Pro sports can be simultaneously rational and bizarre, painful and joyous, and in less than an hour last night all those elements came together to perfectly crystallize the New York big-league baseball narrative so far this season: One of our teams can’t catch a break, one can’t do anything wrong, and that hour showed it. It’s a moment worth commemorating before SportsCenter’s tsunami of highlights washes it all away.
In Toronto, the Yankees had coughed up a slim lead on one of the rarest plays in modern baseball, a steal of home. Then Alex Rodriguez made a snap decision to pick up a bunt a half-second before the ball would roll foul, allowing a Blue Jays runner to take third. Joe Torre removed the Yanks’ best pitcher, Andy Pettitte, after seven and a third valiant innings. Reliever Scott Proctor threw a pitch six inches higher than he intended, allowing Alex Rios to smack a game-winning fly ball. The Yankees, having just lost their fifth in a row, sat stunned in the dugout, staring at the empty field.
Four channels down the cable box, at nearly the same instant, it was the bottom of the twelfth in Queens, and the Mets were losing. Jose Reyes walked with one out. Giants closer Armando Benitez, who’d failed as a Met in the 2000 World Series, was hyperventilating on the mound. He twitched — imperceptibly to nearly everyone, but not to Bob Davidson, the first-base umpire and the one umpire in the Major Leagues who lives to call balks, probably the most confusing and subjective of all of the game’s arcane rules. Reyes strolled to second. Then he sprinted to third, thanks to an Endy Chavez bunt. Reyes danced off third; this time Benitez was clearly spooked, and he flinched again — another balk, a free run, a tie game. The end came swiftly: a Carlos Delgado homer, blasted over the right-field fence. All 24 Mets were dancing and jumping and screaming at home plate.
Back up the dial, Joe Torre was enduring his nightly post-game press conference, his big brown eyes vacant, fumbling for words and answers, sitting against a cinderblock wall. One pitch too high, one umpire who sees what no one else does: When you’re trending bad or trending good, these are the things that matter. Poor Torre, facing the firing line, was missing only that final cigarette. —Chris Smith