The Beltran And The Sea

Carlos Beltran was and outfielder who hit from both sides of the plate with a Marucci maple bat and he had gone fifteen years now without taking a ring. This was not for lack of effort. In the first six years he been in Kansas City where he learned to regard their logo, a crown, with a certain sense of irony. But after six years he traveled to Houston then New York then St. Louis and he proved his worth every October. But each year he would come home with his fingers bare.

In his first years in baseball he was really very fast. He stole bases and went stood out in centerfield. He was so fast that he flattened Mike Cameron with just his running speed. But now he was an old outfielder. His knees were crooked and his arm ached when he pulled it back for a throw. Everything about him was old except the crack of his bat which was the same tenor as a thunderclap and was bold and undefeated.

“Carlos,” Miller said to him as they climbed the stairs of the dugout. “I could go out there with you. We’ve won some games.” Beltran had taught Miller about baseball and the boy loved him.

Beltran looked at him with confident eyes. “If you were my player, I’d take you,” he said. “But you are Matheny’s and there are match ups.”

“He hasn’t much faith.”

“I know,” Beltran said. “But haven’t we?”

They sat on the bench and many of the other players made fun of Beltran. Others looked at him and were sad. The successful players of Boston and St. Louis already won their rings and displayed them in glass cases with wooden plaques and now only looked to add to their glory.

“Carlos,” Miller said. “Can I get your batting gloves for you? If I cannot play with you, I would like to help in some way.”

“You brought us here,” Beltran said. “You are already a man.”

“This is your sixth post season series in St. Louis. Do you think that is a lucky number?”

“Six is a serious number,” Beltran said. “How would you like to see me bring in a ring dressed out with six hundred diamonds? Think perhaps I can?”

“Keep your bat warm, old man,” Miller said. “Remember we are in October.”

Keep my bat warm, Beltran thought. He hoisted the maple stick on his shoulder and, swinging it back and forth with a certain menace, he stepped onto the field. There were other players at other positions stretching and sprinting on the grass and Beltran could hear the roar of the crowd cheering for them but not for him. Beltran stopped in in the on deck circle and waited.

Beltran watched as Matt Carpenter faced the pitcher. Lester was left-handed but Beltran was ready.

This is the World Series. Beltran’s at-bat will be only one at-bat in all the at-bats that will ever be. But what will happen in all the other at-bats to come will depend on what Beltran does in this at-bat. It had been that way all year. All of baseball is that way.

He had no mysticism about baseball though he had played it for so many years.  Most players had superstitions. Beltran had facts. He did not wear a phiten necklace because of its magnetic properties but because its color gave his eyes a certain comforting warmth. He did not eat an entire chicken before each game for luck but to be strong in October for the truly important home runs. He did not tap his bat to hear its sound as a ritual. It was a science. The sound of a good bat is different than the sound of a bad bat. Beltran did not use a bad bat.

Carpenter fouled a pitch back towards the on deck circle. The ball rolled towards Beltran. He knelt down and picked it up.

“Baseball,” he said. “I love and respect you very much. But I will kill you dead before this day ends.”

Beltran  would have liked to come to the plate with a man aboard but the next pitch retired Carpenter. It was a cutter out over the plate and Carpenter should have taken hold of it for a drive but this was baseball. Baseball is a game of skill and a game of luck. The wind always blows harder in your face than at your back. Beltran knew that better than anyone. But he did not dwell on that.

After fifteen seasons without a ring Beltran knew he was not a lucky player. It was good to be lucky. Ryan Theriot was lucky. Pete Kozma was lucky. It was better to be exact. Every at-bat is a new at-bat. When the luck came Beltran ‘s way he would be ready for it.

Beltran stepped to the plate for the first time in a World Series game. He would not be defeated.

A Modest Proposal: The Three-way Tie

Currently, the St. Louis Cardinals lead the National League Central by two games over the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Cincinnati Reds. Due to the latest turn in Uncle Bud’s Wildcard Ride, all three teams are guaranteed to make the playoffs, but only the division winner will automatically advance to the NLDS. The other two will play in a single Wildcard game to reach the division series. With the division coming down to the wire, everyone wants to talk about the worst-case scenario–or the best case scenario if you’re a Braves or Dodgers fan–a three-way tie that forces the NL Central teams into a brutal series of single game showdowns.

I have a better idea for resolving this potential problem. I think that everyone can agree that the Braves and the Dodgers are the real bad guys here, so how about we show some Central solidarity and solve this problem with some creativity.

One game. Three teams.

How is this possible? Well, to quote the classic 1997 film Air Bud, “Ain’t no rules say a dog can’t play basketball.” Each team will face both of their opponents in a single game. Each team will get a full nine innings on either side of the ball. It just won’t be at the same time.

Instead of halves, each inning will be divided into thirds. Home field and batting order will be determined by record against the other two teams. Best record plays at home, bats last. Second best record will bat in the middle third of the inning. Worst record will bat first.

Currently, the Cards have a .526 record against the Pirates and Reds, the Pirates have at .514 record against their opponents and the Reds have a .457 record. So the game would take place in St. Louis, Reds would bat first, then Pirates, then Cards. The Pirates pitchers would throw to the Reds batters in the first third of the inning, the Cardinals pitchers would throw to the Pirates batters in the middle of the inning, and finally the Reds pitchers would face the Cardinals batters. This way, each team faces one another. The team pitching would always bat in the following third of an inning, and then get a third of an inning to rest.

Winner of the three team game takes the division, then the team with the second most runs gets home field advantage for the play-in game. Given that each team has to outscore the other two to win the division, everyone will be equally motivated, even though each team’s batters are facing a different opponent than their pitchers. The only problem that could theoretically come up is if in the bottom of the ninth the Pirates are winning, the Cards are batting, and the Reds are pitching to preserve the Pirates lead with no interest in the outcome of the final third of the inning because they’ve already lost the division.

In this very unlikely situation, the Pirates will just have to hope that the Reds pitcher will be sufficiently motivated to become the first player to record a save for an opposing team because, hey, that’s pretty historic.

So let’s do it. Save some time. Three teams. One game. Twenty seven half innings. Baseball.