We've seen enough horrors in Whatever They're Calling It This Year Stadium over the years to know that the crown always sits uneasy going into the ninth. By now, showing me a ribbon of teal or a split-second snippet of bags of grass-care products against cinderblock walls is enough to make me scoot for an exit. Because it's Miami, and cruelty awaits.
That ninth inning was one of the more-frightening one-two-three innings I've ever seen. The first hard part was just knowing it was coming. So you wanna be a major-league manager, huh? OK, Willie: Do you send Pedro back out there, hoping to complete a Cinderella story when the pitch count's past midnight? Or do you bring in Looper, who's been closing under a little black cloud for most of the year? Either way, if something goes wrong the newspapers will be radioactive. Ain't baseball fun? For the record, I fully backed the decision to go to Looper. I just did so while hiding behind the couch, nauseous with dread.
That dread had less to do with Looper than with the memory of so many games evaporated through bad pitching, bad fielding and bad luck. So of course Juan Pierre, bad news incarnate as it is, promptly banks one off Looper's foot. Juan Pierre who will obviously beat out an infield hit and then steal second and probably third off Piazza to make us regret our brief surge of euphoria when Mike actually gunned him down stealing. After which it'll just be a question of when and how: Right then and there in a lost ninth, or hours from now in a miserable 13th or 14th?
Only Reyes grabs the deflected ball and throws him out. One down.
Still, this is probably just disaster deferred. The Ghost of Garbage Man Huizenga still haunts these parts. And so, indeed, Paul Lo Duca bounces one off the plate, high into the air. High enough for many a batter to make first base while our infielders look at each other helplessly. Certainly high enough for Kaz Matsui to botch the play in some hideous fashion. After which Lo Duca will be replaced on the basepaths, probably by Luis Castillo, who will show that his bad leg isn't so bad by stealing second and probably third off Piazza to make us regret our brief surge of euphoria when Mike actually gunned Pierre down stealing.
Only Lo Duca isn't many a batter, but a slow-footed catcher. And Kaz is still on the bench, because he made the mistake of hurting his neck while playing lousy baseball. Cairo grabs the ball and throws Lo Duca out. Two down.
Still, we're not out of the woods yet. In fact, we're now entering the Carlos Delgado Forest, full of brambles and thickets and balls struck a long way. A third Delgado double will bring up the deadly Miguel Cabrera, who will undoubtedly hit a home run. Looper will squint and trudge off the mound disconsolately. Al Leiter will clap his hands and smirk. I will come downstairs and find Ed Coleman interviewing Delgado on the Clubhouse Report and snap a small bone in my wrist turning the radio off with enough force to twist a fair-sized tree limb off its trunk. Call it the Ghost of Ryan McGuire. And indeed, Delgado smacks a hard shot to the right of the second baseman — the kind of play Matsui can't seem to ever make.
Only…well, we covered that, didn't we? Cairo gloves it on the backhand, throws it to Mientkiewicz, and we're 1-0 winners. I still feel vaguely like throwing up, but it's a good kind of nausea.