Slate's Robert Weintraub, like many of us, loves the old purple prose of early 1900s sportswriting, the Grantland Rices, the men who painted epic tales of warriors, grizzled combatants and lardywarks too manly to wear gloves. In an occasional series, Weintraub writes about the week's best baseball game in the style of the vaunted sportswriters of yesteryear. This week: The Rays' win last night over the A's.
The great Lajoie didn’t have fans charting his every move before he turned professional. The marvelous Wheat was allowed to develop at his own pace. Even the greatest of them all, King Kelly, wasn’t burdened with Gibraltar-sized expectations when he commenced his career. So it is little surprise that The Cape Cod God, Evan Longoria, whose unfortunate nomenclatory resemblance to the Latina Mary Pickford (and honorary First Lady of the Cagers) has caused much jocularity in the dressing room, has struggled since joining the big club.
Consider the hitlessness and the doubting as forgotten as the Rosewood Riots, for the Man With The N delivered a two-run Trump Card for the Mantas as they continued their recent dominion over the Oaklands, 7-6 in a baker’s dozen of innings. Longoria’s Long Sock was a Stop’N’Stare job that, had the game been played not in a stadium but in an open field (as it is meant to be), would have traveled the proverbial country mile. This Bakerian Blast gave the Saint Pete Saints their fourth straight left-columner over this left coast nine—a stunning development considering the no longer Satanic Rays were once as feeble as the U.S. dollar in the East Bay, losing thirty of the first thirty-six times they took the ill-maintained McAfee Coliseum terrain.
The Decidedly Not Saucy Longoria’s savage slug gave the Sunshine Staters a cushion they would need, for the Athletically Inclined Ones declined to go quietly into the darkness. Dynamite Daric Barton smashed an offering from Tampa anchorman Troy “Gold Watch” Percival that went 374 feet, though it needed to go 375. The initial sacker with the Slavic-spelling legged out a three-bagger that plated Emil “You’ll Put Your Eye Out” Brown, and poised to sheepshank the contest. But the retiree on the rubber induced a foul pop off the ash of the Wailuku Wonder, Kurt Suzuki, and the Oaklands bid aloha to another V.
The dramatics capped a dizzying doozy, one with more twists and turns than a Sidewinder (the reptile, not the missile). It appeared for much of the day’s doings that the lead in the drama would be awarded to The Big Ouch himself, Frank Thomas. The Whacking War Eagle bullied a brace of balls over the planking, both off James “One Is Enough” Shields. The Injurious One hadn’t cranked a Long Sock in over a century’s worth of abdominals, coming up 102 times before getting hold of one. The new homerless streak ended at the loneliest number, as Thomas completed the brace with another cannonade toward the Bay Bridge, equating matters at four apiece. Thought to be a candidate for the woodpile after his unceremonious departure from the Northern Territories, No Doubting Thomas has been a veritable Dudley Do-Right since returning to Tupac Town.
With an octet of scores evenly divided between the two clubs, both made a dash for the tape. Akinori “Faster Than The Rising Sun” Iwamura stroked a screamer in the seventh innings to get the Gator Staters’s noses in front, but an innings later, it was a draw once more, as Ryan “The Goblin” Sweeney sliced a safety to starboard, plating the tying tally. Five-all, and nary a soul enjoying their refreshments in the grandstand dared depart their seat, leading to a multitude of crossed legs throughout the ground.
An unlikely Ulysses emerged during the ensuing stretch of scoreless base ball—Jason “Tender Tucchus” Hammel, who is more accustomed to spectating from the best seat in the house than actually crossing the White Lines. Indeed, the High Pocketed Observer hadn’t hurled in anger in nearly a fortnight, but there was no rust buildup despite the long stretch on sentry duty. Hammel handcuffed the hitters who dared wave an ash his way, allowing a single safety in a three innings tour of duty. A pleasant surprise for skip “20-200” Maddon, and a third V (against two Ds) for the twirler, who complained of exhaustion afterward. The troika of innings encompassed the tenth, eleventh, and twelfth, and set the stage for the denouement in the hard luck innings.
After a duo of spine-snapping heartbreakers to Middle America’s Team while the nation took a break from toil, the tweeners from Tampa celebrated being on the side that didn’t surrender its colors after an epic struggle. It is a leap of Knievalesque proportions to proffer that these base balling elasmobranches are a threat for Octoberfest, much less make it to the Last Banquet of Fall. Given their persistent ineptitude since inception, however, it is gladdening to witness a potent heartbeat from the downtrodden Sunshine Boys. The Renaissance comes after shedding any Beelzebub overtones from the franchise. Coincidence? More like an exorcism. Getting first choice from the larder has stocked the spread with an epicurean’s delight of prime beef talents—and even more, like David “The Vandy Vapor Trail” Price, await promotion to the First Battalion from the reserve corps on the farm. Optimism Unbound in Tampa—if this keeps up, one will have to acknowledge the presence of another Crack Committee of Base Ball People in the region, one that has no Steinbrennerian affiliation.