Sunday, October 18, 2015

Roger Angell, secretly hoping

From The New Yorker, November 20, 1978
That 95-year-old Roger Angell is again blogging his way through the postseason warms me to no end. We can't take him for granted. (His latest, on the New York Mets conniving their way past the Los Angeles Dodgers into the NLCS, contains a nice Angellic observation or three.) Last night, as the cameras closed in on Met Curtis Granderson's tense, concentrated face during an at-bat against the Chicago Cubs' starter Jon Lester, I was reminded of one of my favorites postseason moments, when young Dodger fireballer Bob Welch fanned Yankee veteran Reggie Jackson in a ninth inning showdown in Game Two of the 1978 World Series. The moment is indelibly imprinted in me: as much as I enjoyed the 1976 and '77 seasons and the great '77 World Series, my baseball cards and growing affection for Nolan Ryan and the Boston Red Sox and Baltimore Orioles, this moment, enjoyed in my rec room with my older brother and dad, eternally focused my love of the game. I carry it with me everywhere.

Unsurprisingly, the moment inspired Angell, too. I'm not sure what's a more deeply pleasurable experience for me, watching the at-bat or reading Angell's description.


Here's Angell, from the November 20, 1978 issue of The New Yorker. (The essay was later collected in Late Innings.)
The wonderful confrontation was executed in broad strokes. With the tying run on second base in the person of Bucky Dent, and with Paul Blair leading off from first, Jackson needed only a single to do his primary task, but his full, staggering foul cut at Welch’s third fastball, on the one-and-one count, told us that Reggie was not interested in shortening up. This was all or nothing: the famous millionaire slugger was going to take the kid downtown. Two more burning fastballs were fouled off, with Reggie’s lurching swing each time causing him to resemble a dangerously defective drilling machine, and we were all on our feet, yelling and pointing and laughing. Jackson took a ball, fouled off a high pitch, and took another ball, to run the count full. I had been secretly hoping that Welch would attempt a change-up, because it seemed possible that the Jackson machinery would break into several pieces when he swung at it, but Bob Welch, too, wanted this entertainment pure. He stared in, stretched, and reared, the two runners took off, fifty-six thousand fans yelled together, and Reggie cut mightily at a high fastball, swinging through it cleanly, and the game and the marvelous moment were over. Jackson, enraged at his failure, smashed his bat in the dugout, but he calmed down quickly. “The kid beat me,” he said in the clubhouse.

Three frames from memory's permanent bank:



Joy and rage.

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