First things first. I really like Grantland, the new site from espn.com major domo Bill Simmons. There's a ton of great stuff. So much to read, so little time.
The other day I saw a story teased on the espn.com home page: "The Case for Carlos Beltran."
Part of the tagline for the story was a rewrite of the story's subhead, which reads: "The Giants' new right fielder has always been clutch — now maybe he'll be recognized for it."
As a Met fan, my knee-jerk reaction was, naturally: "WHUHHH!?!?!"
It was 2006, during the aftermatch of the epic October Storm that hit Western New York. It was Thursday, Oct. 19, and Game Seven of the National League Championship Series was that night.
As a Met fan, this Game Seven brought with it equal parts hope and an impending sense of anguish. If we win, it will be awesome, but it might even be a bigger relief that we didn't lose. That's because if we lose, it will not only be terrible, there will always be obnoxious Yankee fans who will remind us of it. Normally, I would spend an evening so momentous with two companions: my television and my couch.
Invite people over? What will they do when I start screaming at the TV? Or yelling at Tony LaRussa that he's not as smart as he thinks he is? Or holding my breath for inordinate amounts of time through at-bats?
But with skeletons of trees still strewn across streets and a groaning chorus of generators filling the darker-than-usual Northtown nights -- and my cable still out -- I had little choice but to head to Tully's on Niagara Falls Blvd. I went with a group of friends. We got a table. I told them the situation. I told them not to bother me.
The game was tense. It was not that pretty. It was tied at 1-1 in the sixth when Scott Rolen hit a ball that scared me to death. That's because it looked like he got all of it. A "yeah!" came from a Cardinal fan somewhere in the Tully's bar area. Then, Endy Chavez made one of the greatest catches in baseball history, and I made sure the rest of Tully's knew about it as I let loose with a anything-you-can-do-I-can-do-louder "YEAHHHH!!!!!!"
We were going to win. Endy made the greatest catch ever. We were home at Shea Stadium, a hunk of concrete we loved even though everyone else said it was a dump. We had been down, 3-2, in the series, but now we were going to win.
The evil Yankees had even been eliminated by the Tigers, who had swept the A's in the ALCS and seemed to have a lot of destiny-like mojo going (the Tigers, of course, should have ended up winning the World Series, but they decided to commit eight errors and the Cardinals became one of the most illegitimate champions in the history of sports. Not that I'm bitter or anything.).
Mojo, schmojo -- we can beat the Tigers. We can win the World Series. Did you see that catch? It was Amazin'! Ya Gotta Believe!
Well, then came the ninth inning, and Yadier Molina hit a two-run homer off of Aaron Heilman, who will forever be known for doing just that. In the bottom of the ninth, we somehow loaded the bases with two outs, and up came Carlos Beltran. A base hit probably ties the game. Beltran is our best player. Twenty years ago we came up with crazy stuff like this to win it all in 1986. We can do it. We're going to win.
Three pitches. Three strikes.
The last one, ever-so-painfully, is taken for a strike by Beltran.
We did not win. We didn't -- cliches-in-action alert -- even go down swinging.
That last pitch, and its pitcher, are summed up in the beginning of the Grantland piece, which goes on to tell us that Carlos Beltran is an excellent baseball player who has excellent statistics. We know that. We'll even agree that he might be hugely underrated.
But as a whole, the article is a well-written argument of a Beltran apologist. It almost sounds as if it were written by his agent, or a family member, or someone who has all of his baseball cards back from his rookie days in Kansas City. To read the beginning, it leaves one wondering how any batter can possibly hit any curve ball, much less one thrown by Adam Wainright.
Beltran is a great player. He does it all. I don't hate him as a player because of that third strike, and I don't think many New Yorkers feel that way either. But we're sure going to remember it.
("Wow. I mean ... wow. Has a dramatic playoff game ever ended with the best player on the better team striking out looking? That couldn't have been more anticlimactic. It's not possible." I wonder who wrote that?)
I don't think that third strike is everything, but it sure isn't nothing. It can not be overshadowed. To argue that all of his stats, and all of his accomplishments, mean we should forget that called third strike, is ridiculous.
So is the last sentence of the article: " ... the Giants are giving Beltran a chance to rewrite his legacy. The shame is that he shouldn't have to."
The shame? Are you kidding me? Sure, let's let Beltran off the hook for the biggest moment as a Met, probably the biggest moment of his career. That called third strike is part of his legacy, and to dismiss it is laughable.
He deserves to be remembered for that moment. He also was a supposed leader on a team that blew sizable leads two years in a row. He deserves to be remembered for that, too.
I never got the feeling that Beltran was comfortable being The Man. He was in KC, where you could argue that nobody has to worry about being The Man. Then he goes to Houston and puts on an amazing show as a complementary late addition. Perfect situation for him (maybe this year with the Giants will be similar). When Omar Minaya brought him to Queens, Beltran declared it the start of "The 'New' Mets," but he was never The Man. He may have even been the opposite, part of a dysfunctional clubhouse. Last season, he came back from injury at the all-star break, and the Mets promptly nose-dived from contention to a lost season, a fired manager, a fired GM.
There's more to sports, and even stat-fiendish baseball, than just numbers (and numbers/numbers/numbers).
A glib, car crash of a sentence in the article reads: "Beltran's called strike three shouldn't define him any more than Katy Perry's Christian rock album defines her."
"I'll take unanalogous analogies for $100, Alex."
Now, about that "clutch" thing.
Whoever put "clutch" in the subhead and the tagline on espn.com should either be fired or promoted (for being sensationalist and prompting me click on it).
Ready for this? The word "clutch" is not even used in the story.
Which seems about right.