Posted by: Mike Cornelius | October 28, 2021

Too Little Drama, Too Much Time

We are only two games deep in a World Series that now must go at least five, so there is still time for this year’s Fall Classic to become, well, classic, but that is surely not the word that most fans would use to describe the first eighteen innings of play.  The first pitch of Tuesday’s Game 1 was at 7:11 p.m. Houston time, and by 7:12 the Astros were behind.  Atlanta then just kept pouring it on against Framber Valdez, the Houston left-hander who was so effective against the Red Sox in the pivotal Game 5 of the ALCS.  Of course, Valdez had been decidedly less impressive in his two previous postseason outings, putting up an unsightly 7.71 ERA over a combined seven innings of work against the White Sox in the ALDS and Boston five days prior to his lights-out performance, so perhaps his implosion should not have been a total surprise. 

Then, one night after enduring the 6-2 thrashing, the Astros returned the favor, quickly tallying a run against Max Fried in the opening frame, and eventually touching the Atlanta left-hander for five more scores on the way to a 7-2 victory.  Fried dominated for Atlanta down the stretch, as the team rallied from a mere .500 record in the first week of August to overtake the Phillies and collapsing Mets and claim the NL East.  But like Valdez, he’s now had a couple of shaky playoff starts, though in fairness he was victimized in this one by several soft hits and poor defensive play, including his own wild pitch, while yielding four runs in the pivotal 2nd inning.

To make matters worse, all this poor play proceeded at a ponderous pace.  The wish, recently made in this space, for games ending before midnight East Coast time went unfulfilled when Game 1 dragged on for more than four hours.  Game 2 managed to wrap up before the witching hour but could be called speedy only in comparison to the previous night’s affair.  At three hours and eleven minutes, it was longer than the average game this season, a number that was already a record MLB surely didn’t need.  But then one can hardly expect decent game times when, in the wisdom of managers Dusty Baker and Brian Snitker, 21 pitchers are needed to record 105 outs.   

Yet the Great Game remains unpredictable, because each contest is made up of countless individual moments, thousands of decisions by those on the field and in the dugout, each of which can nudge the outcome toward one of just two possibilities.  Most important, the decisive push might not be from a choice made at center stage.   One player on a ten-inch hill decides what kind of pitch to throw to a batter sixty feet, six inches away, who in turn must choose in an instant whether to swing at the offering.  But while thousands focus on that, a distant outfielder responds to a signal from the dugout by moving forward two steps as the pitcher begins his windup.  It is that small adjustment to his position that allows him to make a diving catch of the short fly ball that follows.  Or it ensures that the long drive over his head will just barely elude his outstretched glove before bouncing all the way to the wall.

Which is to say, the tone of this year’s World Series can change in an instant.  The Great Game did not exist when Shakespeare had Antonio proclaim, “what is past is prologue” in Act 2 of “The Tempest.”  If it had, the plot of the Bard’s final comedy would have been totally different.  Taut and tight games, well played and well coached, could await fans who tune in when play resumes Friday evening at Truist Park in suburban Atlanta.    

Perhaps, for both the Astros and Atlanta are talented teams.  If neither would have been its league’s representative in that long-ago time when achieving the regular season’s best record meant moving directly to the World Series, they are the two teams that have played the best in October.  The Giants and Rays, putative contestants in that theoretical Series, are long gone.  So too L.A. with its absurdly rich payroll, St. Louis with its dramatic late season winning streak, New York with its pedigree, and all the rest.  Some were felled by injury and exhaustion, others by untimely poor play.  Some will blame the sport’s randomness, which is always magnified in the short series that comprise the playoffs.  Others will admit, if only to themselves, that when ten of thirty franchises get to participate in the tournament, they were one of several that really never had much of a chance.

Or perhaps fans will see three, or four, or five more games that look dispiritingly like the first two.  Randomness is unpredictable, so a satisfying result is not guaranteed.  Though in the end one team’s faithful would still get to have a parade, the Great Game will have missed an opportunity should that be how this Fall Classic plays out.  That’s especially true given the television ratings, which while still below older peaks, bumped up markedly from last year’s neutral ground Series following a truncated campaign. 

So, despite the first two games, root for a good World Series.  Root for Dusty, or root for Freddie, still the two best stories.  Or root for Ian Anderson to throw a great game Friday because you grew up listening to Jethro Tull, or for Jose Altuve to homer twice off Anderson, because you’ve always wanted to cheat and get away with it.  And, of course, root for games that end before midnight.  The Great Game really, really needs more of those.

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