Thursday, August 7, 2008

In every game

Today in Pittsburgh, cheap labor with a career ERA of over 5, going by the name of Jeff Karstens, retired the first 23 Diamond Back hitters he faced in what would eventually become a 2-0, 2 hit shutout win over Randy Johnson.

Karstens came over in the Damaso Marte / Xavier Nady trade, and it's not like he was utterly dominating the Snakes; he had only four strikeouts to go with one walk, and threw 72 strikes and 41 balls. This seems to be a case of a guy having a great day against a team that really hasn't played well in a long time, but it should be noted that the ex-Yank also kept the Cubs scoreless in his first start. He throws four pitchers for strikes, and on a day when some deep drives stayed in the park, that was enough.

The bigger point to make about Karstens near-miss is that it's really one of the coolest things about baseball -- that in every game you go to or watch, some part of you is aware of the potential for immortality. If anyone was watching this game beyond simple DBack or Pirate fandom, they were doing so to see if Randy Johnson could keep up his recent hot streak and get closer to 300 wins. But Karstens had other ideas.

Just under 18 years ago, I went to a Phillies game at the old Vet on a whim. They were a below .500 team, facing a second-place Giants club, in yet another season that wasn't going anywhere. (They wound up finishing in fourth place; it was the year that the Reds beat the Pirates and then the A's to win the Series.)

We only went because the seats were free as part of a SEPTA promotion, which bumped up the crowd to reasonable levels. And Terry Mulholland, who seemed like a reasonable option as a low rotation starter but nothing more, was just dominant. He was a Charlie Hayes error away from a perfect game, with Hayes redeeming himself with a diving grab of a Gary Carter line drive for the final out. It was the first and only no-hitter that I've ever seen in person, and something that I'll never forget.

That is, really, what baseball has to offer, that no other sport can deliver: the small but unmistakable chance of seeing something that you can keep forever.

So kudos to Karstens, and baseball, for reminding us of what's possible. Even in Pittsburgh, for a guy that I wouldn't bet on winning 100 games in his career, in yet another year where the home team will lose more games than they win. Shame he couldn't get the last four, too.

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