BASEBALL HAS AN INHERENT RISING ACTION that’s hard to beat. I’ve often compared it to white-water rafting — you hear the rapids gurgling long before you paddle through them. You have time to gird yourself, tighten the chin strap and steel your nerves for whatever comes. And until you hear the gurgling, you can relax and just enjoy the scenery.
What makes baseball perfect for the summer months is that so much of it is inconsequential. He leans in. He says yes. He steps off the rubber. And now the catcher wants to talk it over…
Even if you’re an ardent fan, you can allow all of this to peck lightly at your awareness while you flip the burger on the grill, toss the ball around with your kid or drive out to the lake. You pay close attention only when you need to. And in baseball, almost always, you KNOW when you need to.
Last night, in Tampa Bay’s 4-0 victory over the Indians, the bottom of the fourth inning was the time to pay attention. The Rays were leading 3-0. The Cleveland rally built methodically, the way baseball rallies often do. A one-out double. A bang-bang play at first that goes the runner’s way. A four-pitch walk.
That’s when the distant gurgling of the rapids becomes a roil, and everyone’s on high alert. The crowd is up, expectant. The top step of each dugout pulsates with a combination of anxiety and hope.
So you stop what you’re doing and watch. Ground ball. Double play? Double play. Double play! Rays pitcher Alex Cobb screams and pumps his fist. Progressive Field goes silent. Even though five innings are left to play, you’re pretty sure you’ve just seen what matters. The rising action told you so.
CONTRAST THIS WITH, SAY, SOCCER. I love soccer, too, but it couldn’t be more different. Goals often bolt from the heavens. Scoring chances (hope) fizzle and morph into counterattacks (anxiety) in an instant.
If you happened to watch that UEFA Champions League match between Juventus and Galatasaray yesterday, you know what I mean. Frustration all night for the heavily favored Italian side, then — boom! — a penalty to tie it. Boom! An 87th minute goal to take the lead. A sure three points for Juventus.
Only it wasn’t. Galatasaray came right back to tie it a minute later thanks to a stunning defensive breakdown. The match ended in a 2-2 draw.
It was fun to watch, if only because I didn’t care who won. I can only imagine what those Juventus fans — notorious for their passion — were thinking watching this game that gives its viewers so little warning.
In general, which do you prefer? Action that builds and crests, or seemingly random bursts? A long, punishing touchdown drive that you can savor piece by piece, or a 50-yard bomb that stuns and delights you?
OK, enough rambling. Two quick things to know for today:
1. Both National League Division Series begin tonight. Pirates-Cardinals at 5, followed by Dodgers-Braves at 8:30. Both games are on TBS.
2. Your ESPN college football game tonight is Texas at Iowa State (7:30 p.m.). The ‘Horns are an 8-point road favorite. If you’re up late, No. 12 UCLA gets a road test at Utah at 10 p.m. on FoxSports1. This feels like a Forecasters game-changer to me (I took Utah, a 5.5-point dog).
Thanks again for all the recommendations on the Spanish yesterday.