I’m holding a stuffed toy baseball with a rattle inside. I think my friend Jim gave it to me, decades ago. We weren’t children anymore, but he knew I liked baseball things, and I believe it was just a fun or funny thing he spotted somewhere and decided just to pass along to me as a token. I kept it. The kids played with it when they were younger, then it went into a storage cabinet in the garage. Sometime this month, I pulled it out. It’s been my rally tool. I’ve been shaking it to celebrate the Dodgers doing something well or to try to stop their opponents from doing well.
I’ll be 53 years old next month.
It’s 5:30 a.m. My stomach doesn’t feel good. I’ve been awake for half an hour. Game 4 of the 2020 World Series woke me up. That game ended about eight hours ago. It ended with me standing two feet from our family room television, where I had been standing most of the previous hour.
I’m holding the stuffed toy baseball, and the Dodgers are one strike away — again — from winning Game 4 and moving within a day of their first World Series title in 32 years with Clayton Kershaw in position to be the winning pitcher. I can see this in front of me and it’s so close. It’s so hopeful. It’s so warm.
They are one strike away from me tweeting “KENLEY JANSEN, BOSS.” They are one strike away.
But I’ve been here before. I’ve been here with Terry Forster and Tom Niedenfuer. More recently, more viscerally, I’ve been here with Jonathan Broxton, facing Jimmy Rollins in a Game 4 of a playoff series, with a one-run lead, two outs in the bottom of the ninth.
It’s 5:40 a.m. I’m tired. I don’t want to write this. But my head is noisy with thoughts and agony.
So I’m holding the stuffed toy baseball, squeezing it now, two feet from the television, bending down in a crouch as Jansen faces a hitter for the Tampa Bay Rays he should be able to get out. I’m pleading with the baseball gods. Not with Jansen, but with the gods. I’m pleading with them not to let this happen.
I’m asking too much. When the San Diego Padres loaded the bases against the Dodgers in the ninth inning of Game 2 of the National League Division Series and Joe Kelly was chosen to rescue Jansen, I made peace. I accepted they were going to probably lose that game. Last night, I forgot to accept.
But the first baserunner for the Rays in the ninth had no business being on base, with Jansen shearing Kevin Kiermaier’s bat at the handle with a pitch, only for the contact to send the baseball just over the outstretched glove of a dashing Kiké Hernández.
Yes, the Dodgers had taken the lead in the game on a bloop single of their own by the insatiable Corey Seager. But his bat wasn’t broken.
And I’m still thnking of earlier in the game, when Max Muncy hit another big RBI single and then went to second on the throw and was safe, only to collide with Rays shortstop Willy Adames as he popped up on his slide. That knocked Adames off balance, and Adames wrapped his arms around Muncy as he fell backward, and an off-balance Muncy came off the base and was called out. And it seemed remarkably unfair at the time, and you just hoped it wouldn’t matter.
But the baseball gods dish this kind of thing out all the time. That’s what you sign up for when you practice this religion.
Kiermaier had no business getting a hit. But there it was.
That hit meant that the fourth hitter of the inning, the budding superstar Randy Arozarena, would bat, even after Jansen got the second out. Jansen probably just needed to avoid giving up a game-winning home run, because the hitter after Arozarena, Brett Phillips, who had only entered the game as a pinch-runner, was a much more hopeful option. He was not Joe Morgan or Jack Clark or Jimmy Rollins or Randy Arozarena.
Jansen walks Arozarena and, fine. The tying run is on second, the winning run is on first, but we can do this … although it’s a little too much like the Padres game, with Jansen able to get two strikes on a hitter but not three. He was competitive against Arozarena in getting ahead on the count, but ball three and ball four were not competitive pitches. They weren’t close to fooling Arozarena into swinging. And that’s a danger sign.
My wish going into the ninth inning was not that we wouldn’t see Jansen, but that we wouldn’t see him right away. Relief pitching had been a struggle for the Dodgers in Game 4, but when Brusdar Graterol came in to get the final out of the eighth inning, I was hoping he would stick around for the start of the ninth. I was hoping he would steal an out in the ninth, so that even if the next batter reached base, Jansen would only need to get two guys. Jansen’s pitch count seems to mount so quickly the minute he gets in trouble, and that concerned me.
But when Graterol gave up a single before closing out the bottom of the eighth, that possibility — if it were even a possibility — was probably eliminated. Jansen had been pitching well lately after a terrible start to October. The ninth inning was going to him. Such is peace. It would be redemption, and if he succeeded, I could tweet, “KENLEY JANSEN, BOSS.”
But I’m also reminding myself that thinking ahead to what I’m going to tweet in triumph is bad luck. It’s such bad luck.
So I’m holding the stuffed toy baseball because I’m desperate with anxiety. It’s clear everything can go wrong now and I’m just begging for one more pitch to go right.
It’s 6 a.m. now and I’m so tired, and Jansen hasn’t even thrown the final pitch yet.
It’s a hit. It doesn’t shatter that bat, but I’m shattered. It’s not hit all that hard, but it’s a hit. In fact, it’s hit softly enough that I can tell that it’s going to tie the game, because the outfielder won’t be able to get to it quickly enough to throw Kiermaier out at home. It’s going to tie the game and we’re just going to have to survive somehow to win.
And then Chris Taylor misses fielding the ball cleanly. Just misses it.
He has to veer over to retrieve it. I know what this means. I can’t believe it. I can’t see him on the TV yet, but I know Arozarena must be rounding third already.
But then Taylor throws into the infield and home plate is on the screen and Arozarena isn’t there. I don’t know where he is. But he’s not scoring. The infielder, who is Muncy, catches Taylor’s throw and throws home to catcher Will Smith, and at least in my memory I still don’t really know where Arozarena is, but that’s good. It’s going to be okay. It’s going to be okay.
And then as Smith squeezes his glove and turns as he should to his left, the little white object squirts out across the lower right of my television set.
“NO!” I scream.
And as soon as I do, Arozarena appears on the left of the TV and scampers into home plate, sliding head first, pounding home plate with his hand.
And I throw this stuffed toy baseball, which has known only simple amusement all its long life and understands nothing of what has happened, against a glass-paned door separating our family room from our living room. As soon as I let go, I fear it’s going to break the glass and I’m really going to have hell to pay. But it’s a stuffed toy, so it just bounces off with a thud of finality.
And I’m left to deal with what just happened.
I can’t believe what just happened.
I’m distraught, absolutely distraught. Where can I go? I start walking through the kitchen and the living room. I think of going for a walk but I don’t want to go for a walk.
I’m furious because of fear that it’s all going to fall apart now. That instead of Kershaw pitching for the crowning glory, he’s pitching for survival, because if he loses, piling psychosocial calamity onto this calamity, that brings a Game 6 where the Dodger options on the mound are muddy.
I’m furious because of pain knowing that this loss is going to bring out fury of Dodger fans who just aren’t having it, having any of it. I resolve at that moment not to go on social media for the next 24 hours, period. At least. I go to my phone and turn off Twitter notifications. Moreover, I’m not going to read a word about this game. Not a single word. I don’t want to hear from anyone about it, I don’t want to talk to anyone about it. I don’t want to say a word about it.
And yet it’s 6:20 a.m., and I’ve been writing for nearly an hour about it.
I go outside and sit. I have my head in my hands, and then I sit back and stare at the yard. My hands and the yard. Back and forth between the two until the anger turns into sadness.
I come back inside, close my laptop and bring it upstairs to plug in. I go into our bedroom with my wife and put on a television show for us to watch. I am just going to move on from this. I’m intending to spend most of Sunday working on the book I’m writing anyway. This will only give me more time.
And then Game 5. I don’t know that the Dodgers are in trouble. They need two wins, and Kershaw and Walker Buehler are pitching two of the next three games. The Dodgers are averaging over six runs a game against Tampa Bay and haven’t scored less than four. They can do this.
But it has just because so much harder. So much more agonizing. So much sweeter if they do win the Series, but now devastation hovers just outside of town like a storm cloud.
We go to sleep before midnight. As it turns out, I fall asleep almost immediately.
But then I wake up at 5 a.m. and by that I mean, the game wakes me up. I don’t know what my dream was, but that baseball game turned itself on inside my head like a stovetop burner and heated me up until I couldn’t sleep anymore. I tried, I tried, I tried to think about other things and about no other things, and I couldn’t do it.
The last thing I wanted to do was write about this game, but I started to think there was going to be no way to get all the horrible thoughts about it out of my head. And I couldn’t sleep anymore.
And now I’ve written nearly 2,000 words that I didn’t want to write, and I’m wondering if it’s hypocritical for me to try to share them, since I still plan to stay off social media today and I will still refuse to read anything anyone else has written about the game.
I’ve been in the family room for more than an hour. It was dark when I came in here. It’s still dark now, but there’s a hint of new day outside. It’s 6:30 a.m. now, and I’m tired.
There will be close to 10 hours of this, and then Game 5 for the chance to be one loss or one win from the end, and then after that, 48 hours of either agony or anticipation.
And then, after Game 6, maybe a Game 7. A goddamn Game 7.
And I just don’t know, man. I just don’t know.
I get up from the couch to look for the stuffed toy baseball, to take a photo of it to put on the top of this post. I don’t know how long it’s going to take for me to find it in the dark. I get up from the couch, and I take one step and my foot hits something soft that rattles. The stuffed toy baseball is right at my feet.