Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Josh Beckett's Newest Fan

For as long as I can remember, every time I've been to a ballgame, the first thing I root for is a no-hitter. This, of course, means I'm rooting for both pitchers until they yield their first hits, but is only 100% true when I don't have a horse in the race. When my team's involved, I'd have a tough time rooting for them to get no-hit, but honestly that's never been an issue.

I can't really pinpoint when this personal tradition began, but my best guess is it started after I witnessed my first no-hitter in 1983. But, I do remember promoting this personal strategy of rooting for pitchers rather than teams to friends with whom I've attended games. 

As I alluded to in the first paragraph, I've been lucky that all the no-hitter flirtations in games involving the Yankees have been by Yankees pitchers: from Dave Righetti's no-no in 1983 to Mike Mussina's near perfect gem in 2001 to Chien-Ming Wang's 7 1/3 perfect innings in 2007. So, it pretty much goes without saying I'd be rooting for those pitchers to not allow hits or other base-runners. 

On Sunday, my neutral-game philosophy came to fruition for the first time. On the tail end of a Pennsylvania mini-vacation that included two days at Sesame Place with Little Chuck, KJ and I decided we'd visit Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia for the first time. It was also LC's first major league game and my first new park31st overall, including 20 currently in operationin five years.

It also happened to be IBEW Local 98 Ryne Sandberg Louisville Slugger Bat day, so the little guy came away with this nice souvenir:

Ryne Sandberg autographed bat
Don't worry, it's made of plastic.

I'd joked at every possible opportunity leading up to this game about how frustrating it was, as a Yankees fan living in Boston, that the pitching matchup we drew was Josh Beckett vs. A.J. Burnett. I had also decided, considering Burnett is relatively more likeable in my opinion, this was as good a reason as any to root for the home team.  

But, Burnett gave up a hit to Dee Gordon to lead off the game, so I quickly shifted allegiances.

It's at this point that most people start talking about when they began thinking about a no-hitter. I can honestly say it was on my mind throughout the entire game. However, I recall looking at the MLB At Bat app during the 5th inning and seeing Beckett was sitting at 73 pitches through 4 1/3 innings. That was actually mid at-bat, and one pitch later he got the second out of the inning. Still, 74 pitches through 4 2/3 projects to 143 to get the full 27 outs. Needless to say, I was convinced there was little chance he was going the distance, and combined no-hitters don't quite have the same luster.

It was a hot and sunny day, and we were all covered thoroughly with 30-50 SPF sunscreen, but I'll admit protecting my son's skin from the sun is one of my major neuroses as a parent. We also had a 3 1/4 hour drive (if we were lucky)through New Jersey to my Dad's place in New Yorkahead of us after the game and the boy's sleep schedule was already completely annihilated by our vacation.

So, I had it in my mind we were probably leaving early. Of course, I was also hoping I could rationalize I was doing it for my 2 1/2 year old son, not because I'm one of those guys who likes to leave early to beat the traffic. Besides, even if Beckett completed the job, leaving early wouldn't negate the reality my son's first major league game was a no-hitter. 

I feel like the beauty of the no-hitter has been torn down somewhat by the sabermetric community. Sure, it requires a certain amount of BABIP luck, and walking five or more batters can really detract from it. But, it's still a pretty special accomplishment and, honestly, short of a postseason series clinching game, I don't think there's a more exciting moment to witness live.

So, I was really torn between rooting for Beckett to give up a hit and stop teasing us already, and pulling for what seemed like a very outside chance of witnessing a little bit of history.

We left our seats after the 6th inning to get out of the sun and walk around the park a little. At that point, Beckett had thrown 90 pitcheswhich projects to 135 for the gameand the wife and I began to discuss whether or not we would stick it out.

After the Dodgers scored three in the top of the 7th to extend their lead to 6-0, Beckett's next two innings went by pretty quickly and economically, with him needing only 10 pitches to get through each. It was at this point that KJ eased my mind by emphatically stating, "We HAVE to stay!"

LC kind of wanted to leave, but other than a couple hat-throwing incidents, he remained well behaved, as he did for most of the trip. By now, you surely know the outcome. I'm hoping and expecting Little Chuck will better appreciate in the future that, at his first major league game, he witnessed a no-hitter.

Dodgers celebrate Beckett's no-hitter.
Yeah, I regret not pulling out the good camera for this one.