"The one constant through all the years...has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game. It's a part of our past...It reminds us of all that once was good and could be again."—James Earl Jones, Field of Dreams
There's a reason Darth Vader's monologue in the baseball classic makes a lot of grown men cry. Jones' words work in the literal sense as well as a metaphor for the only game pretty enough to be played on a diamond.
Since baseball established itself in America's consciousness so early in the country's history, it—more than any other sport except for possibly boxing—has seen the nation go through many evolutionary and revolutionary changes. That is the literal truth in the famous scene from Field of Dreams.
But if you want an example of their figurative veracity, look no further than our beloved San Francisco Giants.
The loss on Monday night to the Rockies in Colorado could be described as the steamrolling of an organization's soul. It could also be described as the erasure of joy from the Giant faithful.
Again and again.
It's almost impossible to describe the discomfort of watching the extra-inning tragedy unfold. In fact, it is impossible to describe without relying on the audience's experiential reservoirs—I can only give the context and then sadistically hope the reader has witnessed a similar debacle to form a basis for compassion.
Los Gigantes were wrapping up an 11-game marathon of a road trip that took them to New York for four games against the Mets, to Cincinnati for three games against the Reds, and finally to Denver for four games against the hottest team in Major League Baseball (the Rox didn't disappoint).
The final roadie was of special interest because Colorado sat atop the National League wild card race with a two-game lead over the good guys. Despite the recent struggles of the Los Angeles Dodgers, the wild card was (and is) still San Francisco's best option for a playoff berth.
Most observers agreed the Gents needed to perform well to have any postseason hope survive to September. This was a tall order considering the team's woeful road performances in 2009.
When the plane touched down in the Rocky Mountains, the fellas were looking very shiny indeed. They'd split the quartet in the Big Apple and taken two of three from Dusty Baker's crew for a record of 4-3. Things only got better when Jonathan Sanchez pitched an abbreviated gem and took the opener from Aaron Cook, et al.
The second iteration of the four-gamer didn't go so well, but the Giants sent their fifth starter (Joe Martinez) to the bump, so the "L" wasn't a total shocker. Besides, the boys tucked into their beds that night with a 5-4 record during a brutal road stretch and sent their ace of aces to the mound the next day.
Tim Lincecum clearly didn't have his good stuff and was unsettled all game, having abandoned his windup early on. Even so, the Freak pitched well enough to win nine out of 10 games and even carried a no-hitter into the sixth.
Unfortunately, Rockie ace Ubaldo Jimenez stifled the San Francisco offense, and Tiny Tim made one mistake too many.
A loss in a Lincecum start is never easy to take for San Francisco Giant fans, and that one was particularly painful because of the playoff implications.
Nevertheless, Barry Zito had been throwing superbly in the second half, and he was set to take the slab in the series' finale.
The much-maligned southpaw answered the bell on Monday, surrendering only a single unearned run before being lifted for a pinch hitter in the seventh.
Yet there was Jason Marquis, matching Zito frame for frame and even outlasting the Giant hurler by going eight strong. Both pitchers did their profession honor on the evening and handed a 1-1 deadlock over to a pair of heretofore sturdy bullpens.
Sergio Romo, Jeremy Affeldt, Bobby Howry (with an assist from...), Brian Wilson, and Brandon Medders authored seven innings of shutout baseball for San Francisco. They needed eight.
Because Rafael Betancourt, Franklin Morales, Huston Street, Matt Daley, Joe Beimel, and the Rockie offense were up to the challenge offered by Adam Eaton.
After the first five Rockie firemen gave their club perfect work, Eaton got chucked to the wolves a bit. He pitched two great innings but drew the long assignment and tired a bit in his third turn.
The big righty walked three, gave up a triple, and watched the Gents score three runs in the top of the 14th inning.
San Francisco was soooo close.
Our home nine were up by three runs in the 14th inning against a wild card-leading division rival in a foreign park with a chance to split the series at two games apiece and finish an onerous road trip above .500.
They were three outs away from a no harm, no foul four-game set versus a team nobody wanted to play.
On the road.
Still, you could see it coming.
The Giants sent their own tiring reliever out for an ominous third inning of work, and Medders buckled.
He got an out, but that's only because Clint Barmes will swing at basically anything at any time, and he'll do it every time. Suffice it to say the reliever's grasp of the strike zone was tenuous.
Of course, all the bullpen's best bullets had been fired, so Bruce Bochy was left with an obviously cooked Medders, a shell-shocked Justin Miller, and a terrifying Merkin Valdez.
Miller got the call and proved disastrous. He gave up a single, then walked Troy Tulowitzki to load the bases, and then walked ADAM EATON to force in a run.
Cue Bochy and his hook. Enter Valdez, up steps Ryan Spilborghs, exit baseball for a grand slam, and game over. To borrow from another classic baseball flick, "well, looked like a strike anyway."
Hey, blame Valdez for giving up the granny to end the ballgame, but that's wrong. He was in an untenable position because the other guys couldn't throw strikes when they should've been easy to throw.
If you can't get one over the plate with a three-run lead and only needing three outs to win, maybe you should seek employment outside of a postseason race.
Like I said, there's really no way to describe the sensation of seeing Spilborghs' pill bleed away into the night sky. It was the epitome of a crushing defeat—a horrendous, come-from-ahead loss to a pole-sitter in a key game.
I believe Duane Kuiper said it best in his understated fashion: "This is not gonna be good, folks."
No, no, it was not gonna be good.
But remember the metaphorical side of James Earl Jones?
Even in the span of a single season, the game is constant. It does remind you of all that was once good and all that could be again. Because it comes at you in a confident and persistent march, one game after another. Rarely must you marinate in a loss for more than 24 hours.
Even the most hideous defeats can be forgotten in the breath of nine victorious innings.
With a win against the Arizona Diamondbacks on Tuesday, the horror of Monday is already fading, a sepia-toned memory. With another win on Wednesday, it will be gone completely and for good.
That is, until the steamrollers come back...