Pregame: Baseball and Genetics
For maybe an hour or more this afternoon, the fog blew back over Dolores Park as the TransMarch was getting under way. It was warm; people laid around on the grass in shorts and T-shirts, some less, far less, than that. Standing at 20th and Church, you could see blue sky all the way down to Mission Bay. Not for long. The rest of the city was shrouded in the thick wet fog we woke up to in the morning. Welcome, Red Sox, I thought, as a transgender Rabbi gave the invocation; welcome to summer in San Francisco.
A few of those at the Dolores were wearing Red Sox hats. You see more and more of them around the Mission — blue B hats or red windbreakers — they don’t even try to hide their affiliation. Some say it’s because the Mission has become a magnet for migrant workers from the knowledge farms of New England. Some say it has more to do with biology than geography, an inheritance passed down from one generation to the next or transmitted through family connections — like Gerard Santamaria, born in Nicaragua and raised in the Mission, who became a Red Sox fan largely due to his cousin.
Inning One: Red Dawn
The Red Sox are the highest-scoring team in baseball, and this game is hardly under way before lead-off hitter Marco Scutaro hits a single and Daniel Nava walks. Now the real dangerous heart of the batting order, starting with Dustin Pedroia. Yesterday in Denver, Pedroia went five for five, including three home runs. He strides to the plate looking very confident. Giants pitcher Jonathan Sanchez is not looking confident. He hasn’t even had time to put on his game face and he’s in trouble. Eight pitches later, Pedroia goes down swinging. Sanchez has thrown 25 pitches to get one out and here comes cleanup hitter Kevin Youkilis. He coils his body, twists his arms, holds his bat high and bounces; he bounces like his legs are two tightly coiled springs, the whole body bouncing, waving, bubbling with energy. Sanchez can’t keep the ball away from his bat. Eight pitches later, Youkilis hits a three-run home run deep into the left-field bleachers. A deafening cheer from the fans. Huh? I look around and half the stands are on their feet, wearing blue hats and red jackets.
Tim Wakefield takes the mound for the Sox. He’s 43, with the Red Sox since 1995, and is known for one pitch, the knuckleball. In addition to all its gyrations, Wakefield’s knuckleball is slow. He also throws a slow fastball. Everything he does, he does slowly, painfully; my joints ache just watching him. There is no flow to his pitching movement, no grace, no power. But he’s got a good knuckleball. Boston catcher Jason Varitek once said that “catching the knuckleball is like trying to catch a fly with a chopstick.” Wakefield sets the Giants down in order.
Inning Two: Watch Out for Leaping Pandas
In the bottom of the second, the Panda does not swing at the first pitch he sees. He doesn’t swing on the second or third pitch, either. The fourth pitch from Wakefield, a knuckleball moving across the plate at 61 mph, Sandoval lines into left, taking second on a wild pitch. Buster Posey rips into another Wakefield knuckleball, but hits it right where the Panda is standing. For a second the Panda freezes. Then he jumps, with his legs spread wide — the Panda leaps (Damian Smith he is not) and the ball rockets into the outfield like a speedboat zipping under a bridge. And the Panda is pumped, does not even bother to raise his head as he barrels home, finishing with a quick slide across the plate for the fans. Later, with bases loaded, Jonathan Sanchez can really help himself here with a decent bunt. But he does better than that. The ball gets past Wakefield, who lunges at it like an old pickup truck missing one or two wheels. Wakefield has no other play but to first; he reaches out with his bare hand to flip it to Youkilis as Sanchez crosses the bag, but the toss goes sailing into right field and two more runs score.
Inning Three: Direct from Bani
In the second inning, Wakefield struck out Juan Uribe with a knuckleball. He throws the same thing on his first pitch to Uribe this inning, and this time the 31-year-old shortstop from Bani, Dominican Republic, sends it into the left-field bleachers.
Inning Four: Spaceman
“There’s nothing in the world like the fatalism of the Red Sox fans,” says former Red Sox pitcher Bill “Spaceman” Lee, “which has been bred into them for generations by that little green ballpark, and the wall, and by a team that keeps trying to win by hitting everything out of sight and just out-bombarding everyone else in the league. All this makes Boston fans a little crazy and I’m sorry for them.”
Inning Six: A Farewell To Arms
Fog has been drifting down and around the field; the more fog, the wetter and colder it gets. And check this out: Since that explosion in the first, the Sox haven’t gotten a hit. Sanchez has thrown a lot of balls and the Red Sox have hit more than their share of fouls, but he has hung in there. After putting two guys on base with only one out, Sanchez gets the hook. He walks off, barely acknowledging the partial standing ovation he receives. His reliever, Sergio Romo, loads the bases before striking out Darnell McDonald to end the inning. When a starting pitcher ends the inning, he walks off the field slowly with his head down. Romo runs off the field, fists pumping the heavy, dripping sky.
Inning Nine: Not So Fast
The Giants put up another run in the bottom of the eighth after Nate Schierholtz did a somersault at second, and it’s a good thing they did. The fog envelops closer Brian Wilson. He and the Giant players move aimlessly, slowly, before getting in their stance, ready for the pitch. After Wilson gets two outs, the fans rise, cheering for Wilson to get rid of Youkilis and end the game. Instead of strike three, Youkilis hits a triple and scores on a Victor Martinez’ single. It’s a one-run game and Wilson yields two more singles to load the bases; each time, he’s come within a strike, and each time at hit. It has the eerie repetition of a dream, the unwanted drama of a dream. Wilson keeps bending over between pitches like he’s trying to loosen up his back or find a lucky amulet. The other Giants walk circles in the fog, jump up and down like kids to keep warm. Wilson has 41,000 fans at the end of their emotional rope; does the new health insurance laws provide for this? Who needs a death panel? Four times Wilson has taken the Sox to their final strike, and four times the Sox have fought back. Darnell McDonald hits a hard grounder to Uribe . . .
You can wake up now.
“Don’t worry, Honey,” she says, stroking his arm. “It’s like foreplay. We have the whole rest of the weekend.” She’s wearing a red windbreaker; he’s wearing a Red Sox jersey that says Wakefield on the back. He’s still bitter. “Frickin’ freezing,” he says. “I thought we left Boston to get away from the cold.”