No other sport has what baseball has.
Football is religion, basketball is popular and hockey is just intense but baseball is beautiful
Only baseball gives you that one moment where everything can go one way or the other. Think of a situation in the card game “war.” You reach a stalemate with two cards of equal value, so three come out on each side and it all depends on the next draw.
That’s baseball at it’s best. Game 4 of the World Series between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Tampa Bay Rays had what makes any postseason event feel so amazing.
It’s the key to every meaningful moment in sports. Without stakes, the game just becomes background noise in your living room or sports bar.
With the Dodgers leading the Rays 7-6 at the bottom of the ninth, it was time to send their closer on the mound. Three outs and the Dodgers go up 3-1, one step closer to their elusive championship, something they haven’t achieved since 1988. The Rays need to come back and claim this game to tie the series.
Now the cards are being stacked.
That isn’t the only thing that is on the line in the ninth inning. Reputation is on the line as well. Kenley Jensen has been with the Dodgers for a decade and the closer for eight years. With 312 career saves and 936 strikeouts in 636 innings, he is considered one of the best in baseball. Yet even he has shown to be mortal, and because of his elite status, his blown saves get magnified. Last year, he let a career high save opportunities get away from him.
The stage was set with two outs and a runner on first base. The Rays had their best hitter at the plate, a rookie. Randy Arozarena has literally played only two months in the big leagues yet has become a legend by hitting a postseason record ninth home run earlier in the game.
Arozarena was called on to be the hero once more while Jensen was relied on to shut him down.
The objective was clear; hit a home run and win the game or get a hit and keep the inning alive for the next guy to have the opportunity to be the hero. Fail to reach base and the game is over.
These are stakes. This is now the part of the game where after all the cards have been drawn, this next card decides it all. Jensen threw nothing but sliders and cutters just trying to get the rookie to swing and miss; a strike looking, a foul ball, three straight balls, another foul ball. In between each of those pitches is the anticipation everyone feels, desperately trying to wish their preferred outcome into existence.
After all that, after spending one minute, which felt like one hour, waiting for the pitch on 3-2, the result was a walk. So now it falls on someone else. The result of that last at-bat could mean nothing or everything. It all depends on what happens next.
Ask yourself, where else in sports creates this kind of tension in between the action? You can find something close to this in football but that only comes with the momentum of the final drive or the last second field goal that is almost supposed to happen every time. Basketball free throws don’t come nearly close. Hockey has this in shootouts but those are only for the regular season.
Only in baseball where someone with the reputation and stature of Jensen could fall to someone like Brett Phillips, who is on his third team still looking to establish himself.
Prior to this game, Phillips was known only for having a unique laugh. He has played for three teams but has a .202 batting average in 153 career games over four seasons. His hometown Rays traded for him in the middle of this truncated season.
This was his sixth postseason game but only his third plate appearance. There is no way Jensen could not get this guy out. In any other sport, this would be a one-sided affair.
This is where the final cards are flipped.
Phillips hits a single to centerfield, scoring Kevin Kiermaier to tie the game. Dodgers outfielder Chris Taylor kicked the ball, and Arozarena was off to the races. Taylor threw the ball to first baseman Max Muncy, who relayed it to catcher Will Smith.
If Smith catches the ball, he would have Arozarena, who stumbled around third dead to rights and the game would be extended into extra innings. Instead, the ball bounced off of Smith’s glove and Arozarena slid into home plate to end the game.
Now Phillips is a hero for his hometown team. The series is tied and there is still a chance the Rays could win their first ever championship.
On the other side, this could be the moment that leads to the Dodgers losing their third World Series in four years.
This doesn’t happen in any other sport. That’s what makes baseball in the fall so beautiful.