Cards-Nationals 04/09/2006

What a great evening’s entertainment. Never mind sitting down to watch mundane tripe on the telly after a day at work. Stick MLB.TV on and you could not only be watching a great ballgame, but also possibly watching history unfolding before your eyes.

My eyes lit up when I logged on to MLB.com and saw that Ramon Ortiz was six innings into a potential no-hitter. Without thinking I dialled up the Cards-Nats game. My conscience suddenly twitched a little: was I tempting fate?

I wasn’t the only person wondering whether my actions may have dire consequences. The commentators, struggling to contain their excitement, were desperately trying not to utter those little two words. The camera panned to Ortiz sitting alone in the dugout, his team mates not wanting to disturb him. The tension was palpable, but everything was going well. Ortiz wasn’t relying on steller-defensive plays; the Cards were struggling even to put a good swing on the ball. If he just kept pitching in this way, he would have a great chance.

Just when things couldn’t get any crazier, Ortiz strode to the plate as the lead-off batter in the bottom of the eighth. The crowd cheered wildly. The commentators joked about how he must be a good hitter. “What if he hit a home run?” they asked. They chuckled at the thought, I chuckled at the thought, probably everyone watching had a good laugh at that one. Well, it would be beyond belief if that happened, wouldn’t it?!

Straight off Ortiz gets a pitch in the strike zone and swings so hard he nearly comes out of his boots. It travels through the air in slow motion, giving everyone watching the chance to think to themselves; “it can’t”, before they realise it might, and then it has! Delirium descends on the RFK stadium. I’m on my feet (someone with no interest whatsoever in the result of the game) cheering along and waving my fist in the air, almost in disbelief.

Every now and then sport throws up these moments. Scenes that leave people saying to themselves; “no one would write a script like that”. If it happens in a movie, you shrug your shoulders and say “yeah, right”. You cannot swallow it down because the voice in your head says things like that don’t happen in real life.

Well, sometimes they do. And if you are lucky enough to witness it as it happens, whether in the stadium or watching it on a PC on the other side of the world, then the moment will stay with you for a long time. For some reason the planets aligned (however many there are nowadays) and Ortiz found the swing of his life. Right there in a moment: the perfect magic of sport.

Could he cap it off by securing his no-hitter? Sadly not. Aaron Miles led off the ninth with a single into the outfield and thousands cried “NO!” in anguish. Dejection soon turned to appreciation as Ortiz was given a rousing ovation for his efforts. Nick Johnson then turned a smart one-man double play to leave Ortiz facing Albert Pujols to secure a one-hit victory. The commentators pointed out that a one-hitter, when facing a line-up containing Pujols, wasn’t too shabby an effort. Finally, fate had been tempted once too often.

A wonderful display of the fine art of pitching was brutally curtailed by one bludgeoning, violent swipe of the bat. Pujols crushed a 2-1 pitch into the upper deck of the left-centre-field seats. I’ve only been watching baseball since 1998, so I don’t have the most extensive history to draw on. But I can’t remember seeing a more awe-inspiring home run. Never mind hearing it, you could feel the crowd gasping as the ball finally landed into the seats. The fact that it had no bearing on the result didn’t matter (the Nationals won 4-1). It was a heart-stopping moment; probably the most savage act I’ve ever witnessed on a baseball field. It was brutal, spine-chillingly brutal. Struck dumb by the act, when I finally regained my senses I could only muster a mumbled “wow”.

Much as I love football and many other sports (and what a great time of year this is: the football season up and running, the Baseball season reaching a climax and the NFL about to kick off), I don’t think they can match moments like this. A seemingly innocuous game ended up on the “unforgettable” list. Chances are it will take a while to get to sleep tonight, with the excitement still buzzing in my head. Does that make me sad? Maybe! Just think, I could have been watching Eastenders or University Challenge or Coronation Street instead.

I will stick with being a sad baseball fan, thanks all the same.

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