8.26.2009

Playoffs, round 1: A good night

(insert happy sigh ... )

What. a. game ...

Arguably one of the most thrilling games I've been a part of ...

I'm thinking it wasn't a coincidence I had the Black Eyes Peas' "I Gotta Feeling" looping through my head all day and night ...

Our baseball playoffs are underway this week. It's a one-and-done tournament. All the records from the regular season have been thrown out. Your team loses one game, your season is over ...

We played our first round game tonight against a team that finished the season with a 2-12 record. And yet, that team is one of the most fundamentally-sound in the league. Baseball never fails to mystify.

As we warmed up and took the field, I had a feeling ... that tonight was going to be a good night. There was something in the air; there was a loose, but zoned-in attitude about us as some of us hit fungos and others played catch in the outfield. Especially after Sunday's come-from-behind win, there was a feeling we had hit our stride and we're playing as cohesively as ever now.

I got the start at my usual right field position and was moved down in the batting order from the leadoff spot to the second spot. Our manager retooled the lineup slightly hoping a different combination might help us put together a longer string of hits -- something we haven't been doing well down the stretch.

In the bottom of the first, after our leadoff batter grounded out, I singled with a line drive into center field. But the next batter hit into a double play, ending any threat.

And that's the way it went for the first 6 1/2 innings. Both of our teams traded hits, but neither team could get a run across ... Our opponent put runners on second and third in the fifth inning, but our pitcher fought back and got a strikeout to end that threat.

Our defense was as crisp and flawless as ever. We were digging balls out of the dirt, we were making running catches, we were snagging hot shots, we were turning double plays. It was awesome.

But the other team was playing perfect defense, too.

The game went scoreless into the bottom of the seventh inning ... Our leadoff batter singled, and then it was my turn to bat once more ...

During my second at-bat in the bottom of the fourth, I flied out to the shortstop -- on a pitch I should have smacked for another line drive to center field. I had gone down 0-1 on a strike call that was outside of the plate, a pitch the umpire had been calling on both teams all night. Then the opposing pitcher got me down 0-2 as I swung and missed a nasty, nasty curve ball. I fought back to a 2-2 count before flying out ...

So when I came up again in the seventh inning he pitched me an almost identical sequence of pitches. The outside strike to put me down 0-1, the nasty curve that I swung and missed again, and then a ball up high to make the count 1-2 ...

Before his fourth pitch, I took my time outside the batter's box and took a deep breath ... Concentrate. Watch the ball all the way. Watch it hit the bat ...

Then, there it was -- a fat pitch straight over the plate ...

I swung ... and connected solidly, sending the ball back up into center field. The leadoff batter -- who had stolen second base during my at-bat -- scored and got us on the board. And when the ball came back to the infield, I was standing on first base trying to hide my pride-ridden smile.

Our next batter struck out ... I stole second base during the ensuing at-bat, but the second out was made on a fly ball to left field. The third out was made on a ground ball to the pitcher, and I was left stranded.

In the end, though, we needed nothing more. Our defense remained steady for six more outs, and we won the game, 1-0. We're moving on to round two of the playoffs.

Our pitcher -- our ace -- pitched a complete game shutout with nine strikeouts, while I went 2-for-3 with a pair of singles ... and the game-winning RBI.

Tonight was a good night.