We are up late Sunday at the Liquor and Rubber Balls Sports Tavern and Liposuction Center watching the last-place Phillies kick the crap out of the first place Nationals. The league is upside down at the moment, so charting the game’s progress is as refreshing as the flow of draughts served up by Don Tequila, presiding behind the bar this evening.
Anchor Steam is unbelievable on draft.
A debate breaks out early in the game when Phillies pitcher Cole Hamels throws inside to teenage phenom Bryce Harper, hitting him solidly in the back. Sportswriter Lu Senz and I immediately identify the pitch as intentional, and applaud the effort. That’s the way to welcome the little snot to the big leagues. That’s the way the you play this game. We high five as the youngster picks himself up and trots down to first.
We are informed by several other patrons that we are barbarians. Lu counters that the game would benefit exponentially if more players channeled their inner medieval. “You probably don’t remember Bob Gibson,” she tells them. “Or Don Drysdale, or Sal ‘the Barber’ Maglie. Pitchers are messengers. A couple high hard ones at opposing batters’ foreheads is very communicative. That’s what this game is about — communication.”
And I bet you thought it was about scoring runs.
Lu is right, of course. This is what baseball is supposed to be. Hamels didn’t try to injure the kid, he just wants him to know that in the major leagues, the level of competition is such that your own personal ass is on the line every time you step in. Ultimately it’s good not just for the game and the fans, but for the players.
In fact, Harper responds by advancing to third on a base hit, and stealing home, delivering a message right back to Hamels which he reinforces with a steely look from the dugout after scoring the run. And in the third inning, when Hamels comes to the plate to bunt the runner over, it’s his turn to get hit by a pitch.
That’s how this game is played right. It’s a pleasure to see. When the teams meet again, this incident will be prominent in media coverage and players’ consciousness. The games will gain an edge. The competition will become palpable. This ripple can resonate throughout the season, and build to a wave over time: as a relative newcomer to the league, the Nationals need rivalries and back stories to accelerate the enthusiasm of their fan base.
There are reasons baseball has been around for over 150 years and continues to entertain. Incidents like this one are as integral to the sport’s longevity as the dirt in the infield and the beer in the bleachers.
My announcement is rewarded by another Anchor Steam. Thanks, Don.