As a proud resident of San Francisco and a life long fan of the Giants, I have been a tad distracted lately. Right now, everything in my world is only a degree or two of separation away from baseball. So, in that spirit, let’s look at the games of golf and baseball.
Baseball could use a slope index: The slope index was developed as a way of measuring the relative difficulty of golf courses. We get our course handicaps by multiplying our index by the number you get from dividing the slope of the course we’re playing by 121, the slope number that represents the difficulty of the average course. (Don’t ask.) But in baseball, performance is performance. The caliber of competition does not factor into the measurement. So, as much as we Giants fans all enjoyed Matt Cain’s perfect game this year, it was against the woeful Houston Astros. It may well have been the technical equivalent of pitching a two or three hitter against a real major league team. And, in a more immediately relevant example, Justin Verlander, the recently crowned Most Dominant Pitcher in the History of the Sport, chalked up his glittering postseason stats against the free swinging A’s and a dispirited, aging Yankees lineup.
Metamorphic moments: Pressure changes things. Limestone, humble sedimentary strata, becomes marble, the stuff of statues and palaces. And so it is with sport, particularly golf and baseball. There is always the significance of a particular play or possession in a team sport such as football or basketball. But the pressure of the moment doesn’t transform the pedestrian or the tedious in the same way as in baseball or golf. Consider the marathon at bat when a batter fouls off pitch after pitch. There is nothing that better expresses the sense of watching and seeing nothing happen that is such a frequent criticism of baseball than witnessing this kind of confrontation in a Thursday night game in July between two sub .500 teams. But take this situation and transfer it into–oh, I don’t know, let’s say Sergio Romo v. Jay Bruce in Game 5 of the NLDS–and you have moments of unbearable suspense and drama. And so it is with the humble little four or five foot putt with a just bit of break to it. No really big deal, right? Just a bit of housecleaning on the 14th hole on a Friday afternoon. But switch the scene to the 72nd hole of a major or the last hole of a Ryder Cup match, and well, that’s another thing entirely.
It’s all about the short game: In this postseason, baseball looked a lot like a U.S. Open: the victor wasn’t the longest hitter, but the one who made the fewest mistakes and performed the best in the clutch. The Giants were only the fifth team to hit the fewest home runs in the regular season and yet win the World Series. Think about the winning run in Game 4: the back-up second baseman hits a single, the shortstop sacrifices him over and then the starting second baseman gets a base hit to drive in the run. If that’s not the baseball equivalent of getting up and down, I don’t know what is.