Posted by: Mike Cornelius | October 25, 2020

Not All Falls Are Created Equal

They were two moments in the world of sports, identical at their essence, and yet the reaction to them could not have been more different. Two days apart, at two stadiums separated by the better part of two thousand miles, at crucial moments of two games in which their teams were trailing, two young athletes, both emerging stars with the seemingly unlimited potential that is part and parcel of a bright future as a hero to adoring fans, fell down. These were not allegorical stumbles, falls from grace or revelations of some character defect. Rather both suffered literal pratfalls, the kind that show up on blooper reels played on stadium jumbotrons during lulls in the action for season upon season to come.

Thursday night, with his team trailing the Philadelphia Eagles 10-7 midway through the third quarter, Daniel Jones, the second year quarterback of the New York Giants, brought his team to the line of scrimmage for a first down play from the Giants own 12-yard line, 88 long yards from the promised land of the Philadelphia end zone. The call was for a play action pass, and the Eagles defense bit hard at the fake handoff. Jones then rolled to his right, and with virtually all the players in black uniforms otherwise occupied, saw nothing but green turf ahead. Covering 88 yards never looked so easy as it did in that moment. Jones took off, and once tight end Evan Engram blocked the sole Philadelphia defender still loitering in the area, it looked for all the world like he would sprint all the way to the end zone for a touchdown. On a night when the New York offense had done little, during a season in which the Giants have been woeful even by the sad standards of the NFC East, it had all the earmarks of a game-changing play.

But even as Joe Buck told the TV audience “he is gone,” Jones’s steps suddenly seemed out of synch. At the Philadelphia 30 he was visibly wobbling. At the 20 he tripped, as if stumbling over an invisible dangling shoelace. Jones went down at the 15, rolling forward to the 10 even as he tried to get up. But before he could rise one of the Eagles defenders who had been doing little more than getting some exercise by chasing Jones down the field managed to catch up to him and touch him down, eight yards short of a score.

Saturday night, with his team trailing the Los Angeles Dodgers 7-6, Randy Arozarena, the rookie outfielder turned playoff phenom for the Tampa Bay Rays, came to the plate with Kevin Kiermaier on first and two outs in the bottom of the 9th of World Series Game 4. Five innings earlier Arozarena had set a new major league record with his ninth homer of the playoffs, so Dodgers’ closer Kenley Jansen was understandably careful, eventually walking the Rays’ young hero. That brought up Brett Phillips, who promptly laced a line drive to short right-center. L.A.’s Chris Taylor charged the ball even as Kiermaier and Arozarena raced around the bases.

While it was shallow, the hit to the outfield probably would have scored the lead runner, but then Taylor failed to field it cleanly. In a game that Tampa Bay had to win to avoid falling into a very deep one-to-three deficit in the Series, suddenly a far more dramatic outcome loomed. Arozarena never broke stride, rounding third intent on scoring and giving Tampa Bay a walk-off win. But just as Jones had done forty-eight hours earlier, the baseball player couldn’t keep his feet underneath him. Arozarena went down, tumbling forward and seemingly doomed to become an easy third out, sending the contest to extra innings.

In the end, the immediate outcomes of both falls were all that fans of either the Giants or the Rays could want, despite the ill-timed imbalance of the two protagonists. While Jones’s run to glory came to an unexpected end on the Eagles’ 8-yard line, New York punched the ball in for a go-ahead TD four plays later. And with a mighty assist from the Dodgers defense, Arozarena was able to get up and stagger home when L.A. catcher Will Smith committed the second error of the play by mishandling the relay throw to home from Max Muncy, and pitcher Jansen was inexcusably out of position, not backing up his catcher.

But that doesn’t mean the twin stumbles were treated the same. After the Giants went on to lose to the Eagles 22-21 thanks to a late game touchdown drive engineered by Philadelphia’s Carson Wentz, Jones’s inability to stay upright while running in the clear was picked on by pundits as symbolic of the hapless state into which the franchise has fallen. Despite the 80 yards Jones did manage to cover being the longest run from scrimmage by a NFL quarterback in five years, it seems certain that until some indeterminate time in a future season when the Giants are again relevant in the league’s standings, his pratfall will serve as a convenient reminder of all that is wrong with a team that has played just a single postseason contest in the nine seasons since its victory in Super Bowl XLVI.

In contrast Arozarena has quickly become the biggest name of a rather anonymous Rays roster, understandably so given his postseason hitting exploits on top of a compelling backstory that goes from escaping Cuba as a teenager right through recovering from a protracted battle with COVID-19 earlier this year. That, plus Tampa Bay’s role as the proverbial David of the playoffs, doing battle with Goliaths like the Yankees in the ALDS, the Astros in the ALCS, and now the Dodgers, doesn’t leave much room for criticism. So Arozarena’s tumble was little more than an aside in most accounts of the ending to Game 4, a fillip that added dramatic tension.

Is that fair to Daniel Jones, or for that matter, if one desires objectivity rather than hero worship, to Arozarena? Of course not. But it is one more reminder of the old maxim that applies to all our games. Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.

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