out might very well be the dictionary definition of unfair. Yet, it happened because that’s baseball.
I don’t mean for this to come off as sour grapes. The Royals have done a lot of things right including playing stellar defense and riding their shutdown backend of the bullpen the past three games. They have also been incredibly fortunate over the past two weeks. Play these sets of games four weeks ago or four weeks from now and the results are almost assuredly different in some significant manner. I love baseball because of all the major team sports, it’s the most skill sport. It is also one of the more random sports, where action doesn’t always lead to results – at least not the results one would expect.
Just like life’s cruel moments provide many bright side opportunities, I suppose baseball does as well. For starters, there is no rational pattern to the game’s madness. Fortune in baseball can be fleeting. As enchanted as the streaking Royals seem to be right now, that could end in an instant. The Charlie Brown-like Orioles we have seen over the past three games could easily have a run of good fortune right around the corner. Like maybe starting tonight . . . please?
Understanding that life and baseball often do not make any sense does not make accepting that fact any easier. It has been a frustrating few days to be a Baltimore Orioles fan. Deep down, however, I am an optimist, which means at 4:07 PM ET, I will be watching ALCS game #4 in one fashion or another while wishing and hoping that the luck for these two teams will reverse. I also know it very well may not and this day might end the same as yesterday with much frustration and confusion.
But that’s baseball . . . and that’s life.