Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Beauty and the AL East

My wife (Calvina, let’s call her this time) and I have a mixed marriage. We have many MANY things in common – same racial heritage, same religious background (which we both more or less gave up on), same political views (or close enough), same alma mater (loved of old), same basic palates (spicy food, aforementioned Mexican beer) – but at the end of the day, there is a deep, perilous divide:

We root for different teams.

Bronx Brawlers and Baltimore Maulers
If the picture above doesn’t make it immediately clear, the teams in question are the Baltimore Orioles and the New York Yankees. Calvina and I actually root for different teams in all the major sports (except basketball, which neither of us cares about), and I’ll no doubt get to the others in future posts, but right now I’m talking about baseball.

Calvina is the O’s fan, and the Yankees are my team. Fortunately our teams aren’t enjoying a particularly vicious rivalry at the moment, so we’re able to keep the peace in the house fairly well. Baseball seasons are long, and the vast majority of the time the Yankees are off doing their thing and the O’s are doing theirs and the impact on one another is minimal. Because we live outside D.C., our primary sports feed comes via MASN (Mid-Atlantic Sports Network) and that means O’s games and Nationals games. So most evenings between April and October we put on MASN and watch the O’s, and I watch the intermittent box scores at the bottom of the screen to see how the Yankees are doing. Sometimes I’ll fire up the laptop and watch the Gameday play-by-play on the internet. Televised Yankees games are a rare treat for me, when they get the spotlight of an ESPN Game of the Week, or Saturday Baseball on FOX.

Or, when the Yankees play the O’s. As they did last night.

I actually asked Calvina if she even wanted to watch the game, as she announced recently that she was over the O’s for this season. 2009 … really hasn’t been the O’s year. All through April it looked like they were one hot streak away from mixing it up near the top of the division, but summer wore on and they wound up in the basement and languished. By late August, you can see football season coming, so I completely understand if the national pastime no longer holds its usual appeal. But Calvina agreed to watch the game with me. She is good like that.

Calvina may have been justifiably dissociated from a vested interest in the game (I’m not going to lie – since I didn’t need a computer to follow the Yankees remotely, she spent a lot of the game Facebooking on the laptop) but I was conflicted enough about the game for both of us. This is a rough rundown of the varied stances I took throughout the game.

First Inning: I told Calvina, “I actually kind of hope the O’s win tonight.” I’ll cop to it – this is a cocky thing to say. I am feeling cocky about the Yankees right about now, with their six-game lead over the Red Sox and a month left in the season. Stranger things have happened, yep, but I don’t feel like the Yankees desperately need every win they can scratch out. Whereas the O’s do need some immediate wins to accomplish something which I think is important: not being the first team mathematically eliminated from winning their division. Clearly, the Nationals should be the first team so eliminated. They’ve been abominable all year. Except during interleague play when they took two of three from the Yankees. That stung, losing a series to a team that was 16-45 at the time. But rest assured, it’s not all bitter wounded pride – I’ve always disdained the Nats. And they really have been bad this year, so if there’s any justice … But going into last night’s game the Orioles’ elimination number was 4 and the Nats’ was 3. Tenuous! If the O’s were to win, and the Nats were to lose, it would keep the dream alive. Well, the dream of condescending fans-by-proxy (me), at any rate.

Fifth Inning: I turned to Calvina and said, “Jim is making much of the fact that Pettitte hasn’t issued any walks.” Jim is the play-by-play announcer for the O’s on MASN … except his name is actually Gary, joined on color commentary by Buck. But Calvina and I decided some time ago that it would just be easier to refer to all of the O’s broadcasters as “Jim” or, collectively, “the Jims”. (Jim Palmer is part of the team, too, and his relative fame has overshadowed everyone else, apparently.) We also decided that the Jims always drink heavily in the booth and get progressively bombed as the games go along, a theory which is usually supported by the available evidence of play-calling and commentary and rambling side stories about In-N-Out Burgers. “What are the Jims drinking tonight?” is a popular guessing game in our house. In any case, Calvina immediately got the gist of my observation. “No runs and no hits, either,” she added. At this point I no longer wanted the O’s to win. Not that I wanted them to lose, exactly, just that they had to remain baserunnerless until the end of the contest so that Pettitte could get his perfect game. Perfect games are cool little pieces of baseball history and I wanted to see one happen, even though that would very unfortunately mean that the O’s would lose. For a split-second I thought Calvina and I were on the same page, as I nodded and said “Right, no runs, no hits, no walks … Jim just doesn’t want to say … you know …” And Calvina did know. “Perfect game! Ha ha! I said it!” she gloated sweetly (as only she can). I’m not much on believing in jinxes but I didn’t want to take any chances on poor old Pettitte, and saying “perfect game” during one is a sure way to ruin it. Calvina may be at peace with the fact that my team is playoffs-bound and hers is basement-dwelling, but clearly she doesn’t want everything to go the Yankees’ way all the time. She probably thinks it builds character in me or something.

Sixth Inning: The perfecto fell apart, of course. Hairston committed an error that let Jones reach first. So, not a perfect game, but at least Pettitte still had a no-hitter … until Markakis rocked a hard single, but hey, at least it’s still a shut-out one-hitter …

Eighth Inning: … until Mora got a home-run. Now I’ve done a complete 180 and I actually do want the O’s to lose, badly, because I am a rotten, rotten person. There’s really no other rational explanation.

End of game: 5-1 NY, another win closer to the pennant.

The Morning After: The O’s elimination number now stands at 2. Fortunately, the Nats’ is also 2, since they lost last night. If the Nats lose again tonight, and the Phillies win, the Nats are done. If the O’s also win tonight, the Nats are done first and my silly sense of sports propriety rests easy. So I’m ready to throw the Orioles a bone again. There’s no way A.J. Burnett will be flirting with a perfect game tonight – he’s been dreadful lately. Let’s Go, O’s. B’lieve, hon.

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