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The Red Sox advanced to the ALCS after one of the most thrilling ninth innings of the season

New York’s hottest baseball game is BLOOD RIVALRY DEATH MATCH. This game had everything. Tiny, bearded closers melting into a puddle of goo. Little men in blue hats deciding the fates of millions based on what they were hearing in their headphones,one of the greatest grand slams in history caught on the warning track. Everyone watching it died and was reborn as a relative they didn’t like.

Which is all to say, holy crap, did you see that final ninth inning of the Red SoxYankees series? I lost six pounds, and I didn’t even care who won. My hands are shaking. It was perfect, absolutely perfect — the perfect distillation of why we love this dumb sport.

And yet it was also the perfect example of why this sport can be such a tough sell. The Yankees-Red Sox series was framed by three mostly dull postseason series. They weren’t dull to the fans who were living and dying with every pitch, but they were dull to the person ambling by and thinking, “Ah, right, the baseball playoffs. I should check in with that.”

Here’s what might have been waiting for them:

Corbin Burnes looks in …

… gets the sign …

… Desmond steps out …

… 4-0 Brewers …

… here’s the 1-1 pitch …

… fouled back to the screen …

Brewers fans were absolutely tuned in, completely aware of what Burnes had been doing well over the last month. Rockies fans were absolutely tuned in, desperately hoping for Ian Desmond to hit a broken-bat infield single, if not a 449-foot home run. It was still real to them, dammit.

To the rest of the world, though, just about every other League Division Series was an uneventful slog. One team took a lead, the other team hung around because they were contractually obligated to, and there were limited shenanigans. The Brewers coughed up a ninth-inning lead this one time, and then they won in the next inning, which is fine, but we were promised chaos. The postseason promises chaos.

Then there was the end of the Red Sox-Yankees ALDS, in which everything pure and beautiful about baseball was on display. This is the inning you show people who are baseball-curious, the folks on the fence. What’s the big deal about baseball, anyway?

Let me show you a GIF. It’s a GIF that, according to FanGraphs, came after the Yankees had secured a nine-percent chance to win.

Andrew Benintendi struck out looking, and Yankees bros in the back still believed. The dude in the collared shirt was the one who scored those tickets from a client, and he let loose a fiery expletive. His bros went bananas. None of that was really justified — it was still a 4-1 lead for the Red Sox, who had one of baseball’s best relievers coming in — but for some reason, they still believed.

At this point, I promise you, baseball still isn’t that exciting to the outside observer. It’s still a 4-1 game. It’s still statistically in the bag for the Red Sox. The whole rivalry thing is easy to explain, but it’s harder to explain just why someone should care about a ninth inning in this situation.

That bottom of the ninth was a gateway drug, though. All the way, no question. It started with Craig Kimbrel missing his spots, unless he wasn’t missing his spots (Angel Hernandez was on the case). It was a four-pitch walk, and the crowd … got … louder.

[crowd noise intensifies]

Then Didi Gregorius singled through an open right side, a perfect example of a hitter failing at what he wanted to do, but succeeding anyway. Baseball! There are now two runners on and the tying run is coming to the plate.

[crowd noise intensifies]

Because it’s the Yankees, assume everyone from here on out can hit the ball very far. There’s a short porch down the line. There’s a weird jetstream in right-center. This is a ballpark that’s made for walk-off grand slams and tying-dinger bursts of delirium. Oh, and there are beefy big-boy lords, one right after the other.

[crowd noise intensifies]

On cue, Giancarlo Stanton comes up. Literally one of the greatest dinger monsters to ever live. The first pitch Kimbrel threw was a hanging slider.

[crowd noise shuts up for just a second]

Called strike.

That was it. That was the pitch to hit. I’ve seen these at-bats, from Hunter Pence to Ryan Howard. When the first pitch is a get-it-in mistake, it almost guarantees that the pitcher is going to throw three of his nastiest pitches in response. Kimbrel did. Stanton swung and miss. There were boos.

But, still, beefy big-boy lord Luke Voit was up, who nearly hit as many home runs in September as the entire Giants team. He was still the tying run.

[crowd noise intensifies]

He drew a four-pitch walk. Even more than that, he drew one of the most patient four-pitch walks you’ll ever see in that situation. Look at this danged pitch chart:

The first and third pitches were breaking balls. The second and fourth pitches were fastballs. In other words, they were all perfect. Each and every one. It was Voit who didn’t appreciate their perfection and spoiled everything by being competent. Shame on him.

[crowd noise intensifies]

Now the tying run is on first and the winning run is at the plate.

[crowd noise is mostly barfing at this point, just extremely violent retching]

The first pitch from Kimbrel hits Neil Walker. Now the tying run is on second and the winning run is on first.

[there is no crowd noise. there is only the rending of garments and gnashing of teeth]

The stakes are so incredibly high at this point. Kimbrel is on the verge of blowing one of the worst saves in franchise history, the kind of thing that leads to bar fights in 2028. The scarred Red Sox fan who was cognizant and alive before Fever Pitch still remembers this feeling of abject hopelessness. It never goes away. There’s always the fear of the pinstriped bogeyman snatching everything away.

This brings up Gary Sanchez, slugger. He’s having a rough season, with an OBP under .300 and a SLG that’s just barely over .400. His highest batting average in any month this year was .230, in May. It was one of two months in which he batted over the Mendoza Line.

Here is how Sanchez did against the teams in which he got more than 30 plate appearances:

Gary Sanchez OPS against, 2018 (more than 30 PA)

Boston Red Sox, 1.015

Tampa Bay Rays, .592

Toronto Blue Jays, .475

Against the Red Sox, he’s Mike Trout. And now he’s the winning run.

[crowd noise is now just 40,000 people humming the brown note.]

Friends, the swing looked like a pop-up. And the outfielder kept going back and back and back, all the way to the middle of the warning track.

Ten feet from immortality? Eight? And, still, the crowd is growling with anticipation. There are two outs, now, and the Yankees are one out away from the season being over.

Of course it had to end on a replay.

Eduardo Nuñez was a crumpled heap by third base during this video review, having broken his everything in the attempt to get this final out, and it took a perfect stretch and dig to get it. I’m not sure if Nuñez had anything more to give on the throw.

The game was over. The series was over. It was 14 minutes of perfect, hilarious, dumb baseball, unless you cared about the Yankees or Red Sox, in which case it was the worst 14 minutes of your life*.

* Objectively worse for Yankees fans, when it’s all said and done

But this is it. This is the baseball experience. You build up the energy over 162 games, and you store it and hope for the best, and the radiation becomes too much, and now the parakeet is dead. Great. Except that’s exactly what you want. You want the release after 162 games, the progressive jackpot paying off.

Baseball is a ponzi scheme, except it really does pay off occasionally, and when it does, you get everything that you promised.

How do you sell it? How do you convince fans that baseball is worth it?

You just have to hope it happens organically, I guess. You have to hope they’re watching Game 4 of the Yankees-Red Sox and understand the context. You have to hope they’re at the right game, the one where the people are on their feet and screaming like idiots.

Eventually, I promise, they’ll get to one of those games. And it is absolutely transcendent and addicting.

Hope that someone who was on the fence about baseball saw the end of that Yankees-Red Sox ALDS. It wasn’t the greatest series, but it had one of the greatest 15-minute stretches of the last few years of postseason baseball. It had everything, from hope to despair and everything in between.

It was the best commercial that baseball had to offer. Not everyone might have seen it, but that’s okay. Think of it like the Velvet Underground.

I was talking to Lou Reed the other day, and he said that the first Velvet Underground record sold only 30,000 copies in its first five years. Yet, that was an enormously important record for so many people. I think everyone who bought one of those 30,000 copies started a band!

If you saw it, you understood. This was the release of endorphins that you had been promised, and it was all worth it. Either you get it or you don’t, but with games like this, more people will get it. They’ll just have to watch hundreds of hours of lesser baseball to get there.

The Red Sox defeated the Yankees. Some stuff happened. Lots of people watched. But it was so much more than that. It was boring until it wasn’t, and it was so much more than that.

It was a fine day at the ol’ yard. You should have been there. It was a pip of a ninth inning, I hear. And it kind of justified the whole sport.

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