There are so many clichés that begin with "baseball is," little aphoristic sayings that attempt to boil down a game as multifaceted as all of human existence into a single pitchy thought. Baseball is a game of inches. Baseball is the game designed to break your heart. If you type "baseball is" into Google, the top results include "baseball is dying" and "baseball is better" -- feeling better, possibly, as opposed to "better than" (say, being repeatedly poked in the thigh with a fork) so much as with Schrodinger's cat, attempts to define baseball arrive at a fruitless point of endless uncertainty. Another top result, coming in between "is dying" and "is better" is "not a sport." Possibly this should all concern Rob Manfred, that his sport is perceived to be suffering in some way (though possibly rallying), inert or simply invalid.
Postseason baseball allows us to add another, more positive "baseball is." Really this applies to any game, but there is something about the extra pressure inherent in the October game that makes this aspect particularly powerful and occasionally poignant, is that baseball is a game where, on any given day, a man can redefine himself.
A single-game performance can make an anonymous player a hero or a goat, and the same goes for a star as well. A player dismissed as old can be young again. One seemingly at the peak of his powers can fail miserably. In all cases, what was true of that player before the game, and is probably still true after, is for nine innings completely altered. Case in point: Jake Peavy, starting pitcher for the San Francisco Giants in Game 1 of the NLDS against the Washington Nationals.
Peavy, 33, has two ERA titles and a Cy Young Award on his resume, but both came so long ago as to belong to another player altogether -- the same year that he won his Cy Young, John Lackey led the American League in ERA, not something he would be accused of doing today. Having gone 1-9 with a 4.72 ERA with the miserable Boston Red Sox prior to his July 26 trade back to the National League and his first manager, Bruce Bochy, Peavy had begun talking of retirement. Even though the Red Sox acquired a couple of promising pitchers in return, they still had to throw in some cash to even up the deal.
Hunter Strickland exits (Al Bello/Getty Images).
Peavy was a new man, or closer to the mark, his old self, with the Giants. Back when he won that Cy Young Award, his fastball averaged 94 mph. Now he's down to 90, sometimes less. It didn't matter. Take his regular season work and add in the 5⅔ innings of scoreless, two-hit baseball he pitched against the Washington Nationals in Game 1, and you get 83⅓ innings of 2.05 ERA-pitching. Peavy isn't that good. No one this side of Clayton Kershaw or Chris Sale is. Peavy was about that good at his youthful best, but again, that was a fleeting moment spent many years ago. Why has it reappeared now? How long will it stay? No idea, but that's the wonderful thing about this particular form of "baseball is." The universe is capricious, but sometimes kind.
Giants reliever Hunter Strickland was shown the back of the universe's hand and too was redefined in Game 1. The 25-year-old rookie right-hander didn't make the big leagues until September. He has all of seven major league innings under his belt, but he pitched his way onto the postseason roster by allowing five hits, no walks and no runs in those innings while throwing 98-99 mph. His fastball is a thing of beauty, but subsequent to saving Peavy and Jose Lopez by blowing away Ian Desmond to leave the bases loaded and preserve a 2-0 Giants lead through six he learned that the majors were perhaps not quite as easy as they had seemed. In the bottom of the seventh, Bryce Harper and Asdrubal Cabrera hit home runs that were, without hyperbole, crushed.
Fortunately for the Giants, another rookie sensation, second baseman Joe Panik, had tripled to open the top of the seventh and later scored on a Buster Posey infield single. That run would prove decisive, and subsequent relievers Jeremy Affeldt, Sergio Romo and Santiago Casilla were able to stave off subsequent Nationals threats. The Giants would win Game 1 by a score of 3-2.
We can talk about Stephen Strasburg's performance another time -- he was hardly dominant but also wasn't helped by his defense. As strongly as he finished the season, as good as he was overall, the start must rate a slight disappointment nonetheless. Still, if not for Panik's triple off of Craig Stammen, the outcome might have been very different.
For now, though, let's just stick with the Giants and "baseball is." Jake Peavy is a star again; Strickland a shell-shocked kid, in over his head. None of these things may be true tomorrow, and the Nats may yet win this series. Baseball is the game where each day starts with a clean slate.