2007, Albert Pujols, Arizona Diamondbacks, Carlos Quentin, Chicago White Sox, Chris Duncan, Chris Young, Eric Byrnes, Jake Peavy, Josh Bard, Kerry Wood, NL Cy Young, Roger Clemens, San Diego Padres, St. Louis Cardinals, Stephen Drew, Strikeout, Tom Seaver, Trevor Hoffman
Since the first two thirds (or half?) of my blog’s name references baseball, and up until this point the entirety of my shoddy output has been devoted to movies, I feel it’s time to rectify this. Baseball is starting up again in a few days, friends of mine are talking about fantasy, Yankees and Mets fans are bemoaning the current state of their rosters, and somewhere Dusty Baker is mad that Joey Votto walks alot.
Since Baseball is a game that lends itself to nostalgia and wistful remembrances more than most (Field of Dreams, The Sandlot, racism), I am going to offer up an anecdote in no way insightful or backed by quantitative analysis, but pure shoot from the hip reminiscing.
The scene of this memory is that of the second floor of my off-campus house junior year of college. A random evening (April 25, 2007, to be exact) spent with friends relaxing on one of the last weeks we would all be together that year before the summer. Now, from freshman year in college on, encouraged equal parts by an all-time character of a roommate hailing from San Diego, an infatuation with a fantasy team drafted purely on the basis of the ridiculousness of people’s names (Can you say Coco Crisp #1 pick?!) and the kind of inexplicable je ne se quoi that accompanies why we become fascinated by what we become fascinated by, I had developed a fairly unhealthy obsession with San Diego Padres pitcher Jake Peavy. On the surface there was nothing incredible about the guy that would inspire so much devotion. That’s not to say he wasn’t or still isn’t talented – but he’s a guy who throws hard with good offspeed stuff, plays in a pitchers park which might boost his peripherals and plays in a bad division in what was at the time considered the weaker league. In short, unless you were a baseball or fantasy aficianado (and I wasn’t really either at the time), the name wouldn’t mean too much to you. With anonymity threatening to keep this pitcher off my radar screen, in stepped 1) my silly roommate with a penchant for promoting all things San Diego and 2) my immature sense of humor, which found the phonetic breakout of the name (PEE-vy) strangely satisfying, to rescue him from obscurity and bring Mr. Jacob Edward forever into my world.
It was on this evening that my friends (who after three years of knowing me and continuing to be my friends have clearly exhibited an ability to weather my idiosyncrasies) and I were having a low key evening on our floor – chatting, imbibing, enjoying whatever music we had on loops at the time (good money on some combination of Patrick Wolf / The Knife / Metric) and, like any totally normal 20 year old’s, watching an April game between the Padres and Diamondbacks on a crummy Dell laptop with questionable wireless fidelity and even more questionable screen resolution.
Thankfully, on that night there wasn’t much to see. Actually there was a great deal to see, though none of what went on for the majority of the innings was particularly balletic or worthy of visual appreciation. Starting in the first inning, Peavy (who would go on to unanimously win the Cy Young after capturing the NL Triple Crown that year) methodically went about dispatching Diamondbacks hitters at a near record pace. Guys like Eric Byrnes, Stephen Drew, Carlos Quentin and Chris Young were made to look bad – real bad. Now, Peavy (and by extension myself) are fans of the strikeout. In a different game that season against the St. Louis Cardinals, leading 2-0, two men out and Albert Pujols (who could easily tie the game given the chance) on deck, Peavy was in a 3-0 count against Chris Duncan and let his frustration show. After achieving the hitter’s count, Peavy dispatched with the typical pitcher/catcher subterfuge of going through signs or simply awarding the man his base. Instead, Padres catcher Josh Bard looked out to the mound only to see (and certainly hear) Peavy shouting “Fastball!”. The folks in the bleachers were able to detect what pitch was next in the sequence, any strategy or mind games tossed aside, sacrificed to the gods of fierce competition.
The pitch wasn’t close, Duncan saw the away fastball all the way and trotted to first. Would he have swung if it was close? It could’ve been viewed as a tactic – if he’s announcing it, would he throw anything else? Being a standard fastball count, the pitch itself wasn’t jarring but the guy on the mound seemingly unraveling had to be. In any case, up came Albert Pujols now to face the guy who is yelling at himself and anyone else who will listen with a chance to tie the game and erase a lead from a team who thinks scoring runs is a fine-able offense. The outcome? Strikeout. The guy can’t get a strike over in the least threatening count possible at the time (who is going to take the bat out of Pujols’ hands swinging on 3-0?) then strikes out the best player on the planet. It is ridiculous and doesn’t add up and that’s why I love the guy.
And so the night began, with hitters flailing at high fastballs and biting sliders, staring when they should be swinging, chasing what can’t be hit – a deadly combination of stuff, execution, and intimidation. As the performance progressed I would announce each time Peavy got himself a strikeout, because half the fun of watching him in those years was because he would rack up the K’s and then probably yell about it, or Vasgersian would go nuts – it was my own little observance session across the country from where the damage was being done. By about the third inning, though, the incredulity of those around me regarding my statements started to materialize. “Again?” became the second most uttered term that night after “K”. Indeed, it was videogame-esque. Return from commercial, Diamondbacks up:
1 minute later: K Nice.
2 minutes later: K “Haha, seriously?”
4 minutes later: K. “Holy shit.”
Indeed, it went on like this. What Peavy totaled that night (16) approached the major league strikeout record for a single game (20 – Roger Clemens – twice, Kerry Wood), and in only 7 innings of work, and with his demonstrated dominance, a case could be made he had a puncher’s chance. 16 is good, but many have done more. Peavy approached another record that evening, less heralded but arguably more difficult to attain: consecutive strikeouts in a game. Tom Seaver holds the current record with 10, and Peavy finished at 9. Innings 3-5 featured 9 consecutive at bats ending in strikeouts, with the walk to Eric Byrnes on hitter #10 arriving painfully close to the zone but ultimately deemed wanting. So, two records in sight: none achieved. Furthermore, the Padres lost the game! Oh yeah – Jake was lifted after the 7th, the Padres holding a 2-0 lead with the all-time saves leader Trevor Hoffman waiting in the wings. As was a common sight in big Padres games of the last decade, Hoffman gave up a lead and the Padres went home losers.
Why does this night stand out for me, then? Because that is what baseball is. It is an opportunity to, cliche though it may sound, see things you have never and may not see again (strikeout records, blown leads, walk off homers). I don’t work for ELIAS, but I’m wiling to gues there hasn’t been another 16 strikeout performance where the pitcher tallied 9 straight K’s and then the game was lost due to a walk off homer. The game also sticks out for me because of the company I kept. For my friends tolerating my neuroses and heightening them, encouraging my fanaticism without making me feel self conscious about it. That night for me has to be like what Butler fans felt like the last few years in the NCAA tournament – like something you decided to root for and have faith in was blessed, if even for a short time, and the results are playing out just for you. Not many things make sense to me, and when things that used to start to become confusing, the tendency to retreat to simpler times and past incarnations is natural. It’s through this propensity towards retreat that the nostalgia aspect of baseball makes so much sense. When I see an inside the park home run I’m reminded of that time as a fourth grader, wearing an unconscionably ugly Rockies uniform, I smacked my first ever Little League home run, which failed to clear the fence. When I watch Peavy now on Chicago’s South Side, a little older, a bit heavier, fastball without some of its explosiveness – it’s impossible to mistake him for the pitcher from that Arizona night. But those glimpses – when a slider bites at a hitters knees, when a fist pump and a howl greet an inning ending punchout – it seems less impossible. I look forward to every start of this guy’s career for the rest of my life because there are those brief moments where I know the future is going to bring me back to my past.