Friday, October 16, 2009

Fistin' the Night Away: NLCS Game One

Maybe it's years of Joe Buck and Tim McCarver at work, but I'm used to tuning into the Major League Baseball postseason like a dog that's been summoned by the person who beats it. I try not to make eye contact with the screen when I change the channel and reflexively wince when I turn on the speakers. I'm already dreading Friday night when Buck looms into view like a mushroom cloud with parted hair, and Scraps the Baseball Fundamentals Mouse levers McCarver's head into the frame by an elaborate system of pulleys arrayed around the command center inside McCarver's skull.

But for now, we should all be glad. Tonight's game was consistently exciting, and even notoriously bad play-by-play man Chip Caray managed not to be too horrifying. Sure, Ron Darling was fairly boring, and Buck Martinez started to sound like Donald Duck by the 8th inning, but it was pretty fun. It's a wonderful experience to watch a good baseball game and suddenly realize that you haven't heard (and won't hear) some stray idiotic comment that you'll remember for the next half a decade.

The whole thing was good, so go watch it on TiVo or or something. For now, here's a comparatively short liveblog of the game. Amazing how these things don't balloon with content without a family-corpse-profiteering jackass and a senescent boob in the booth bloviating at interminable length. All times in Eastern because it is God's Own Time Zone.

8:00 p.m.
We're live from Chavez Ravine, home of another disgusting land grab! Our hosts are Chip "My Dad and Granddad Both Did This So Guess Why I'm Here!" Caray, Ron Darling and Stately Plump Buck Martinez. Your Dodgers starter is Clayton Kershaw, and your Phillies starter is Cole Hamels.

8:09 p.m.
It's the top of the 1st, and Chase Ultey is now batting for the Phillies. Chase Utley isn't just the second baseman you start, he's the company you keep.

People in visiting stadiums need to pick up on my idea that Shane Victorino looks like Ren Hoek, because Victorino just got picked off first base, and it would have ruled to hear "YOU EEEEEDIOT" come over the loudspeaker.

Cole Hamels has a no-hitter going through zero batters. Cole Hamels: the pitcher so good with the leather that his name sorta sounds like maybe you want to put your feet inside him.

Andre Ethier line drive. There goes Hamels' no-hitter.

Bottom of the second:

CHIP CARAY: FISTED to the right side!

Here, let me translate this for you: Manny Ramirez, who was at bat, hit a ball weakly to the right side, because the pitch ran in on him to the point that he hit it with the thin part of the bat, up near his hands. In Chip Caray's world — despite the sheer abundance of baseball euphemism available, the boundless bizarre expressions this game has created — this kind of pitch+hit will always result in a ball being FISTED into the infield.

This is because Chip Caray is not very good at his job — a job he has because it's the job his daddy had and the job his granddaddy had. You think just being around two broadcasters in the family would have bred out any tendency toward basic errors, even if it didn't impart anything like mastery, but nope. For example:

Why this nepotism-without-competency happens so much in baseball — Joe Buck, son of Jack Buck; Thom Brenneman, son of Marty Brenneman — is beyond me, especially because talking is the least specialized part of the game. If the standards of nepotism enjoyed in baseball broadcasting were applied to, say, the medical field, you could instantly explain the murderous incompetence of Dr. Zoidberg or Dr. Nick Riviera to anyone by saying, "Their dads were in medicine."

In any event, anyone who watched the ALDS (the origin of that video above, of Caray excitedly called a flyout to left a "LINE DRIVE BASE HIT!") is already intimately acquainted with this phenomenon, because during that same game the word FISTED popped up in Caray's narrative more than the novelization of a German BDSM film. By those standards, this game is practically tame. Let's hope he steps it up for Game 2, because he seems genuinely oblivious as to the other meaning of this term, and I really really want to hear him yell, "FISTED UP THE MIDDLE!"

Some hot LA ladies seated near the wall really seem to want to get on Jayson Werth's junk, which is a little weird, because it's like going to the Addams' house and freezing out Gomez (played in this scenario by Victorino) to grind all up on Lurch. Even then that's not quite right, because Werth is sort of half Lurch, half vacant werewolf.

Top of the second. A Ryan Howard-related graphic reveals he had 186 strikeouts on the season because JESUS I LIKE HEEM VERAH MUCH BUT HE NO HELP WITH CURVEBALL.

They talk about a curveball being an Uncle Charlie, that's [unintelligible]...

This is the closest thing to a McCarver moment so far. Speaking of which, when we all get senile and start trailing off mid-sentence or forgetting what we're doing mid-task, can we start referring to it as a McCarver Moment? This seems fitting, right, just — the way to honor what has become the touchstone of a man's career. This would be a way of keeping him in our hearts long after he's gone. Just imagine it:
RECEPTIONIST: Excuse me, sir, do you know where you're going?
ME: I, uhmmm. I, uh, seem to have gotten lost. Can you tell me what aisle you guys keep the spinning lures in?
RECEPTIONIST: Sir, this is a day spa.
ME: Women can be elusive.
ME: I'm sorry. I'm having a McCarver Moment.

BUCK MARTINEZ: He's [Raul Ibañez] not 37, because he didn't get a chance to play until late in his career.

Okay, I lied, this might be the biggest McCarver Moment of the night. See, Raul Ibañez, even if his knees or some body parts might be better because they have less MLB-level wear and tear on them (although I fail to see how pro-level entropy is any greater than minor-league entropy in a sport as low-contact as baseball), still literally came out of his mother's vagina 37 years ago. She probably remembers it pretty clearly and has the date marked down somewhere. It's not like if you take it easy for a couple years you get to retroactively crawl back up there and chill out, regenerate like it's some sort of health tank in a first-person shooter.

Clayton Kershaw strikes out Werth and Ibañez, and he's looking very, very good.

Bottom of the second. James Loney hits a solo home run. TBS does this thing where they light up all the bases to indicate a home run — this kind of, "Whoo!!! He'll touch 'em all!!!!" thing — but every time I see it, it temporarily makes me think someone hit a grand slam. If I see three bases lit up, I assume that there are people on each of them. Stop this, TBS. Even though I know nobody else is on base, I temporarily forget this and get excited for a second.

Oh, Jesus. I'm turning into him. I'm becoming McCarver. This is what it's like to grow old.

Ahahahahaha the home run ball nearly kills someone in the stands carrying a ton of food. Let this be a lesson to everyone: it's playoff baseball; stay in your damn seat and watch the game. The only things anyone needs are beer/soda/water and hot dogs/peanuts, and someone will bring these to you no matter where you're sitting.

It's been bugging me for a while, but I finally figure it out: Cole Hamels sort of looks like the star and head writer of The Whitest Kids U'Know. Suddenly it's all I can do to stop myself from picturing Hamels rolling around town singing, "H-I, T-L-E-R/Drivin' down the street in a fancy car," and laughing hysterically. Hamels has the same thin neck, shaggy hair and striking chin effect. He's also just walked the Dodgers' pitcher.

Top of the third, Carlos Ruiz pops the ball up and behind him, into the stands.

CARAY: And he launches that one foul.

This is why Caray is bad. Beyond calling flyouts to the outfield "line drive base hits," he frequently uses the wrong words and really emphasizes them. It's like he's completely geeked for any synonym he can think of. He seems surprised the word even occurred to him. There he was, sitting in the booth, and this epiphany came to him: Ruiz didn't hit the ball or foul it away. Ohmifuckinggod, he launched it — nevermind that launching something ostensibly pushes it forward instead of causing it to spin on a rounded surface and move backward from the intended direction. It'd be relatively easy to make a "Build Your Own Chip Caray Call" application: just take a present-tense verb that sounds sort of cool irrespective of its applicability to baseball, bold or italicize it, and plug it into any conventional call.
• And Kaz Ishiguro enervates a liner into left!
• Here's the wind up, and he submits one blazing, high!
• And it relegates, foul!
• Oooh-woooh! And Fielding comes out from the dugout, and just suffuses all over the home plate umpire!

Number of times a rotoscoped Schwab ad has appeared during a baseball game: 4,500.
Number of times anyone in America has not found them creepy and off-putting: 0.

"FISTED! out of play..."

At Chase Utley, we measure success one hit at a time.

Replay shows that Ryan Howard failed to check his swing and came around on a strike-three, but the third-base ump didn't call it as such. Kershaw's been really amazing so far, despite getting squeezed with an abysmal strike zone. To be fair, Hamels hasn't been getting good calls either.

Annnnnnd now Howard walks on a pitch that PitchTrax shows is clearly on the low outside corner. The officiating, through one game, is already pretty frustrating. Howard has now managed to reach first base from an at-bat during which he has struck out twice.

Bottom of the fourth, we go to Craig Sager on the sideline. He's wearing a shiny baby blue jacket with thin lines of gold or copper running through it to create a very wide pattern of blue squares. It looks like it was made from the wallpaper of a Las Vegas hotel circa 1968.

"That ball FISTED out to Utley..."

Because of the poor officiating, nerves, rushing his pitches and trying way too hard, Kershaw completely melts down, walks five people and throws (and NLCS record) three wild pitches in half an inning. Philly scores 5 off a performance that's uncomfortably like watching Rick Ankiel turn into a complete basket case. Kershaw's gone through a yin and yang of pitching, from dominant and impressive fastballs followed by 12-to-6 curves to a wild nervous breakdown, and the fact that he's only 21 years old means that he's probably experiencing this total horror with overwhelming intensity. Poor kid.


Chase Utley throws the ball about 15 feet over first base into the Phillies dugout. At Chase Utley, we don't throw the ball to first base. We throw it higher.

Manny Ramirez crushes a Hamels changeup for a two-run home run to left center that was a no-doubter the moment it left the bat. Typically, Manny does his hitting-savant thing and watches the ball for a bit. The baseball gods probably contributed to this one, because Caray did his hardest reverse-jinx possible against Manny's succeeding by mentioning how Manny was the only person to hit a homer off Hamels in last year's NLCS. His current teammate on the Dodgers and former teammate on the Indians, Jim Thome, hugs Manny as he comes back to the dugout. Very cool. Then he hugs him again in the dugout. Jim Thome is a giant teddy-bear of a person. Also, Manny's just broken out of his playoff hitting slump and has the record for postseason home runs: 29. Goddamn. I should probably also mention now that I love Manny Ramirez and probably always will.


Top of the sixth, the camera lingers on a shot where a girl in a yellow top is jumping up and down in the background and, um... bouncing?—like, really rhythmically bouncing, and it's sort of hypnotic and not at all unpleasant?

Thome draws a walk with two men already on base. I really hope Thome gets a home run this series (and, even though I don't care about the Dodgers, would love to see them win it all just so he could get a ring), because he's a great hitter and, by all accounts, just an absolute sweetheart. I suppose there might be some ugly stories about Thome out there — and if there are, I don't want to hear about them — but for now I'm content to think that if everyone in baseball were temperamentally like Jim Thome we wouldn't have a single bad thing to say about any of our heroes.

My brain is just totally denuded at this point. It feels like someone fisted it, or like a ball someone enervated into deep left field, where all the ideas I have come from nowadays. I know things happened, but that's all I can tell you. I know Kuo got a strikeout. There was some longass pinch-running drama going on in the Dodgers' dugout, when Joe Torre couldn't decide whether to pinch-run for Thome (he has planer fasciitis in his foot), then called on Randy Wolf, who didn't even have the right shoes on.

Annnnnnd there's strikeout number #2 for Kuo, courtesy of Chase Utley. Chase Utley makes an out the old fashioned way: he earns it.

A guy named Antonio Bastardo is pitching. No, really. Also, this is going on way too long, screw it:

12:10 a.m.
Dodgers lose, 8-6.

I could have blogged it for you, but any game recap will tell you what happened in detail, scoring-wise. Two walks led to a Raul Ibañez three-run homer. The Dodgers got men on base and, at the end, looked like they had closer Brad Lidge's number, but they couldn't get it done. Worse, Manny did his "swinging way too hard" thing, where he took massive cuts at two fastballs before FISTING out to the shortstop on a hit that was a total FIST but that Caray refused to call as such, I guess because he's a gutless wank who refuses to give fans the only joy he's capable of bringing to them. Finally, there were a couple more plays from Chase Utley worthy of note, but I started to run out of slogans from investment banks in the 1980s, so I'm gone.

Let's try to meet back this weekend for the horror that is Buck and McCarver.

For now, peace out: