As I write this, my favorite baseball team won their 12th straight game and 4th straight against their division rivals 10-3. Our ace went 7 strong innings to win his 17th of the year. The 3rd and 5th hitters in the lineup had 3 RBI each. And we taxed their bullpen so much, that they had to bring in their utility player in in the 9th inning to pitch. All that and yet—the excitement, fun and thrills didn’t come close to the game that preceded it.
On August 7th, 2013, Detroit Tigers and Cleveland Indians fans were treated to what was absolutely the most exciting game of the year. Yes, Indians fans too, even though they were on the losing end. The August 7th match was one of those games that comes around once or twice a year, and goes the way of a team like the Tigers, who seem destined to do great things in the post season–and use games like this in the middle of the season as a testament to their self-prophecy.
Games like this in recent Tigers memory that come to mind? There’s last year’s game against the Indians on August 5th, when Chris Perez blew a 5-run lead and the Tigers came back to win it. There’s the infamous Verlander vs. Weaver contest in 2011, that pitted then Cy Young candidates against each other; a game in which Verlander had a no-hitter going and in which Jered Weaver mistook a limping Magglio Ordonez for showboating on a homerun, leading Carlos Guillen to ACTUALLY showboat, which lead to Weaver throwing a 93 mph pitch at Alex Avila’s head, resulting in his own ejection (damn, that game was awesome. I’ve never been so pissed at a player in my life than I was with Weaver when he threw at Alex. NOT COOL, MAN!). And, of course, there is Game 163 in 2009: proof that you can be on the losing side of sports history and still admit that what you watched was one of the most hard-fought, impressively entertaining games in ever. No need to explain myself there, that’s a whole blog in itself.
I will never forgive Jered Weaver for this. You don’t throw at our All-Star catcher because a guy showed you up. Don’t want to be shown up? Don’t give up bombs to right field.
This game, though, on August 7th, was truly one for the ages. And everyone knew it. I was listening to it at work on the radio, for the most part, and everyone was texting and chatting me because by the 7th inning, we knew that this was that game. The game that defines a season. The turning point.
I work late nights, almost every night. Thus, I listen to Tigers games on the radio. That’s not a bad thing, though. Because Dan Dickerson and Jim Price are literally the best in the business, that goes for every sport. When Dan Dickerson called Miggy’s homerun in the 8th, I just about lost it. I literally got out of my chair as the ball was headed back to centerfield and fist pumped and screamed in front of all of my coworkers when Dan Dickerson announced that that ball was GONE! I wasn’t done yet. Then, I proceeded to run—no, gallop around the room, high fiving everyone; most of whom aren’t even from Detroit, much less do they love baseball. I tweeted Mr. Dickerson about this later, after the game.
He never responded to my proposal about Jim Price getting a twitter, but let us not be greedy. The point here is, Mr. Dickerson is absolutely correct. That game, and that at-bat, and that call were all that makes sports great.
We connect to sports differently than most forms of entertainment. We come home from a tired, dull reality that is our work day and try to find a little escape every night in the form of entertainment; be it movies, music, books, whatever. But sports is unique in that we look for inspiration in these athletes–that, in many cases we haven’t even met them, yet know them like members of our family. We see them go out and do their job every day and we see a lot in them that we either do see or want to see in ourselves. Local athletes are so ingrained in our every day lives sometimes that, for many of them, we go on the journey with them. We go through their ups and downs and their tests and trials. Sometimes we even get mad at them, only to have them gain our trust again later on in the season. I mean, at this point, for me. I almost don’t want to win a World Series without Jim Leyland. He’s my manager! He’s our guy.
THAT being said. Here’s the anatomy of a GREAT GAME, as played on August 7th, 2013. Detroit Tigers @ Cleveland Indians. It, simply, had everything that makes sports worth watching…
Quality Play, From Unexpected Places
This is an obvious aspect of a great game, but important nonetheless. When you watch a game, you want to see perfect execution from players that you might not be expecting much out of. You know what was one of the greatest sports events of the year that I don’t want to admit? The NCAA Men’s Basketball National Championship. I don’t want to admit it for obvious reasons, as a Spartan. In fact, the first half of that game was just unbearable to watch. But, it was a fantastic event, with many of the aspects that I will describe here. Remember Spike Albrecht? Did anyone know who that was before the National Championship game? I didn’t. That game not only wouldn’t have been close without Spike’s performance, but it was part of what made it an incredible game, and will immortalize Spike in the memories of basketball fans everywhere.
I hate those yellow jerseys. It’s like someone spilled mustard on style.
This game against the Indians was not on the same level of magnitude as the National Championship game, but it sure had talent come out and execute from unexpected places. Namely, Bruce Rondon. This guy couldn’t throw a strike back in April. All of the sudden he hops into the game, gives two solid innings of relief. He’s hittin’ 103 on the gun and droppin’ sliders like a DJ drops beats. It was when the Tigers needed that kinda clutch bullpen pitching, too. He’s one of our star players, sure, but Prince Fielder has been struggling since the All-Star break, with almost obsolete production and value to the team. I know that everyone of my friends, and myself included, expected Mr. Fielder to strike out there with RISP and two outs in the 14th inning. No one foresaw him flippin’ a go-ahead double into left-center that was, quite literally, for the win. And then there’s Joaquin Benoit, must-see JB. Let’s face it, 2011 and 2006 aside, Tigers fans are just so used to inconsistent closers and watching saves being blown in the most ridiculous fashion. Benoit, since taking the closers role, has been perfect! Though, on August 7th’s game, it got a little shaky in the 9th. He gave up one run, and had the tying run in scoring position. But he came through, with a ballsy changeup on the inside half of the plate for the winning strikeout. I was watching the game, and yelling at the TV for him not to throw the changeup because it hadn’t been working for him all inning. Well, what do I know? He tossed the changeup and it was located perfectly. That’s the kinda stuff that makes you jump out of your seat.
How often are we down in the dumps, ill or just downright overworked and tired, yet we have to go on with our daily lives; works, chores, tending to friends and family? It’s tough, it really is. When I’ve got a sinus infection, though, I have to go to work and sit at a desk and just fight through the uncomfortable pain. When athletes are sick or injured, they have to go out there in front of 45,000 people (or, in the case of Progressive Field that night, maybe 15,000? Hah!) and perform at the highest level, because everyone is counting on them to get the job right. No excuses. It turns out that August 7th’s starting pitcher, Doug Fister, was battling the flu that night. It was clear during the game, he didn’t have his best stuff, but he still tossed a quality start. It wasn’t until after the game that Torii Hunter revealed that Fister was battling an illness.
That’s stuff of greatness right there, it reminds us that no matter how poor we are feeling, or down in the dumps we get, sometimes you just gotta play through the pain. It’s the same reason baseball fans gush over a bloody sock on a cold October night. Don’t know what I’m talking about? Watch this…
Wish Curt Schilling would pray to be a better Baseball Tonight anchor
But we had the last laugh, at least on the baseball diamond. As much as I’m offended by the ignorance of Cleveland Indians baseball fans, it’s just part of the game, and every great game has trash talking. It elevates it to a much grander scale, too. When fans start coming after your city and your homeland, those baseball players on the field with the Old English D on their hats represent more than just baseball. This is our opportunity for our guys to beat their guys. It’s the civil way to declare city-state warfare, because since we can’t have cities battle each other, we have our sports teams do it instead. So, while the municpality of Detroit is indeed bankrupt, we still have the better food, culture, music, architecture, history, cars in addition to owning them in baseball. We also attend baseball games, even if our baseball team isn’t in a pennant race. Seriously, where was everyone in Cleveland for this series?
(As an aside, I think the “Detroit Bankrupt” chants are pretty immature. Granted, I’m all for nasty name calling at games, but do it to the players, and about baseball. Like if you want to call Miggy a drunk, Prince fat, or A-Rod a junkie, go ahead. But when your fanbase starts bringing in real life atrocities about a whole city or region, that’s when things get out of hand. I mean, you wouldn’t see OKC Thunder fans at a New Orleans Pelicans game chanting “Ka-trin-a! Ka-trin-a!”, because that’s messed up. So, stay classy, Cleveland fans).
That being said, our players did some trash talking of their own. When Salazar did the “Phil Coke Point” on Miguel Cabrera’s no-doubter to straight away center, apparently Anibal Sanchez was mocking him in the dugout.
It was like Mighty Casey At Bat, except Mighty Casey is Mighty Miguel, and he’s as clutch as it gets.
Every great game has to have storybook drama, the kind of stuff that implores Fox to adopt playoff taglines like, “You Can’t Script October”. That means, of course, that junk happens in great games that is so unbelievably storybook, you’d think that it’d have to be written for a screenplay.
The following is based on a true story.
This might be the reason a lot of us watch sports or movies, read books or comics. Redemption might be the single greatest human theme since our lives have been recorded on cavemen walls. It’s because we all screw up, we all make mistakes and sometimes hurt the ones we love because of it. Sometimes, a lot of that is out of our control.
When Jeremy Bonderman was told in 2010 that he would never play baseball again because of injury, he could have stepped away from the game and no one would have question his resolve or demeanor. No one would have faulted him for giving up. But for Bondo, the man who was drafted at 17 years old as a junior in high school, and was once a hero and the promise of the future in a city that had been craving a good baseball team for 20+ years, there was only baseball. He decided that baseball was what he had to do.
He worked hard to get back to the velocity he once had, and the snap on that slider that made him famous around baseball. After a stint with the Mariners earlier in the year proved him to be less than useful, even to a ball club with almost nothing to play for, Bonderman was released. The Tigers picked him up on a minor league contract, and after doing more than he was asked to do, the Tigers decided to call him up for the Cleveland Indians series, hoping that Bondo could capture what was once great and give the Tigers some more depth to what was once a struggling bullpen. He was back with the team he had once helped reach the mountain top. Now he wants to help them get back there, but capture that flag this time.
Bondo’s performance in the game was a little of everything. Quality play from an unexpected source, resilience in the eyes of doubters, and a storybook comeback. The stage for his Tigers return could not have been bigger. A tie game in extra innings against the division rivals. In moral terms, a must win. In reality terms, the chance to go ahead and win a series against one of the teams chasing your playoff spot. Bondo was incredible. It felt like the 2006 ALDS all over again. Mr. Snappy, Bonderman’s appropriately-named slider, was back in action—and almost like never before.
Dat movement. When Bonderman went 3 strong, socreless innings in extras, I just knew we had to win that game. And so did Prince Fielder.
Here are the highlights to the greatest Tigers game of 2013 (so far)…
EDIT [8/18/13]: Yesterday’s game on 8/17 may have surpassed the 8/7 game for the greatest game of the year, especially since it was at home, and ended with a Miguel Cabrera walk-off homerun to right. As Jim Price said, “He’s the best!”