Pitching and defense. Defense and pitching.

No matter how much the chairmen of college math departments and their willing accomplices in major league front offices try to wreck baseball’s nearly 150-year-old formula, it always wins.

Kalle Oakes, Sports Columnist

There was never much doubt in my mind that the Houston Astros and Washington Nationals would be the last teams standing in this year’s quest for immortality and a World Series ring.

The National League’s half of that Fall Classic coupling seemed to surprise the masses. Given the Expatriate Expos’ second-half success and accumulation of playoff-proven starting pitchers, however, any longshot bucks wagered on their chances of skedaddling the Brewers, Dodgers and Cardinals were a sound investment.

Notice I said “starting” pitching. That still exists, right? Guys who can throw a triple-digit number of pitches, keep hitters off-balance, and throw harder in the seventh inning than they did in the first?

Like bipartisan support and people without a social media footprint, those elements of the pastime are radical concepts these days, but they’re ones in which I still believe wholeheartedly.

So passionately, in fact, that I resolved to boycott Game 6 of the American League Championship Series between the Astros and the New York Yankees on Saturday night when it was reported that both managers would try to piece together the pitching staffs in a “bullpen game,” as if it were a glorified Grapefruit League contest.

That was an easy commitment, especially living in SEC country, with the Georgia-Kentucky and Alabama-Tennessee football games scheduled in succession. With perfectly adequate and seasonally appropriate entertainment at my fingertips, there was no earthly reason to endorse “openers,” “exit velocity,” “launch angle,” or any of the other contrived foolishness that has transformed MLB from being sports’ great chess match into a purely physical exercise.

Alas, curiosity got the best of me. By the time the Crimson Tide’s Tua Tagovailoa limped to the locker room, there I was, refreshing the play-by-play function on my phone and virtually “watching” D.J. Lemahieu’s tying, two-run blast for the Yankees in the top of the ninth.

At some point, one’s fear of missing out becomes more powerful than his principles. Finally, I acquiesced and reached for the remote control with about three minutes to spare. It was just in the nick of time to see 5-foot-nothing Jose Altuve’s moon shot defy all the scientific silliness that holds the modern version of the game hostage and send the Astros back to the big stage

“It couldn’t happen to a better guy” applied on both the sincere and sarcastic fronts.

Altuve, who has evolved from free agency and a piddling $15,000 signing bonus into one of the premier players of his generation, is still revered in my neck of the woods, where he cut his professional teeth with the Single-A Lexington Legends. The guy’s heart is six times too big for his body. He’s the grown-up poster child for Everyman.

His smiling, smirking, self-deprecating dance partner in history: Aroldis Chapman, who is forever linked to another pock-mark on the modern game as the first player disciplined under MLB’s domestic violence policy.

Stir all the above along with the excessively hyped, yesterday’s-news franchise the flame-throwing southpaw represents, and the end result was a delicious plate of just desserts that warmed hearts and souls from coast to coast.

Soooooo many Yankees loyalists are like the people who root for the Green Bay Packers, Montreal Canadiens and Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Their “gotcha” argument when they fall shy of the ultimate goal, which in their lifetimes has been almost always, is to remind everybody of championships that were celebrated with transistor radios in hand, over a field of opponents half the size, in a time when about 600 people lived west of the Mississippi River.

Yeah, you rattled off four titles in five years at the height of the steroid era. Congratulations. Otherwise you’ve captured precisely one world championship since the fall I started kindergarten, and zilch this decade.

What’s more, your franchise’s every move is endorsed by a Tommy Boy whose only plus over dear old dad is that his moods might be more mellow. Hank’s personnel decisions are on par with George when it comes to being devoid of consideration for such crucial elements as team chemistry, however, and his commitment to profit margin makes the Red Sox management team appear laser-focused on excellence by comparison.

It isn’t 1927 or 1998 right now. That’s what the Yankees were. This past decade represents what the Yankees are: A perennial contender built to fall in the first or second round of the playoffs to a team that can paint the corners, string together line drives, run the bases and sling the leather.

Watching their stakeholders come to grips with that reality in soul-crushing fashion, while not  as rewarding as the other new-century reality of seeing the Sox spray champagne an average of every fourth or fifth year, was certainly worth setting aside my personal convictions at two minutes to midnight.

Kalle Oakes spent 27 years in the Sun Journal sports department. He is now sports editor of the Georgetown (Kentucky) News-Graphic. Keep in touch with him by email at [email protected] or on Twitter @oaksie72.


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