And so another chapter is written in the epic that is Pedro J. Martinez: My True Story in Baseball.
When did he have you in the palm of his hand this time? When he walked to the mound, his playful demeanor in Cincinnati replaced by that gunfighter's stare? When he was forced into the possibility of striking out four guys in the same inning and you wound up surprised he didn't? (Mike Lamb flew out to center, the spoilsport.) When he rocketed a double off the very hittable Roy Oswalt? Or was it when his second win and the game were in balance, his rising-beyond-agreed-limits pitch count practically etched on the faces of Willie and the Jacket, and they left him in to face Lamb with the tying run on second? (Of course they did — would you want to be the mouse assigned to bell this particular cat?) Was it when Pedro got Lamb to lie down, letting him walk off the field to be lionized? Or did it take until the Man took a detour on the way to the clubhouse for a final acknowledgment of a stadium full of giddy supporters and admirers?
I'll leave the scene at Shea for Greg to describe — I was going to go, but was facing a complicated evening and had no one to go with (cue those violins), so I wussed out. But what's struck me during this series with the moribund Astros is how September can feel like springtime redux for an apparently playoff-bound team.
It's a baseball cliche that hope springs eternal in March –veterans say the right things, pitchers returning from injuries report they've never felt better, rookies hit well and know their place, and as fans we tend to accentuate the positive, even when we know better. That veteran hitting .140 will answer the bell when it rings, because he knows how to pace himself. That rookie striking out everybody and his brother will carry his newfound success into the season. Not all of this turns out to be true, of course — hell, in a lousy year none of it proves on the money. But we still believe it, because we're fans and this is spring training and it's what we do.
Now, September. If your magic number is ticking down (to 15, for instance) and you've got a decent lead (six, for instance), this month can feel the same way. Of course you fret about some apocalyptic collapse until the chances of that shrink from slim to none. But when you're not fretting, you can find yourself loving the view through those suddenly rose-tinged lenses. Those players having MVP-type years, or MVP-type years on the road? Any fool knows they'll keep hitting that way in October! The player who's been popping everything up for weeks, or the guy who keeps letting bad changeups get hit over walls? Why, those two have plenty of time to find themselves! Those guys who just returned from DL stints? Think how well-rested they are!
This September optimism is as reliable a predictor of October as March giddiness is of April. Come October, guys will get hot and go cold and rise to the occasion and shrink from the challenge and prevail and falter and win and lose. And as we found out last year, one bit of bad news can change everything in a hurry. We know that and (barring apocalypse), we'll deal with it when it comes. But we'll deal with it later. For now, it's nice to have September days where you gaze contentedly at your glass and know it's half-full.