After Texas blew an 8-3 lead over the Angels on July 20 and lost, 9-8, allowing Los Angeles to cut the division gap to four games rather than six, with a week and a half to go before the trade deadline, I tweeted (among many other things):
Remember this one (if you dare put stock in the significance of one baseball game).
That comment and a few others set off various dialogues, one with a media member and others with big sabermetric brains. I was told that if I thought that was an “impact loss,” then I “[didn’t] know [the] club as well as [I thought I did]” – though I think that misunderstanding might have worked itself out when I clarified that I didn’t see that game as a potential impact loss for the Rangers but instead as a potential impact win for the Angels (who are now 12-6 since improbably turning that game around) – and was lectured by the numbers set, pitying the egregious extent to which I was Wrong.
I will never believe that last year’s August 13 win over Boston, when Texas overcame an 8-2 deficit to tie the game in the eighth (with Josh Hamilton scoring from second on Vladimir Guerrero’s infield single) and win it in 10 (on Nelson Cruz’s bomb), didn’t make a difference. Texas went just .500 the rest of the regular season but, in my (Wrong) opinion, developed something that night that it was able to draw on at times the rest of the summer, and into the fall. Something extra to further activate the steady winners’ mindset that Ron Washington had instilled in this team.
Momentum is either real or it isn’t. I think it is.
I believe a player’s wheelhouse is more than just a set of points plotted on a graph. Maybe I’m wrong about that.
I believe in confidence and rhythm and that Ervin Santana is a better bet right now than Ricky Nolasco, despite what the conventional or sabermetric numbers say.
And that Jason Terry was more likely to hit his next three in Game Four against the Lakers than he was in Game Two against the Thunder.
And that Ian Kinsler was more likely to produce big the first half of July than he has been since. (And that he’s capable of being that early July player again and, even if he’s one of the two or three most productive players on the team right now, that he has the unique natural abilities to be significantly better still.)
The ironic thing, I guess, is that I think mathematically. It was my strong suit as a student. I’m not dismissive of the numbers in baseball, and the power they have of explaining what happened and predicting what might.
But I can’t watch a baseball game that way – math first, math last – and I don’t want to. If that makes me Will Leitch’s Dad – I can live with that. In baseball parlance: I’ll wear it.
Will wrote this in June:
Like most sons, I really wish I were like my dad. I know how the sausage is made now, and I cannot force that out of my brain. I understand Win Expectancy, and BABIP, and how everyone fights about who has the correct WAR calculation. This has made me a smarter, more knowledgeable baseball fan. I have a better understanding of the game of baseball than I’ve ever had before, and if there’s something I’m confused about, I have instant access to a bottomless pit of information that will enlighten me. If you want to learn more about baseball, like everyone who has ever loved baseball wants to do, this is the best time in human history to be a baseball fan.
And I sort of hate it.
* * *
I sometimes wonder if he’s having more fun at the games than I am. I’m smarter. I’m more educated. I’m still obsessed by the thirst for more knowledge. But the search for enlightenment, as it has for countless philosophers before me, has made me sadder than it has made me happy.
It just, again, makes me long to be like my father, blissfully unaware and uncaring about advanced statistics, average annual value, and no-trade clauses. There is a game on the field, and he is watching it and cheering for his team. I can’t ever do that again. I don’t know how he does it, but dammit, he does.
There are clearly numbers that help drive my love for this game and how it works, but if I’m wrong about Angels 9, Rangers 8 on July 20 having no more meaning for Los Angeles than 1 of 162, and wrong about the potential payoff of what the Rangers managed to do in all three games of this weekend’s Indians series (if only Cruz had held onto that baseball – for that matter, if only Darren Oliver had done the same), then for those of you convinced that I’m Wrong, you can either use that conviction to fire you up,* or ignore me altogether. It doesn’t really matter to me.
[* Hey, like a comeback win!]
I still believe July 20 is a game we’ll have to look back on if the Angels end up playing in October and the Rangers don’t, not because it crippled Texas but because it galvanized a flagging Los Angeles club that had lost four of five and was staring at a season-worst six-game deficit in the West.
Or maybe all a game like that one does is make a fan feel better about his or her team, and has no effect on the guys in uniform once they’re getting taped up for the next one.
I’ll concede that I don’t know the club as well as I think I do (though I’m not sure what the point was there and think it was mutually misconstrued), and I’d never suggest I “know the club” like those who cover the team, and yet that doesn’t make me any less likely to believe in the power of confidence in this game of failure, in the power of feel in a sport that drills itself down every few seconds to an intensified moment of one-on-one combat, in the faith I have right now in an inning in which Mike Napoli is going to get a chance to swing at strikes and let the other pitches go by.
You won’t change my mind. And I have no intent to try and convince you to change your yours.
I’m going to keep watching baseball the wrong way, respectful of the human element that, for me, can be the difference between a relief pitcher who seems at times unable to rediscover his feel and one who comes in and fires seven pitches, all located, all strikes, sending me home fired up and hoarse after another potentially galvanizing pennant race win, maybe even blissfully unaware of the way this game is supposed to be handled by a team, or analyzed by an enlightened fan.