Ghosts of Candlestick, or We’ll be talking about that one for a while.
Regardless of what happens in the remainder of the National League Division Series between the arch rival San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers, baseball fans will be thinking and talking—and bitching—about Game 3 for the rest of their lives. As a Giants fan, I’ll be in the former two categories. Dodger fans—and their Manager—regressed to the latter about two seconds after a warning track drive from Gavin Lux landed in Steven Duggar’s glove, wind-aided or otherwise. And who could blame them? There’s no way to explain what happened on Indigenous Peoples Day at Chavez Ravine in any manner that logical persons would comprehend.
Around the time Brandon Crawford went Air Jordan to snare Mookie Betts’ potentially game-tying line drive to end the 7th inning, I turned to my wife, a burgeoning baseball aficionado due exclusively to her proximity to me, and said: “We may blow this in the end, but I want to go on record saying that this is a very good baseball game.” (I’m trying to teach her right, and objectivity is important in maintaining one’s sanity when it comes to this silly little sport we love so much.)
Any self-respecting Giants fan over the age of 30 who saw the opening TBS video feed from L.A. should have instantly felt a twinge of odd delight, an uncomfortable feeling deep in the gut that could not be described in words, and certainly not expressed out loud to one’s wife—who as stated is still a noob when it comes to these things. The centerfield flags whipping toward right field like a hurricane was headed for the California coast should have reminded us of frigid, debilitating nights—and some days—at venerable old Candlestick Park, the Giants’ home from 1962 to 1999.
Candlestick. The word alone strikes fear into some players and inexplicable joy in others. The unrelenting and unpredictable winds stole many a home run from Willie Mays and Willie McCovey, long before Gavin Lux and Chris Taylor were specks of dust in their parents’ gonads. I still have visions of hot dog wrappers swirling around the outfield, getting caught against players uniforms, like that scene in Brazil when DeNiro’s character is absorbed by paperwork. The bitter cold of San Francisco Bay was only made more pronounced by the lack of a crowd on a Monday night against the Expos, with no collective body heat to warm your bones, and nothing on the field to spark a flame of hope in your soul. And still we endured. The team even gave out awards for anyone who could bear through it.
So when this USC grad saw that the Santa Ana winds had arrived at Dodger Stadium on a Monday night in the midst of an already epic postseason series between two long-time antagonists, I let myself feel a little giddy. The giddiness would turn to panic, which would turn to elation before progressing into consternation and ending in exasperation, and ultimately exhilaration. But in that one moment before a pitch had been thrown, I know what I was thinking without saying a word: “We are going to win tonight, and that wind is going to play a part.” 56 outs later, I couldn’t believe I was right.
A lot of hot takes have already been cherry-picked out of StatCast numbers from this game. And who’s gonna argue with data? But when you tell me there’s a chance that a ball with a certain exit velocity leaving the bat at a certain angle will go for extra bases 94% of the time, you’re also telling me that it will be an out or a single 6% of the time. I may not be a math major, but that sounds like a chance to me. And a chance is all anybody needs to win a baseball game. The only evidence I need to cite is the brilliant game turned in by the Dodgers’ Max Scherzer, only to see it marred by one pitch that sat in Evan Longoria’s happy zone for a fraction of an instant too long.
By my armchair estimate, the Giants hit three balls last night that had a decent chance of going out or falling for extra bases, including the Longoria homer that somehow cut through the wind for the game’s only run. The other two were long drives off the bats of Mike Yastrzemski and my second-favorite UCLA grad of all time, Brandon Crawford. (I have a Bruin sister-in-law.) Side note: Longoria also hit a rope that was caught by a diving Chris Taylor. The Dodgers themselves were crushing the ball in the late innings— with nothing to show for it. And how unfortunate that was for them. I’m thinking of Taylor’s 6th inning bomb, Mookie’s mash, and of course, Lux. (Just leave that gif open on your browser. I’ve been watching it all morning.)
My point should be obvious: Conditions are conditions. Both teams had to live with Ted Barrett’s erratic strike zone. Both teams had to sit in shitty L.A. traffic to get to and from the game (probably). And both teams had to catch balls that were dancing in the sky like a blustery Monday night at Candlestick circa 1995, or 1975. The difference was the Giants hit one ball that couldn’t be caught.
Ballgame. Instant classic. Legend. Ghosts of Candlestick appeased.
I’ll leave it to Albert Pujols, one of the classiest players in the history of the game, to sum it up. Enjoy the game tonight, baseball fans—whatever happens!