CHARLOTTE, NC: – As exciting as baseball’s ALCS (American League Championship) Game #6 between the New York Yankees and the Houston Astros was, it reveal some fatal flaws. Flaws in the sport that must be addressed…and soon. To be sure die-hard fans along with the local populations were on the edge of their seats, but casual observers on the east coast had been in bed for more than an hour before the final blow in Game #6 Astros vs. Yankees was struck.
Still, no matter how far into the muck and mire the onetime “national pastime” gets, it always seems to rise from the ashes like the Phoenix. Or, like Madonna, reinventing itself to survive for another day.
This year’s ALCS had plenty going for it. That is before finishing like Clint Eastwood’s 1966 spaghetti western The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.
THE GOOD: Astros vs. Yankees
One of the best things about this country’s big three sports (football, baseball, and basketball) is typically American; The possibility of a dramatic come-from-behind miracle that can turn certain defeat into victory.
The Yankees entered the last inning on Saturday night trailing Houston by two runs. NY was down in the series three games to two when Gio Urshela led off the ninth with a sharp line-drive single.
Barring a double play, or some other strange pre-Halloween misfortune, the pinstripers were left with a tying run at the plate for a minimum of three shots to tie the score.
After Brett Gardner struck out, DJ LeMahieu poked a 3-2 pitch to the opposite field that barely eluded the outstretched glove of right fielder George Springer. Score tied at 4. Momentum, Yankees. Advantage, Yankees.
The stunned Houston crowd, which just moments before were raucously a mere two outs away from the World Series, took a blow to the gut that would have Muhammed Ali to the mat in his prime.
With the Astros down to their final out before extending the game into extra innings, Stringer walked bringing the smallest player on the field, Jose Altuve, to bat. Standing a mere five feet, eight inches tall and weighing in at less than 170 pounds, Altuve drove a 2-1 hanging slider into the left-centerfield seats. Thus launching the Astros into the Series for the second time in three years.
Once again, David slew Goliath. It’s the American way. Last-minute heroics are part of our competitive DNA. For all of its frustrations and flaws, baseball captures the fabric of Americana about as well as any other team sport.
THE BAD: Astros vs. Yankees
There are several reasons why playoff baseball takes so long and hardly any of them are good. For starters, pitching changes are far more frequent during the playoffs because managers do not have the luxury of letting a game get out of hand early.
Secondly, baseball, more than any other sport, has always relied on trends and statistics which have, in many ways, added to over-thinking a situation. Throw in computer technology, which has led to defensive shifts that barely existed as recently as five or ten years ago, and players who now carry laminated cards in their pockets as a substitute for personal knowledge and the changes in the game have been dramatic.
Shifting has resulted in batters changing their styles to accommodate launch angles that allow them to hit balls over a shift and into the stands. In the previous hundred years before 2010 or so, only 22 teams combined had ever hit more than 200 home runs in a season. In 2019 alone, there were 24 teams that accomplished the feat.
Home runs are exciting and fun, but they are not the only thing baseball has to offer. Stolen bases, triples, hit and run plays, drag bunts, taking an extra base on a single or a well-executed double play can be, and used to be, so much a part of the game that without them modern-day baseball has become little more than home run derby.
Time was when the bases were loaded or there was a runner at third with less than two outs, all a team wanted the batter to do was put the ball in play or get it far enough into the outfield to score a run.
Today the hitter is more likely to strike out than make contact. Worst of all, he doesn’t care, except for the fact that he didn’t belt the ball into the seats.
We have come to rely way too much on the long ball, and that is not good for the game.
THE UGLY: Astros vs. Yankees
Game six of the ALCS lasted a whopping four hours and nine minutes! Part of the reason was the number of pitching changes, but most of it was due to pitchers not throwing strikes and going to a full count on nearly every batter. If I want to watch somebody play catch, I’ll go out in the back yard.
Another aspect of long games is the number of foul balls a hitter takes. Ten pitch at-bats are time-consuming and boring.
Pitchers often take longer between pitches during the post-season as well.
Therefore an eight o’clock first pitch can run to 12:30 am before a game is over, and most people will not stick with it that long, no matter how compelling it is.
Baseball was once a beautiful game of anticipation, speed, accuracy, and nuance. It was a giant game of athletic chess played out on a velvet-like carpet of green.
Today’s game has lost much of its magic.
Lost it, that is, until the smallest guy on the field muscles a dinger into the seats to send his team “Astro-nomically” to the World Series. Yes, home tuns at just the right time, are part of it too.
After all, it’s the American way!
About the Author:
Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor is an award-winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.
Taylor is the founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
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