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Baseball in Seven

Welcome to the peak of existence, the cusp of the Seventh Game of the World Series, that hoary hypothetical sprung to life. You know how managers are accused of managing a mundane midsummer situation “like it’s the Seventh Game of the World Series”? There will be no need for “like” this evening and, going in, nothing not to love. This is it, the real thing, the genuine article, not a drill. This is what we train for as baseball fans. This is DEFCON 7.

In the one month since our beloved New York Mets (remember them?) wrapped up their most recent campaign (remember it?), ten teams have combined to favor us with thirty-seven postseason baseball games, thirty-one of which were executed to ultimately render eight of the participating entities into a state of irrelevance. Each pushed past October 1 with an eye toward becoming world champion no later than November 1. They didn’t make it. Only two could get this far. Only the two who made it should be here.

These Los Angeles Dodgers, who extended the World Series to its Seventh Game, deserve the National League berth, what with their 104 regular-season wins, their cadre of young offensive stars, their requisite ex-Met who found his inner immortal elsewhere [1], their greatest pitcher of his generation and their usually masterfully manipulated bullpen. Their opponents, these Houston Astros, deserve the other berth — technically the one reserved for the American League, but because we know from whence the Astros emerged, it feels they’ve arrived via an at-large slot. But they’re not here on scholarship, not with 101 regular-season wins and a galaxy of talent honed big and bright deep in the heart of Texas. If you take both sides at their best, you’re experiencing a World Series of superteams. I’ve experienced sixteen previous World Series that required a Seventh Game. They all had much to recommend them, but rarely was I convinced I was watching two squads so essentially super. They’re hardly perfect, but, boy, are they spectacular.

If either unit was accidentally playing the 2017 Mets in the 2017 World Series, they’d have swept them in four. The Dodgers swept the Mets in four in June, then in three more in August. The Astros swept the Mets three in September, and that was with the aftermath of a devastating hurricane swirling behind them. We may not be the most reliable witnesses to vouch for the abilities of outstanding opponents. Every team looks like a superteam to us.

Fortunately for competition’s sake, the 92-loss teams were long ago safely tucked away and the winners of more than a hundred found each other where they oughta be. The Dodgers and Astros are 3-3 against each other. Sounds about right. For either to not have reached Game Seven would have been so wrong.

To date, we’ve been treated to two contests that generated Best Game Ever! hyperbole at least an hour prior to their conclusion. Thing is, the hyperbole didn’t seem exaggerated, not when you were ducking and covering from the balls soaring out of Dodger Stadium in eleven-inning 7-6 Game Two or Minute Maid Park in ten-inning 13-12 Game Five. Perhaps it’s baseball’s stubborn puritanical streak that compelled a fan to wonder in the later stages of the latter if what he was taking in wasn’t a tad/ton too overwhelming. Didn’t a great World Series demand ace pitching? Where were the Clayton Kershaws, the Dallas Keuchels, the Kenley Jansens to provide the yin to the loads of yang flying off the bats of the Altuves, Springers, Bellingers and Puigs?

Oh, there they were, in Game Five, with veritable tire tracks over their backs, unable to alter life in baseball’s fast lane, which surely made you lose your mind. Or perhaps change it. You honor pitching. You cherish pitching. You revel in its capacity to stop hitting when each is judged impeccable. Yet a century-and-a-half of airtight wisdom went straight out the window on Sunday night, specifically the window behind the Crawford Boxes, conveniently located within easy swinging distance of home plate in Houston. Good hitting was in abundance. Good pitching left its tickets on the kitchen counter and was denied admission. Was this great baseball or merely a vastly entertaining mutation of the sport we thought we knew?

Thanks heavens for comparatively uneventful Game Six [2], which — like Games One, Three and Four — was played closer to the ground. Scores of 7-6 (8 HR) and 13-12 (7 HR) thrive in a more organic state when surrounded by baseball like it used to be. A couple of those allegedly slicker than standard spheroids [3] were launched into the wilds of Chavez Ravine, but that’s de rigueur in the fall of 2017. There will be homers; there doesn’t necessarily have to be a bushel. On Tuesday night, one Astro hit one and one Dodger hit one to raise the Series total to 24. In context, though, it was a pitchers’ duel, albeit the postmodern version that encompasses nine pitchers. The best of the lot was Justin Verlander, who also happened to be the losing pitcher. He went six innings and was nicked for two runs. In this World Series, that makes him a direct descendant of 1905 Christy Mathewson [4].

Bullpenning, more active as a phrase and concept than Curtis Granderson has been since the NLCS, prevailed in Game Six, specifically the Dodgers’ rendition of it. Rich Hill couldn’t have been much better through four-and-two-thirds, but these are analytical times. A couple of years ago we’d have assumed Dave Roberts was simply nervous Hill wouldn’t get out of the fifth, or snorted that Roberts was prone to overmanaging. We’re all too hip for that now. Hill gave way to five-and-a-third innings of Brandon Morrow, Tony Watson, Kenta Maeda and Jansen, most of whom were battered about the cozy confines of the Juice Box two nights earlier. Strategy that exploded in Game Five (when it was deployed in desperation) functioned like a charm in Game Six, leading to L.A. winning, 3-1, and the rest of us winning because we get the Seventh Game of the World Series.

I’ve been rooting for the Astros. They’re dynamic, they’re likable, they helpfully cast aside undesirable actors [5] and they don’t employ Chase Utley. I’m still rooting for the Astros. But in Game Six I was probably pulling just as hard for Game Seven. That’s an additional game of baseball the day after October, a gift horse whose mouth requires no examination. One-hundred sixty-two Mets games (a majority of them bordering on or surpassing abysmal) were not enough. Thirty-one games to extract the Twins, Rockies, Diamondbacks, Red Sox, Indians, Nationals, Cubs and Yankees from the postseason proceedings were not enough. Six games between these Astros and these Dodgers have not been enough.

We may not always get the world champion we want, but we’re definitely getting the world championship we deserve.