As a fan of the great game of baseball the last 36 hours have been filled with great emotion, great joy and a huge sense of loss. Rarely will we ever see four regular-season games that mattered so much come down to the end in both leagues on one dramatic evening like Wednesday night. In the AL the Red Sox lost with two outs in the ninth to the lowly Orioles. They were leading 3-2 and had one of the best pitchers in baseball on the hill. About three minutes later the Tampa Rays won on a walk-off home run by Longoria to win the AL Wild Card. Tampa has enough pitching to actually make a serious potential run at the AL Pennant.
In the senior circuit the Wild Card leading Atlanta Braves, my life-long favorite team, suffered one of the greatest stretch-run collapses ever, blowing a 10 1/2 game lead from late August and an 8 1/2 game lead from September 5. First-year Braves skipper Fredi Gonzalez has to be questioned about a number of bad decisions he made but he will be back again next year. (I believe Bobby Cox would not have blown this lead!) But give the Cardinals credit for winning big games when they had to even thought the Braves handed the Wild Card position away by losing their last five games when everything was on the line and they had several games won but then found a way to lose them. I actually felt more than a week ago that they were finished. It seemed like every move they made did not work and everything fell apart across the board. You could see the “deer in the headlights” look on the faces of the whole team and staff. Their game Wednesday evening came down to the ninth inning. When the Phillies tied them in the ninth and it went to thirteen innings it was agonizing to watch as I knew they would lose.
On Thursday, to get some closure on a very disappointing finish to what had been a really fine season for five months, I went to see Moneyball in the late afternoon. It is the new, much ballyhooed, baseball movie released last weekend. It proved to be a great way to grieve Wednesday’s huge loss. If the end of the season was emotionally gut-wrenching then this fine movie was the fix that I needed to get me ready for next spring.
Moneyball, based on the best-selling book by Michael Lewis, is the true story of general manager Billy Beane of the Oakland Athletics. Beane sought to change the game by applying new measurable statistical evidence to how he chose players for a small market team with limited payroll. To some extent his effort altered the game of baseball in subtle but truly significant ways. This story is itself compelling even if you do not understand baseball at all. In the film Brad Pitt is Billy Beane and Philip Seymour Hoffman is field manager Art Howe. I have seen most all of the major Hollywood films about baseball. This has to be in my top five all-time baseball movies. Moneyball is clearly the best fact-based movie on baseball ever! It just might garner a few awards next year from the Academy. It really is that good. I’ll not tell you how it ends, in case you do not know the story, but I would encourage you to see it for yourself, even if you’re not a big baseball fan like me. If you are a fan then you will understand the range of emotions I felt today.
For all those friends who root for the Rays and Cardinals I say, “Congratulations. Enjoy your next series.” For me I believe the Phils and Rangers will play in the World Series and I think this is Philadelphia’s year. Why? They just have too much of everything that is needed and thus a balanced and well-managed club. Plus, they lost last year and have that sense of urgency in their team. I see the Phils play a lot of games since they are Atlanta’s chief rival. I have never more profoundly respected a rival team like this year’s Phillies team. They beat Atlanta six straight games in the final twelve of this season and did it with total class. They honored the game and walked off the field with class when they knocked the Braves out on Wednesday. They play the game the right way and their manager should get a lot of credit.