Now that I've had a chance to settle into the new season, I've reached the point where I can stop watching baseball so anxiously, investing every out and every pitch with more intensity than it or I can bear for very long. Which is a relief: Until October comes, you can't watch baseball that way. The season is a marathon, not a sprint, and it demands that you pace yourself.
A Saturday or Sunday day game in the spring is the perfect way to remember what you've forgotten. On a day like that, a baseball game can be like an old faithful dog, there in its accustomed spot, content for all of your attention or a passing display of affection, depending on what you can give at that moment. After raucously cheering the Mets pouncing on the Ageless Jamie Moyer in uncharacteristic fashion, I spent much of the rest of the game pottering around the house doing various things that needed doing, following the game from room to room, TV to radio and back, and stopping when key moments were unfolding. (Remember the ad a few years back featuring the soccer fan who had TVs in every room, down to each dresser drawer? That guy's not crazy — it's the rest of the world that's crazy.)
During my wanderings, I was pleased to realize my mental clock had reset itself to baseball units of time. For example, I know from years of experience that the wait between pitches at a tense juncture is exactly enough time to walk from our bedroom to the hall, transfer one armload of wash from the washing machine to the dryer, walk back to the exact spot near the TV where I've been standing for the last couple of batters because nothing has gone too terribly wrong while I'm in that spot, and intone (in this case) “Come on, Heilman! Hit it to anybody!”
For the historical record, that last command was aimed at Jayson Werth in the bottom of the eighth with two out, the bases loaded and the game in the balance. Werth, as it turned out, hit it to nobody, but that was just fine — the ninth pitch he saw wound up in Schneider's glove for a strikeout. A nice bounceback for Heilman, though I didn't much believe his postgame insistence that he'd been thinking only of the pitch he had to make, and not, say, Greg Dobbs's home run the night before or the outfield fence that had to seem about 15 feet beyond the infield or why Angel Pagan had frozen on Carlos Ruiz's little pop two batters before. Heilman's a smart, reflective guy, and that's not always a bonus for baseball players, who tend to do their best when they can follow Ray Knight's dictum that “concentration is the ability to think about absolutely nothing when it is absolutely necessary.” This isn't to claim the ideal baseball player is dumb as a stick — rather, it's to note that a curious mind is more easily distracted from what it needs to be doing, or undone by its own devices.
Werth's at-bat was just one of the mini-dramas of a long, tense game that wound up in our column. There was the eight-minute, 15-pitch at-bat by Eric Bruntlett that forced Oliver Perez out of the game after a very typical O.P. performance — impressive yet inefficient, and so done a bit too soon. The Bruntlett drama was immediately followed by Duaner Sanchez entering to try and check Jimmy Rollins, whose cameo just called attention to how conspicuous he is in his absence. A lot is made of Rollins' fairly ordinary stats, but if the MVP is the player who determines more than any other whether a good team sinks or swims, then the five games against the Phils definitely show why Rollins deserved the award. As for Duaner, his fist pump after stomping on the first-base bag was even more satisfying than his return to action after nearly two years gone — he's now showing up with ballgames on the line, instead of just showing up, which is only a victory once.
And so on to tomorrow night and the chance for a sweep while Joe Morgan praises Odalis Perez's fine performance today. (Sigh.) The over-under on fights between indignant Phillie fans and overamped Met fans who smuggled in brooms? Approximately 200. The value of an early-season statement in the testing of hypotheses of team quality as expressed by Drs. Rollins and Beltran? Unquantifiable, but definitely more than zero. The numbers of hours to go until we find out what'll happen? I don't know when you'll read this, but in all cases the answer is Too Many.