Friday, August 03, 2007

Home Run Drudgery Is Soporific

Sports of The Times
August 3, 2007

Amazing what can happen at a baseball game when you are waiting — and as Ray Davies once sang, “So tired, tired of waiting” — for one specific player to hit a milestone home run.

Balls can fly and bounce and ricochet and roll, a miscue here and a mental lapse there can lead to a spectacular Roger Clemens meltdown, an eight-run White Sox explosion in the top of the second that the Yankees amazingly proceeded to match in the bottom half almost before you could say, “And that’ll be all for Jon Garland.”

If you’re scoring at home, it was a combined total of 26 men up and 18 hitting safely and 16 coming around to score yesterday, all in the unsightly pursuit of six measly outs.

Joe Torre said he never saw an inning quite like it. “You say, Here we are, let’s get back a couple at a time,” said Torre, the Yankees’ ever-patient manager. “And all of a sudden it’s eight.”

“Incredible, actually,” Clemens said of the inning at-large, disgusted as he was for the role he played in it, a career-worst inning of nine hits allowed, though shoddy fielding didn’t help.

“One of a kind,” Alex Rodriguez called the interminable inning after the White Sox surprisingly didn’t wilt in the wake of blowing the 8-0 lead and salvaged a 13-9 victory to avoid a sweep at Yankee Stadium.

Even A-Rod, hitless in his previous 21 Kodak moment tries, contributed to the comeback by lashing a run-scoring single, one of his two hits on the day. But still no 500th career home run on a stifling afternoon when five balls did leave the park, in a series when the Yankees battered Chicago pitching for 33 runs in three games.

The A-Rod watch is at eight days, no unreasonable amount of time, except in New York, but he doesn’t seem to be having any more fun than Barry Bonds was having out west going into last night’s game in Los Angeles. Frankly, neither are we. In both cases, for different reasons,the chase doesn’t feel joyous, or compelling, just plain drudgery.

You wish a couple of sympathetic pitchers would throw fastballs down the pike, let them get it over with already and allow everyone to just move on to focus on other things, the subtleties and idiosyncrasies of the game, the best parts.

Even the eager-to-please commissioner, Bud Selig, had to take a break from Bonds’s pursuit of Hank Aaron last night, as if it were contractually mandated. He said he would rejoin Bonds and the Giants in San Diego and that he wished he could also attend Tom Glavine’s next attempt at his 300th career victory Sunday night in Chicago. Too bad these cheesy home-run watches couldn’t be cut back to every fifth day.

I’m not naïve to the aura and the impact of the home run, historically speaking or on any specific game. But this obsession with power — isn’t that how baseball wound up in such a fix in the first place?

Sorry, but watching the bloated, immobile Bonds waddle up to the plate does not inspire the image of an athlete soon to achieve his defining moment. Bonds used to be a great baseball player. Now he is more the strong man in the performance-enhancement circus.

The A-Rod watch — he is on the verge of becoming the fastest to make the 500 club — seems to have taken on greater significance in juxtaposition to Bonds. People seem to want to be assured that Bonds will not be holding the record for too long. Maybe A-Rod will eventually come for Bonds, but the deification of him as the sport’s best player — even of baseball history — is a bit much.

With all due respect to his immense talent and the monster season he’s in the midst of compiling — let me pose a question: You’re going into the playoffs and you have the choice of one player, A-Rod or Pete Rose? To me, it’s a no-brainer. I’ll take the career hits leader, thank you very much, to spray the ball all over the ballpark.

When it’s time to win, when the opposing pitching is first-rate, bearing down, give me the great contact hitter, the kind of at-bat A-Rod had in the fourth yesterday when he took a 2-2 pitch on the outside part of the plate and stroked it to right field for a single.

He admitted that he had been trying to hit the ball to the moon, trying to do too much. “I’m going to become a little choppy hitter,” he said, joking.

Not necessary but nothing to sneeze at. If the Yankees make it to October, A-Rod will want to remember the potential futility of waiting on the long ball and the possibilities of simply trying to put it in play.



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