“No matter how bad they’re doing, I can’t imagine leaving,” Aaron says during the 7th inning stretch, as our seat neighbors wave goodnight.
Normally, I pride my fellow fan base for staying through the 9th inning, no matter what, because you never know. Now more than midway through a season where our team has the worst home record in the sport, meaning we’ve been let down in our our house more than any other family of fans, we have a pretty good idea of how this will go.
When two runs make it home in the first, we have a good idea. When those runs are answered, but with a fight and a three-umpire viewing of the home run replay. When our struggling ace lets the ex-Phillie pitcher hit with just one strike to go and two outs, so that it turns into another man on base, and then a three-run home run. We know when our clean-up hitter and the beloved catcher who has been filling his shoes all season are both caught looking with men on base.
At this point, who can I fault for leaving a humid night for an air conditioned car? If I was at home, certainly I’d be distracting myself from the radio.
But I’m here. And my ride home is short, so why not stay? Why not see how they can lose in the 18th of 18 Joe Savery appearances? How they can once again show one of the game’s best pitchers that we can’t come back from any of his mistakes, no matter how many runs they account for. We’ll sit here amidst the waning numbers of fans, with the wan, appropriately sullen accordion music planned for Italian Heritage Night, as our reassuringly sad soundtrack.
The 9th inning arrives, with K-Rod, a closer we know all too well from his days in our division, upon the mound. Quickly, the situation from the 7th inning repeats itself, with our 1 and 2 hitters aboard. Just one out in the inning, Juan Pierre, with a confidence we don’t have, takes second base. His helmet flies across this dirt, but like a proud Little Leaguer, his hat remains upon his head. Something had gotten to K-Rod and he walks Chase.
So there’s Howard again. Who we know too well from pressure situations will come up big or freeze, nothing in the middle. And with three runs down, we need that something big.
He surprises us all, and does something in the middle. A base hit straight down the middle, in fact. Rollins and Pierre score with ease.
And here’s Carlos. Our screams deepen to the back of our throats. His job’s clear – make contact – which he does, scoring Chase and tying the game.
Now for Hunter Pence, whose knack for disappointment makes him feel like a lifelong Philadelphian. With uncanny patience, he draws a walk. The bases are full again. In the distance, we recognize Pabelbon warming up in the probable situation that we’ll squander this rare offense and force extra innings for the third straight day.
Ty Wigginton comes to the plate. With his hot and cold platooning all season, I don’t have expectations here. Instead, my focus is on the pinch runner in for Howard. With his weak ankle, we can’t rely that those final 90 feet to home will be easy. We squint, trying to remember who besides a starting pitcher could possibly be left on the bench. It’s Erik Kratz, the back-up to the back-up catcher. We remind ourselves there is still only one out.
Wigginton’s options are open. So many places he could hit the ball that would work. We can see all the spots, as we continue standing as we have this entire extended inning. The ball finds it’s way into the air, to the glove of Ryan Braun in shallow left. As soon as it’s there, Kratz does his careful job of tagging then running towards home with a not entirely impressive speed. Braun’s throw is off, but Kratz can’t see that, so he slides head first.
And we jump and embrace in disbelief, with a knowing of how to celebrate this kind of victory. With the ringing of the Liberty Bell in right, and Harry Kalas appearing on the Jumbotron in left. We keep our feet planted until the last note: “…another tree plant,” not daring to head to the exit a moment before.
I want to say that all victories matter, but even some in the middle of this long season mean more. To the players who could be traded by morning or end of the week, proving their worth to the deciders outside the dugout. To the fans who stayed until the end, knowing that the evening could end like this. And to the tens of thousands just listening, with the stadium in their rear view mirror, learning once again that this team is worth waiting for into the night.