Saturday, September 20

Beautiful night at the ballpark

I had the distinct pleasure of attending the Indians' 6-5 victory over the Detroit Tigers this evening, a game that represents everything a ballpark experience can and should be. This was a night where everything was perfect, and I couldn't even see the part where Gary Sheffield's nose was bleeding.

Editor's note: As lovely of an evening as I had, this still does not represent my peak MLB in-person experience. It's second. First will be another post.

September 19, 2008 was a beautiful day weather-wise in the city of Cleveland, OH. High around 70 degrees, slightly cool but undeniably pleasant. Days like this are why I look forward to September and October every year - it was absolutely perfect outside.

My friend Greg and I walked over to the ballpark (if I've not rubbed that in enough this year, I live less than half a mile from Progressive Field) armed with a $40 voucher for Mezzanine seats gifted to us by a coworker who got them by spending a mint in the Indians Team Shop. The ticket guy told us they were out of Mezzanine seats but could offer us Upper Box. What the hell do I care, it's in the park and it's free, right?

We were placed in Section 553, Row X. Yep, Planet X, the very last row, all the way at the very top. Really, dude? There are over 8000 unsold tickets and we get the absolute nosebleeds? My sister Lance was sitting in right field so I called her and she and Bucko could definitely see us way up high. Yet Greg and I came to appreciate the joys of Row X - a bird's-eye view of the field, a nice breeze, freedom to stand up whenever, and the ability to form menacing "X"'s by crossing our arms Carl Krauser-style. Row X rules.

I brought along a mechanical pencil and purchased a game scorecard and kept a nice little book during the game. It's amazing how much easier it was than my days keeping score in Pittsburgh, where the home team played NL rules and the pitcher always ended up batting 3rd by the end and also I was usually drunk. The Progressive Field scorcard is well laid out, except there's not a good mechanism for writing in substitutions and the diamond outline is too heavy.

Shin-Soo Choo put the good guys on the board in the first by just destroying a home run to left field. This just in: Big League Choo is GOOD. Statistically, he is the best hitter on the team (using rate stats) and is quickly becoming a fan favorite. The dude has a .924 OPS, a rocket arm, and a killer nickname. What's not to like about the BLC?

Miguel Cabrera put the Motor City Kitties up 2-1 with a home run that may or may not still be flying. Wow, he put a charge into that. Fausto Carmona was pitching well, but, you know, Miguel Cabrera will do that from time to time.

Grady Sizemore evened the score at 2-2 with his 33rd blast of the year. Armando "Not Andres" Galarraga was pitching well, but, you know, Grady Sizemore will do that from time to time.

Hey guys, you know, maybe pitch around Cabrera? 4-2 Tigers. Then the fun starts. After retiring Matt Joyce on a groundout, Carmona plunked Gary Sheffield on the elbow. Sheffield is 39 years old, has been in the major leagues for 21 years, and has been hit by 132 pitches, yet still has the maturity of a third-grader. He thus decides to walk to first base at a pace of roughly one step per hour, stare down Carmona the whole way, and carry his bat all the way to first base like he was at tryouts for the World Dickhead Cricket League. Gary, get over yourself. You weren't the batter after the home run. You stink. Your OPS+ is 87. No one likes you or even cares anymore. We didn't want you on first base. If the Indians were really trying to send a message, they would have hit one of your teammates who is actually still capable of getting on base. You were already on the night 0-2 and looked bad doing it. You may have heard me heckling you from Row X every time you screwed up. You were fast in RBI Baseball 2 in 1989, but since then not so much. I know you haven't alleged racism against someone in like a month, but GET OVER YOURSELF. For fun, read ESPN's recap of the game, featuring post-game insanity from Sheffield. I love the "three strikes you're out" part even though Carmona has only hit him twice. Fausto has 69 walks in 113 innings this season - he's not exactly pinpoint, and there's no way you can convince me he wanted to put a dude that inept on base in a 4-2 game. Sheffield is totally insane. Victor brought this up well, and Wedge I think was smart to try to keep out of it. Like he says, why piss off the refs? Even in IM's I make friends with the officials and don't criticize their bad calls because I know it's human nature to react negatively to this.

OK, I'm on a bit of a digression. I think Wedge's refusal to criticize here is intelligent. Tomorrow, the umpires won't hold any rancor against Wedge and the Tribe - if anything, they'll feel positively towards them because Wedge took the high road. He's been criticized in the past for not being fiery, not getting thrown out enough, but I think that's tremendously stupid. Talk to the officials, let them know what you think, work it out like men, and go back and coach your team. Why throw your hat and kick dirt and get ejected? Yeah, every once in a while you need to lash out, but getting thrown out more than once or twice a year erodes one's credibility. I liek Wedge's approach, and I think it gives us a slight edge going forward.

ANYWAY, Carmona throws over to first base once Sheffield is on, which Crazy Gary takes as a personal affront. Look, the dude stole 22 bases last year and has swiped 7 this year despite rarely ever being on base. Pitchers do this. And you know what, even if it's only semi-legit, it's funny. Well, little Gary didn't like it, yelled at Carmona to throw to the plate (not your decision), Fausto yelled back, and Gar-Gar thought he'd go pick a fight. We all know what happened after that - Carmona made Gretzky's head bleed, Victor wanted more action (or not, so says Sheffield), and some people got ejected. Kind of a fun brawl, as brawls go. The fans liked it. I have two lingering questions:

1) Why eject Carmona? How should he have responded? This, to me, seems like self-defense. If you charge the mound, does the pitcher automatically get tossed? Why not, when you face an ace pitcher, start a bad player, have him lead off, and attack the pitcher? What happens? I'm exaggerating, but this whole thing is on jerk-off Sheffield. Carmona will likely be suspended one start. My question: why?

2) Why wasn't Sheffield out? You can't just vacate a base like that. Sure Shoppach threw out his replacement (and reached base in the 9th, leading to the tying run), but that should have been out #2. I watched the replay and never saw Sheffield call time out. Cannot figure this out.

Los Tigres added a run later on to make it 5-2, and the stage was once again set for the BLC in the Tribe's half of the 8th. Sizemore doubled down the left field line with two out, and Wedge put Francisco in for Dellucci (7 innings too late). BenFran walked, and BLC smashed a Casey Fossum offering into the right-center field stands to tie the game at 5. I've never seen Progressive Field so loud. Beautiful. I hope Sheffield watched it on TV. I hope he watched the slow-motion replay. I hope he's seen the replay of him getting his head punched as many times as I have.

Top of the 9th, tie ball game, Tribe brings out Betancourt and Perez. At the same time. OK, that's lie, but it would have been awesome and fucking confusing for the hitters. RB got a K and a groundout, and Perez whiffed the only batter he faced. The ballpark was electric. Super-exciting. You'd have thought it was the playoffs. I, personally, was pretty jacked up. Let's win this thing, eh?

After the aforementioned Shoppach hit by pitch (hey Sheffield, notice how he managed not to make a total ass out of himself?) and was replaced by Josh Barfield, Travis Hafner quickly struck out and Ryan Garko was summoned as a pinch hitter (8 innings too late) for Michael Aubrey, who was celebrating his 16th birthday today. Garko lined the first pitch he saw into right to put runners at the corners with 1 out. Jamey Carroll (who entered the game in the 7th as a pinch hitter for Andy Marte, 6 innings too late) lifed a drive over the head of a drawn-in Magglio OrdoƱez in right, and the Tribe had themselves a 6-5 victory. What a ball game!

THEN, it was fireworks night! All your favorite '80's tunes, like "Beat It," "Jessie's Girl," "Livin' on a Prayer," and so on, plus big explosions in the sky. Gary Sheffield hates "Jessie's Girl."

THEN, we went to Scorcher's! Talk about a night at the ballpark. I even beat Bucko at the punching game. Truly a magical evening.

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