Pregame: Trouble in Paradise
“Major League Baseball has finally recognized that Dominican baseball is broken,” writes Sean Gregory in this week’s Time magazine. That’s the good news. The bad news is that this is old news; “Dominican baseball” is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Major League Baseball, and this is not the first time MLB has sworn it would clean up the corrupt system through which it produces a relatively inexpensive pool of immigrant workers to keep its 30 teams well-stocked.
On a day when a Federal judge invalidates key sections of Arizona’s anti-immigrant SB1070, plenty of Dominicans take the field for game three between “your” San Francisco Giants and the Florida Marlins. Can the Giants keep hitting like they did last night, like they have since the All-Star break? Jerry, who sits alone at a checkpoint on the clubhouse level, says: “I can’t believe it. But I can’t not believe it. You know what I mean?” Yeah, Jerry, I do. We stand and remove our caps for “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
Inning One: Welcome to Las Grandes Ligas
Jonathan Sanchez from Mayaguez, Puerto Rico, takes the mound for the Giants with Buster Posey behind the plate. With little fanfare, it appears Sanchez no longer gets his own catcher. At this point, Posey’s bat and his ability to manage a game are more important than whatever good vibes remain from Sanchez’ no-hitter last year. Jonathan seems to understand. He puts down the Fish in order.
Pitching for the Marlins this afternoon: rookie Alex Sanabia, who likes to throw off-speed pitches, breaking balls and sinkers, lots of sinkers, which are fastballs that tend to drop as they approach the batter. The first batter Sanabia will face is Andres Torres, a native Puerto Rican who so far this series has lived up to his reputation as the Giants’ “catalyst.”
In a fine imitation of the immortal Rickey Henderson, Torres lights the team’s fuse with a liner to left. Five of the next six Giants hitters follow by hitting ground balls — the effect of a sinker. These grounders, however, find holes in the infield, and the Giants lead 4-0.
Inning Three: Strangers in the Late Afternoon
Mr. Inconsistency (Jonathan Sanchez), meet Mr. Consistency (Buster Posey). Even with a four-run lead, Sanchez can’t avoid finding trouble. He got out of one mess in the second inning, but no such luck in the third. It starts with a walk (it always does) to Hanley Ramirez, All Star shortstop from the DR. The Marlins get a run, but the Giants respond with three more runs in the bottom of the inning on three hits, including a single by Buster Posey that extends his hitting streak to 21 games, one short of the SF rookie record.
Inning Five: Oliver Twist with a Twist
Scouting young boys to develop into major-league players has turned the Dominican Republic into a postmodern version of Dickensian England. Individual scouts take boys from home and school to “train,” then sell them to a major-league team. “In some ways,” Time quotes attorney Arturo Marcano, “it’s like human trafficking.” Some teams operate a “baseball academy” for their new hires to continue their professional training after they turn 16. Less than five percent make it into the majors; most serve as extras, kept around to provide a level of competition for real potential stars like Pablo Sandoval, who the Giants sent from Venezuela to the DR when he was 16.
Inning Six: Coup de Splash
Although the Giants have a five-run lead, they have been shut down since the third inning by Dominican Jorge Sosa. Torres returns to the plate, facing fastball after fastball. He picks his pitch carefully, fully extends his arms, and “swings through the ball,” driving it over the wall in right field and into the mouth of Mission Creek. Now 9-2, it’s a blowout.
Inning Seven: Baseball and Illusion
No, it’s not; it’s a ball game. Although Sanchez’ fastball seems to be dying as the afternoon turns colder, he convinces manager Bruce Bochy that he can get himself out of another homemade jam. Oops. Pinch hitter Donnie Murphy slams Sanchez’ first pitch over the wall in left center and it’s 9-5. Dominican Denny Bautista replaces Sanchez, striking out Gaby Sanchez to end the inning. Not quite.
Bautista’s strike-out pitch is a curve that breaks so low and so away it gets by Posey, and Sanchez is on first. A good thing Dan Uggla, who comes to the plate, has not been belting the ball out of the park as he has the previous two nights. He does this time. Giants 9, Marlins 7.
Inning Nine: The Curse of the Orange Shoes?
Brian Wilson comes on with a two-run lead. His record would suggest fans should feel safe, but white knuckles indicate they don’t. Even little kids in Panda hats can feel their parents’ angst. This must be what it’s like to be grown up. The Marlins hit Wilson for another run, and with a man at third, here comes — Dan Uggla. Last night Uggla beat a Wilson fastball for a homer in the ninth. Will Wilson challenge him again, or deceive him with a changeup or a curve? Everybody knows Wilson will go mano a mano, including Uggla. He hits Wilson’s fastball for a double and a tie game. Later, in the clubhouse, Wilson would argue the pitch was right, the location was wrong. After the reporters move on, he mumbles to no one in particular, “I’m still fucking nasty.”
Inning Ten: Fantasy and Reality
The major league’s hunger for players, and the major-league hunger of poverty, combine to produce a setup for major-league corruption. Steroids, all manner of drugs, identity theft, falsification of public records and robbery are but a few of the tactics employed by scouts to market their product. Some think an international draft could solve many of the problems inherent in the existing two-tiered labor system. MLB has the power to institute such a draft, but does it have the will? Can it resist the profits?
And then there’s Andres Vungo Torres, who doesn’t make big bucks, who has bounced from team to team and country to country, who at 32 has had to work and learn and study and wait a long time for his time to come. With the bases loaded and one out in the bottom of the tenth inning, Torres hits the first pitch he sees into left field, rounds first base then falls to the ground in a fetal position to save himself from being mauled by his joyous teammates.
Giants 10, Marlins 9. Last game of the series today at 12:45 p.m.