The mainstream said baseball was dying. It was too old, too boring, a jaded anachronism. Well, after watching the hair-raising, stomach-churning, mind-blowing war between Toronto and Texas in Game 5 of the ALDS last night, I will beg to differ.
This was more than a baseball game. This was grown men, rich beyond comprehension, straining and yearning and hungering for sporting success. This was prime athletes, united by extremes of raw talent, laying their bodies on the line to stave off agony and welcome euphoria at the end of a gruelling season. This was a city, starved of baseball glory, stomping and wailing and whining in the brutish throes of desperation, in the sweet utopia of success.
On a basic level, all the Blue Jays did was trump the Rangers and advance to the American League Championship Series. No trophies were awarded, no titles decided. Yet, to have such a parochial view would be folly. This meant so much more to those involved. It was the culmination of a remarkable comeback, from two games down to ultimate success. It was the exclamation point on a simmering summer of baseball fever; the moment when the will of a populace meshed with the talents of a team to create an unforgettable verse in this game’s ceaseless symphony.
One day, somebody will write a book about this mesmeric Game 5, and it will be a bestseller throughout the sporting world. ESPN will probably commission a documentary about it, complete with drama and hyperbole. However, nothing could match the experience of watching it in real-time. There was a throbbing importance to the game, a clashing of strong desires that coursed beneath the action. It was trench warfare in cleats.
The game had more plot twists than a Mexican soap opera; more mood swings than a Stephen King novel; more drama than an episode of CSI. Texas had the lead twice and saw it trickle away twice, courtesy of defensive misplays and booming home runs. Toronto, on the other hand, was down on the mat twice, once in the most befuddling of circumstances, only to locate reserves of squealing determination and emerge victorious.
As the basic mosaic of a crazy game unfurled, an abundance of subplots added yet more intrigue and emotion to the wider experience. The gargantuan crowd of 49,742, oscillating between torrential hostility and rumbling jubilation. The brawling players, desperate to survive, advance and win. The smouldering city, totally engrossed with baseball for the first time in two decades.
Of course, every great movie needs a happy ending, a definitive crescendo, a crowning glory. Fortunately for Toronto, and perhaps for baseball, one bonafide megastar was on hand to provide it. With two on and two out in the seventh inning, score tied at three, stadium in anarchy, Jose Bautista saw a 97-mph fastball from Sam Dyson and swatted it high, deep and far into the left field madness. As Rogers Centre howled in the bedlam of achievement, Bautista produced the greatest bat flip ever recorded, before trotting around the bases as the diamond quaked beneath him. Just like that, the Blue Jays had a lead they would never relinquish.
So now, Toronto steams right on into the ALCS, where Kansas City, the reigning champion, awaits. Just five or ten years ago, this would’ve been a humdrum matchup, fodder for those who insist that baseball is an endangered species. But, right now, it’s the bat-flipping, heart-stopping, pulse-racing embodiment of all that is great about the modern game.