A Magical Baseball Day
Houston 5, Texas 4 (Astros lead ALCS 3-2)
Arizona 6, Philadelphia 5 (NLCS tied 2-2)
Well, that’s baseball for you. We have almost three weeks of fairly blah playoff baseball — lots of blowouts, little drama, top teams falling on their faces — and then on one thrilling Friday night, we get two breathtaking games with sudden and startling lead changes and late-inning heroics and key mistakes and controversy and titanic performances, and there’s ecstasy and heartbreak and anger and joy and all the things that make this game so durably wonderful.
As I’ve written so many times before: I never argue with people who say baseball is boring. Baseball is boring. And then it isn’t. And that’s the magic.
Where do you even begin on such a night? How about with Houston starting pitcher Justin Verlander, almost 41 years old, not just a veteran but, as the sportswriters write, a grizzled one. Who else is grizzled except an aging soldier or a veteran ballplayer? It was almost 20 years ago that Verlander was the second pick in the draft.
“Who was picked first?” asked an ashen Doug Mientkiewicz after flailing at the electrified fastballs of a young Verlander. “And you better say Pujols.”
It was not Albert Pujols, of course, but instead, a tragic case named Matt Bush … anyway, that was a long time ago, and the Verlander who took the mound on Friday had faced more than 15,000 big-league batters if you count the fall and spring, and these days he relies more on guile and verve and getting batters to chase breaking balls out of the zone than he does on throwing thunderbolts.
But on this day, for whatever reason, the arm felt young, and the fastball was popping, and the Astros took an early 1-0 lead, and Verlander rode the wave. For five innings, he overpowered the Texas Rangers the way he used to do it, throwing four-seam fastball after four-seam fastball, most of them up in the zone to induce fly balls … 94-mph to get Marcus Semien to pop out … 94-mph to get Corey Seager to pop out … 95-mph past Evan Carter … 96-mph to get Semien to pop out again … 96-mph to get Josh Jung to fly out.
In that fifth, though,
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