Pregame: We’re Not in Belleview Anymore, Toto
The story goes that soon after pitcher Tim Lincecum moved to San Francisco, he got one of those phone calls. His father was on the line from the family home in suburban Seattle, a worried tone in his voice. “Son. People say you’re a Freak.” Tim responded the way tens of thousands of young San Francisco transplants have responded under similar circumstances: “Dad, I am a Freak.”
If you’re a professional baseball player, you can say you’re a Freak or a Spaceman or a Big Papi, but you can’t say, openly, you’re a Fag — not yet. Athletes such as former Padre Billy Bean and former Dodger Glenn Burke have come out openly, but only after they finished their careers. Coming as it did amidst Gay Pride Daze, Saturday’s ceremony honoring Monte Irvin, one of the first African-Americans to play in the majors, once again raised the question of when we might see a gay Jackie Robinson.
Inning One: Big Papi in the House
Casey Stengel once said, “Good pitching will beat good hitting every time and vice versa.” Today’s matchup will test that hypothesis, as the best hitting team in major-league baseball takes on the league’s best pitcher.
That is, the league’s best pitcher over the last two years. This year has been a different story for Tim Lincecum, archetypal Mission hipster, and his San Francisco alter ego, The Freak, a lights-out pitching machine known to GiantsInc. as “The Franchise”. Instead of consistent Freaky dominance, he’s gotten into cheap hipster horror movies.
Whoever is on the mound when the game begins, Freak or Hipster, gets the first two outs but takes 10 pitches to do it. The pattern continues with David Ortiz (“Big Papi”) at the plate. At 6’4” and 230 pounds, Ortiz has the power and knows how to use it. He’s also been around the league long enough to know how to work a pitcher.
Bill “Spaceman” Lee, the Red Sox left-hander of the ’70s who was in town last Thursday at Lost Weekend Video, said the Freak has one of the best changeups he’s seen. “His 3-2 changeup will take your shorts off.” With three balls and two strikes to Ortiz, Lincecum throws a changeup. Ortiz keeps his shorts as he blasts the ball into the mouth of Mission Creek. The ballpark erupts like it’s Fenway West. Are there more Red Socks fans here? It sure sounds like it.
On the mound for the Red Sox today is another left-hander, Jon Lester. Like Ortiz, Lester stands 6’4” and weighs in the vicinity of 240 pounds. Like Lincecum, he’s got eight wins so far this year, averaging under three earned runs per game. Ortiz recently said that Lester “has been pitching his butt off.”
Lester faces Andres Torres, leading off for the Giants. Torres was one of the guys who pulled the Giants out of their May slump with his energy, speed, remarkable fielding and unexpected hitting. But for the past 10 games his on-base percentage has dropped dramatically, and the Giants lost six of those games. Against Lester, he hits a hard chop that takes a high bounce and a bobble, putting him safe at first. With Freddy Sanchez at bat, Torres steals second, then third when Aubrey Huff comes to the plate. He finally comes home on Huff’s groundout.
Inning Two: A Pitcher’s Sins
Lincecum walks Victor Martinez on five pitches. For a pitcher there are few sins of greater consequence than walking the leadoff guy. One of those sins is to get behind in the count to the opposing pitcher after you intentionally walked someone else to load the bases. Now what? A changeup and take off Lester’s shorts? Nope. The Hipster serves Lester a big fat fastball to hit, and hit it he does. Nate Schierholtz catches it out near the 421-foot marker. In any other ballpark, that’s a home run. The Sox lead 4-1.
Inning Three: WTF
If the Giants hitters got together and swore they were not going to let their kid brother get pushed around, they didn’t show it in the bottom of the second, going down in order.
Lincecum faces Big Papi. Ortiz goes down swinging, but before Lincecum gets the final out, another run scores. At 79 pitches, 44 strikes, decidedly more freak out (!) than Freak Show. Lincecum walks off with head up, looking like he’s through. He is.
Inning Four: The Art of Communication
A gay Jackie Robinson may have a difficult time talking to his teammates. Dave Kopay, the ex-49er running back who came out after his career ended, says that all professional athletes “relate to each other through sex, by talking about women.” And writer Steve Kettman tells the story of a sportswriter who advised new reporters to talk to players about women they’d had sex with on the road; otherwise, they were lost. Not that players talk exclusively about women. As Kettman notes, a standard putdown is to call someone a faggot, and a popular way to describe an effective pitcher is to say “He really stuck it up our asses this afternoon.”
Inning Five: Monster on the Mound
I wonder what they’re saying about Jon Lester. He mows down the Giants again: one, two, three.
Inning Seven: The Times They Are A-Changin’
The Chicago Cubs finally made it to the top of the baseball world, at least in one respect. With the team’s purchase in late 2009 by the Ricketts family, the Cubs became the first major-league team to have an openly gay owner. And yesterday, for the first time, the team, led by legendary Ernie Banks, joined Chicago’s Gay Pride Parade. Teams throughout the league have a special promotional “gay day,” while others, like the Giants, have taken a prominent local role in the fight against AIDS. These gestures, even though meant to market their teams to gays rather than open up the clubhouse doors, contribute to the larger changing cultural context.
Inning Nine: A Complete Game
I go to the bleachers for the ninth inning in the hopes of finding something to relieve me from watching San Francisco’s flailing bats. Good news: A fight has broken out between two buff, young and wasted males. They are quickly restrained by four or five very unbuff older security males and females. The instigator, wearing an SF hat, gets ejected, much to the delight of the Red Sox fans who fill the bleachers. They cheer again when Adrian Beltre belts another homer, and give their biggest cheer to Jon Lester, who puts down the Giants one last time for the win. Not only does Lester pitch a complete game, the Red Sox reflect Casey Stengel’s wisdom: They had good pitching and good hitting and they won.