Friday, October 16, 2009

The Pains of Being Red at Heart

Oh, baseball, you cruel and wonderful sport. People who don't like the game often cite "boring" at the top of the list of offenses, and I can at least understand that reaction, but how anyone could find playoff baseball boring is beyond me. The elements of the game that can seem to take too long now have an amplified importance; every pitch, swing and catch can be game and season changing in a way the regular season just can't match. And let's be honest: regular season accolades and accomplishments are great, but eventually you want your favorite team to win a championship. 

As an Angels fan, I've had my fill of unsatisfying success lately. Since 2004, the Angels had finished first in their division four of five years, but all but one of those was met with a quick exit at the hands of the Boston Red Sox. Sure, you won it all in 2002, but what have you done for me lately? Heading into this year's playoffs, Angel fans couldn't help but worry that it would happen again, with a third straight series against Boston. But then, a funny thing happened: the Angels played as well as they're capable of, and they shut the Red Sox out in the first game, 5-0. Hope was suddenly ours again; the bully had been temporarily put in his place. I watched the game with my girlfriend, who is not a baseball fan at all, and she marveled at how worked up I got from the time the Angels went ahead 3-0 in the fifth inning to the final out, but it's what the game does to me. Unlike any other major sport, the length and outcome of a baseball game is entirely performance-dependant. There's no clock to speak of, only a pre-determined number of chances for each offense to score, and counting those down is far more stressful than watching the clock on an NBA or NFL game. I alternated between rocking back and forth in my seat and pacing nervously around the room, occasionally clapping or shouting or groaning, whichever the situation called for. It seems impossible that I could be alone in this reaction, but when I tell people how much it puts me through the wringer the typical response varies from amusement to concern. But while it may be brutal while it's going on, the payoff is unlike anything I've ever felt for my other teams. Of course, the flip side of that is true, and when the Angels blow a late lead it leaves a horrible emptiness in the middle of me where that joy should have been, but the reward is worth the risk.

The next night, lightning was bottled again as the Sox went down 4-1 in the game and 2-0 in the series, and this past Sunday the Angels staged a comeback for the ages in Game 3, going from being behind 5-2 in the eighth inning and 6-4 in the ninth to winning 7-6. For three straight batters the Red Sox were one last strike away from extending the series an extra game, but the Angels would not be denied. It was one of those moments that reminds you why you love sports so much, and to be honest I barely remember my actual reaction when Vladimir Guerrero singled in the tying and go-ahead runs, other than it involved a lot of shouting, clapping, jumping and stomping, and earned me a few barks from the dogs. They must be Sox fans.

Next up for the Angels is the American League Championship Series, where they'll play the favored New York Yankees for the right to go to the World Series. As a matter of fact, that's about to start, so excuse me while I go prepare for wonderful agony.

No comments: