On Luck and Losing
10.08.15 Posted by Chris
I remember the exact moment last night when I stopped being angry.
Before that point, I’d had to endure a surprising number of Cubs fans in attendance, cheering loudly every time something went well for their team (which was pretty often over the first half of the game). It was jarring, and not something I’d expected: I went each of the last two years and the best term I can think of to describe the number of Reds and Giants fans I saw is “non-zero.” But there were a good dozen Cub fans in our section alone, and they had a lot to cheer.
So by the time the 6th inning rolled around, I was already in full Overly Serious Sports Fan Mode. I hate this. I hate it when fans of any sport think and act like this: when rivalries become really personal. There are so few situations where it’s genuinely warranted. But I felt it. I felt the desire for the Pirates to win mixed in with—tainted with—the desire to make those other fans feel bad. Vengeance rather than justice, really.
Then Jake Arietta started to fall apart. He fell behind in the count to something like two batters all game up to that point, but now he was falling behind all of them, and hitting some of them. And he wasn’t just missing his spots: Miguel Montero was leaping to catch pitches, suggesting that the pitch was nowhere near the intended target.
Arietta had loaded the bases, and the only out he’d gotten was an absolute bullet to third (barely caught, of course). The crowd came alive. In that moment they were as loud and excited as at any point in 2013. And I looked around at the Cubs fans in our section, and they were the only ones seated. Most of them probably couldn’t see, but it was clear they didn’t want to. They were terrified.
And right then, I let go of my anger. For all the cheering and bravado, they were just as stressed and frazzled by this one-game format as I was. And when Arietta lucked into a double play to somehow escape without a run crossing the plate, none of them jumped out of their seats. None of them pumped their fists or yelled in triumph. They all just exhaled.
I guess the reaction I just described is, for Major League Baseball, a feature and not a bug. But on the losing side it brings to mind a lot of over-the-top, borderline-existential questions about the meaninglessness of it all.
Lazy analysis of last night’s game will treat it like the Bumgarner start. It’s seductively easy to say “Jake Arietta was great in the second half, dominated the Pirates, and just kept doing that in the Wild Card game.” Simple. But as Dave Cameron points out, he needed an awful lot of luck. He was legitimately in control the first five innings, but he was a mess in the sixth: bouncing pitches in front of the plate and getting hit hard. Some of Arietta’s outs were hit harder than Dexter Fowler’s home run. Really, this is all you need to know:
Jake Arrieta only allowed 12 balls hit 107 MPH+ all season… That was 3 in a row by the #Pirates. Polanco 107 McCutchen 107 Marte 109
— Daren Willman (@darenw) October 8, 2015
So, losing is lame, and it’s also lame that this is going to get filed away under “Arietta just kept shutting people down.” The Pirates legitimately got to him (he was shaky the next inning, too), but it won’t look that way to anyone who isn’t looking closely. And that’s the whole point: in a single game, you can kill the ball and make an out in a big spot, and your season can end.
I’ll probably write something about the team’s prospects (both in the sense of “players” and in the sense of “possibilities”) before too long, but like most of you I’m pretty burnt out by these Wild Card games right now; I’ve been to all three of them.
Just know that last night wasn’t a repeat of last year. It’d be easier to internalize this if they’d pushed a couple of runs across in the 6th, so the game could at least look as close as it was, but those of us who were there know. We’ll remember those five minutes when PNC Park came alive again, when we were engulfed by each other’s sound again, when winning was possible again. That feeling is why I keep going back.
Filed under: game recaps, Gerrit Cole