“Every time you go extra innings and you lose—but to go 19 innings…” -Marco Estrada
If you designed a regular season game of baseball with the purpose of provoking maximum suffering in the hearts of a team’s fans, what elements would it include? Would it look something like what we, the last place team in the American League East, endured last night?
Tuesday evening (and Wednesday morning) offered just the right blend of carefully selected ingredients to make the baseball torture piercing and plentiful. The plan was thus; first and foremost, make the game mean absolutely nothing to Jays fans beyond a point of pride—a last place team battling a first place team that is both good and notorious for making you dislike them.
Then, a few hours before, preamble the whole affair with a widely publicized “scandal.” Certainly nothing overly dramatic, but perhaps an exclusive New York Times investigation that casts said opponent in a bad light will do. Make it something that is kind-of-but-not-really-that-big-a-deal, something that involves Apple watches and likely necessitates some kind of punishment, but at the very least demands the offending team lose.
Then, of course, make sure the offending team almost but doesn’t actually lose. Don’t by any means make the not losing neat and tidy or inevitable. In fact, give your starting pitcher a great game! Heck, wave the promise of a shut out in front of our faces! Treat fans to a whole boatload of hope and cheer and good feelings and then go ahead and ruin it all in the very final moments.
For maximum emotional impact, make sure what felt like it was going to be a win is snatched away in the bottom of the ninth from the hands of a beloved 22-year old closer—marking his 10th blown save of the season, and becoming cause for broad fan discussion, conjecture, and panic. Then make sure the camera crew gets long, heartbreaking shots of him in the dugout, with this terrible “meaningless” September game all tied up and ready to go into more than another full game’s length of extras.
Make sure nothing much happens for a ridiculously long time. While you’re at it, make sure that the game eventually ties for the longest in Blue Jays history (but don’t make it the longest because there would at least be some bragging rights to hang onto). Also, make sure the team strikes out more than they ever have or likely ever will. Use 51 players during those brutal, arduous, mostly scoreless six hours where, towards the end, Josh Donaldson has a strike zone-related meltdown and we all nod sympathetically in our sleepless delirium. (Obviously have Donaldson ejected with barely a position player remaining.)
And finally, for the few that remain upright past 1 AM on a school night, make sure the game ends in the 19th with the Blue Jays’ 14th walkoff loss of the season, which is incidentally the most of any team in MLB. Fun fact: the Red Sox organist played “The Neverending Story” at the end of the game.
I would hazard a guess that at no point in the Jays season thus far has baseball been so mean and so compelling at the same time. (There is, however, a great deal of competition for that title.) I kept saying to myself “you know, I could just turn this off” and “there is no rule that says I have to endure this,” and yet I couldn’t look away from what was predictably unfolding in front of me. It hurt, but I just kept watching like baseball’s fool, kept witnessing it get more painful and more onerous and more unkind into a punishing eternity until, while desperately trying to keep my eyes open, I actually fell asleep sitting up.
Not too long ago, when I accepted the inevitability of the 2017 not being our year, I tried to find the bright side of that cautious acceptance. I claimed that maybe we could “just enjoy baseball again,” that things would now become less anxious and worrisome and hard when the postseason was off the table. I just wanted (and even anticipated) some pleasant, easygoing end of summer matchups, some sunny days at the ballpark to revel in before we go into the long, painful, dark period of “no more baseball.” I didn’t ask for anything that sets records, or makes history, or even that will become an amusing anecdote three years from now. I didn’t ask for much at all. And I certainly didn’t ask for whatever the hell last night was.
When I talked about how pleasurable meaningless baseball can be, this is in no way what I was referring to. Give me an early, comfortable lead. Give me a breezy 6-3 final winning score. Give me a baseball game that I can feel good and relaxed and dare I say happy about while I say my last goodbye to the season. Let last night be the last time baseball is so gratuitously cruel to us in 2017. We deserve at least that.