Every baseball game — every single win and loss — is made up of a million tiny moving parts that are inextricable from each other. Some of these parts stand out, some of them fade into the background. As a season wears on, wins and losses do the same thing. Who remembers Erik Bedard beating Luke Hochevar back in June? Who remembers Homer Bailey and the Reds whacking the Pirates 8-1 in Charlie Morton’s last start of the season? I don’t, and I don’t think that I’m alone in that.
I don’t know that a lot of people will remember this Pirate win for anything more than another game in August when this is all said and done; it’s possible that the Pirates make the playoffs and we all think of this game as the game where they finally woke up and lurched forward after three weeks of slumber. Even if that happens, though, it’s most likely that this game will just be one win of eightysome wins for the Pirates. If they do go on to make a playoff run, there are more memorable wins waiting somewhere ahead of us. If they don’t, this is just another win in a bad August that didn’t have quite enough of them. All of the stuff from this game that feels so memorable and important in this very moment — the great start by James McDonald just as you were ready to give up on him and just as the Pirates needed it most, Josh Harrison’s huge collision with Yadier Molina, Pedro Alvarez’s diving stop at third base and the ridiculous night that he had at the plate — will fade, replaced with something that’s either better or incredibly frustrating.
I’m not writing any of this to be a downer, or to sell the Pirates’ win tonight short. This is a huge win for the Pirates; it ensures they won’t end this series five games back and it gives them a chance to get to within a game of the Cardinals for the last wild card spot with nine games against the Brewers and Astros and Cubs waiting in the wings. This win is as big as August wins come, really. That’s the nature of baseball, though; this win is as big as August wins come, except that someone will win the Pirates/Cardinals game tomorrow and either the Pirates will be hot on the Cardinals’ heels or the Cardinals will have a three-game cushion on the Bucs. With 33 games left on the schedule, a two-game swing is a huge swing and so while it’s a true statement that today’s win is as big as August wins come, it’s also true that tomorrow’s win will be even bigger for either the Pirates or the Cardinals.
The reason that I mention all of these things is because it’s truly special when something happens inside of a baseball game that you instantly know will stay burned in your memory for a long time. It’s even more special when that moment isn’t something like a walkoff hit or the out that clinches a playoff spot or a pennant or a no-hitter. In the third inning tonight, the Pirates were nursing their 1-0 lead while a bunch of people were fighting on Twitter about Josh Harrison’s collision with Yadier Molina. Was it a clean play at the plate or was it dirty? Are collisions like that part of baseball or are they avoidable? Things were getting pretty heated (and I say this with the full knowledge that I was in the middle of the heat, not really doing a whole lot to help it dissipate; these things happen sometimes). Almost a full inning after the collision, Pedro Alvarez stepped up to the plate with Andrew McCutchen on second base and two outs. He took ball one, then Jake Westbrook threw a good 1-0 sinker that started in on Pedro’s hands and dropped down so that the ball crossed the plate pretty much smack in the middle of the lower-left square in the traditional nine-square strike zone map. It was a pitch that Pedro Alvarez will occasionally get the meat of the bat on and send towards the grandstand in right, but the way that the pitch started in on his hands and stayed on the inside part of the plate made it look like the sort of pitch that Pedro either yanks way foul down the first base line or swings way over. Instead he squared up and got the bat head out just a little bit and hammered a line drive that looked like nothing if not an iron shot with a golf club.
When you watch the replay for the tenth time, you realize that the ball had so much slice on it that the cameraman behind home plate couldn’t even follow it; he’s got the camera centered on Jon Jay and the bullpen and the ball lands probably 30 feet more towards left-center, directly over the notch. When you’re watching it live, though, you’re not noticing those sorts of things at all and thoughts are rushing towards you one at a time. “Is that over the Notch? Pedro? What was that swing? How did he DO that?” You think about all of the balls that you’ve seen right-handed hitters CRUSH into left center that have died in Andrew McCutchen’s glove before even making it to the warning track in front of the 410 sign. You think of all of the balls that right-handed hitters have crushed that have rattled around in the Notch itself. You realize that you really can’t think of many balls at all that have taken on that 410 sign in the Notch directly and won the battle. In your mind you turn over the incredible combination of strength and bat speed and coordination and raw power that it takes to make that swing and to hit that specific pitch in that specific spot that far in that direction and you know that inside of this very moment that this Pedro Alvarez is the Pedro Alvarez that you’d hoped for on draft day in 2008. Now that you’ve been thinking about it for a few seconds, the context of this specific game multiplied with Pedro’s August power outage dawns on you and the impressiveness of the home run grows even more. Now one part of your brain is telling you that this is the sort of thing you’ve been waiting for all month — an Andrew McCutchen double followed by a Pedro Alvarez homer — and despite all of that the other part of your brain is still screaming, “DID YOU SEE WHERE THAT BALL WAS PITCHED? DID YOU SEE WHERE IT WENT? HOW DID HE DO THAT?”
And suddenly you realize that no Pirate fan anywhere is concerned about whether Josh Harrison laid out Yady Molina intentionally and that no one watching this game is wasting any breath on futile discussions about home plate collisions in baseball because no one has any breath left after that swing. That you have no idea right now how you’re going to remember these 2012 Pittsburgh Pirates or Pedro Alvarez when you think back on the baseball teams you watched during the time in your life that you lived in North Carolina in ten or twenty or thirty years. That the details of this baseball game will be lost to the folds of your memory in much less time than you’re willing to admit to yourself. But you also know that you’re going to remember that swing and that for now, that’s enough.