BOTTOM OF THE NINTH: WHITE SOX 7 – (1) 8 ROYALS
A tale of two images. Heaven flipped into hell. A win into a loss. Agony. The innocence of childhood sports fandom gone. Disbelief. Hawk Harrelson in the White Sox’ TV booth near tears. Likely punching a hole in the press-box wall. Screaming. Vomiting. Exasperated. A minutes-long bleep of censored profanity. To channel my college professors, what the Greeks called peripeteia: a sudden turn of events or unexpected reversal of circumstances.
And a brand new dance, innovated this afternoon in Kansas City—the “Sox Fan”: raise your arms, bend those elbows, hands on your head, slide to the left now y’all and cry, cry, cry, cry, cry.
This is your life, young man. pic.twitter.com/GSueAJKPah
— Write Sox (@WriteSox) May 28, 2016
It was a sleepy afternoon in Kansas City, the fans readying for a home loss, quietly appreciative of their defending champion Royals—on an off-day. Then all baseball hell broke loose, bliss for the home crowd, and a wild scrum of jubilation on the field as the boys in blue somehow, some way turned this game on its head.
That clutch, small-ball, never-say-die, bane-of-the-American-League, vintage Kansas City baseball.
David Robertson’s on the mound, former all-star, current pinata design in mass production for angry Sox fans. He strikes out Paulo Orlando looking. One out. A 7-1 Chicago lead.
Then it’s Cheslor Cuthbert. First Cheslor to appear in the major leagues. Second all-time Cuthbert, first since 1884, good old Ned Cuthbert. Brett Eibner up next. And Whit Merrifield later on in the lineup. Who are these guys? Almost sounding like the index to The Glory of Their Times, not the Royals I was looking for… Lorenzo. Salvador. Eric. Alex.
Robertson delivers, and Cuthbert hits a high chopper back up the middle, just out of the reach of Tyler Saladino. Man on first.
The PA system organ revs up a double clap, returned by a half-assed response from the crowd. They’re sticking around for their beloved winners, not for an expected win.
“And this is where a lot of closers pick up an inflated ERA,” says Steve Stone, on the Sox’ telecast. Unintentional understatement of the year?
Brett Eibner comes up, a day after his first major-league hit, and lines a pitch from Robertson to right field. Up in the air, going back to the wall—something? Adam Eaton fights the sun in right, losing his step, throwing his arms up as if he’s somehow been cheated. He waves his arms around again as the ball lands on the warning-track dirt. A double for Eibner, and it’s two men on.
Things are getting interesting here in the 9th … pic.twitter.com/bfedba9EYQ
— #VoteRoyals (@Royals) May 28, 2016
Omar Infante comes up to the plate, with the Royals still down 7-1 and Hawk Harrelson’s spirits high.
Another song from the organ, and a pulsing, rising clap catches on in the crowd. The White Sox are one game away from full collapse here, having fallen from first-place to third, blowing a 5-1 lead a day earlier against these Royals.
So here we are. 7-1 lead. The losing habit all but kicked.
Then, Robertson flings a pitch way inside, losing control. A big “whoaaaaa” from the crowd.
Infante walks. Sox’ manager Robin Ventura scratches his wrist in the dugout, his expression in no way confident, hidden behind dark, “cool guy” shades.
The crowd riles up.
Full count to Alcides Escobar. A fastball inside, and another walk. Cuthbert shuffles home, his green batting gloves flapping out of his back pocket, and the score flips to 7-2. Ventura strolls out, claps his hands once, opts to leave Robertson in.
Pretty sure that if you asked Robin Ventura to water your plants while you were gone he would pour coffee on them.
— Mark Primiano (@SBN_UGod) May 28, 2016
Whit Merrifield comes up now. Whit Merrifield? What century are we in? Fred Snodgrass, Lefty O’Doul, Bill Wambsganss and our man Whit.
The fans all sit down, still clapping, but for one bearded man in a gray hoodie holding it down for hooligans everywhere. “You can do it!” he shouts, doing his best Rob Schneider.
Merrifield hits a hard ground ball back to Robertson, off the glove, up the middle, Lawrie runs toward second to turn two, and it’s deflected rolling to the spot he left—base hit and two Royals come home to score.
Now the fans are up. All together. 7-4 now. “LET’S GO ROY-ALLS!!!” Clap, clap, clap-clap-clap.
Lorenzo Cain comes up to the plate, the typical hero. He looks out at the mound, thinking along with everyone else, Why is Robertson still in??
Well at least we know how many runs The Closer needs to give up before Robin thinks maybe it’s not his day.
— Write Sox (@WriteSox) May 28, 2016
Cain hits a ground ball to short, Saladino tosses to Lawrie, one out, Lawrie whips over to Abreu first, but Cain is just safe. Barely safe. Beats it out by a hair, on the replay, maybe an exact tie, and something something U-Cain Bolt joke.
Two outs. Eric Hosmer comes up, trouble for Chicago, and he looks out at the mound, repeating the refrain: Why is Robertson still in??
Hosmer rips a double in to gap in right center. Cain’s waved home. Hosmer slides in to second in a cloud of dirt. He nods to the dugout, claps three times, and the Kauffman Stadium is gone wild.
Why, really why, is David Robertso—oh, here comes Ventura. Alright. Finally.
Tommy Kahnle jogs in from the outfield bullpen in, two tufts of hair poking out the sides of his black hat.
Drew Butera comes up first against Kahnle, after the warmups, and a minute later, I hear depression settle in fully on the mic from Hawk Harrelson, doubt and dumbfounded gasping, mixed together in the familiar groan of the White Sox die-hard.
“And… this game…is tied…” Then silence, for at least a minute.
Off the bat of Butera the balls flies deep to left-field, nearly over the wall to win it. A double, 7-7, all tied. The gray-hoodie hooligan throws his arms up in drunk delight.
Now I just want to hear the news that Salvy is totally fine and just faked an injury so that Butera could hit the game-tying double
— Rany Jazayerli (@jazayerli) May 28, 2016
Kahnle throws a wild pitch on the first pitch of an intentional walk. “LETS GO ROY-ALSS!!!!” booming out, even louder now.
“This is almost… unbelievable…” rasps Hawk Harrelson. The guy needs a hug.
Kahnle deals again, almost another wild pitch, Avila jumps around to keep each toss catchable. Jarrod Dyson comes up next—another walk. Yikes.
Now it’s Brett Eibner, whose double started off this whole thing. He works a nine-pitch at-bat. Kahnle throwing 98, 99 mph. The gray-hoodie hooligan starts a one-man wave, back and forth like a tide moving up and down just for him. A fan in a Cubs shirt joins in on the claps. Full count. Eibner holds his bat up, admiring it, exhaling:“Okay, I got this.”
And on the tenth pitch: a single ripped the other way. Bedlam at Kauffman Stadium. The Royals chase Eibner like he stole something, twenty light-blue jerseys running across the infield, tackling him as if he’s going for an opposing kick-off return.
— #VoteRoyals (@Royals) May 28, 2016
And from 500 miles away, on the south side of Chicago, I can just hear it, like Horton the elephant, turning his ear toward distant Whoville. Something rising up, a faint, angry sound. Just loud enough to hear now. Calls, from aross the city, across the Midwest, for Robin Ventura’s time to walk the plank, the pitchfork-mob demanding firing at an all-time high.
“Well if you’ve been watching…” and Hawk’s voice is muffled by the crowd noise. “Seven runs in the bottom of the ninth, and they win it 8-7.” I feel bad for the guy. Eleven long years since the miracle ’05 team.
And right then the MLB feed cuts out, as abruptly as Harrelson’s sanity. Thank you for watching: this game has ended.
That’s it, folks. Sox fans. Pack it in. Was a good two months. As they say on the north-side, There’s always next year.