Strikeout Memories and Might Have Beens

No Joy in Mudville.

How could we ever forget poor Casey?

He was the disappointment to all of Mudville when he went down swinging in the bottom of the ninth at the climax of baseball’s greatest foray into poetic suspense, but his epic failure assured that we would all remember him until the crack of doom.

What if the same thing had happened to Bobby Thomson back in the famous third game of the 1951 playoff series at the Polo Grounds? After all, Thomson had almost the identical circumstances that faced Casey of Mudville on his equally famous moment. In both games, the teams of Bobby and Casey each faced imminent defeat in the bottom of the ninth by 4-2 scores – and each man came to bat with runners on first and third with a chance to end it all on one mighty connecting swing of the bat.

The big factual differences were that Thomson was baiting with only one out and facing  1-1 count when his big moment came. If Bobby failed, his Giants had another chance coming that would have placed rookie sensation Willie Mays clearly into the Casey spotlight with two outs. Dear Casey, on the other hand, had defiantly taken two strikes to put himself into the total swat or swish position that was coming at him on the 0-2 count. No one has ever argued that Casey had plans for working the count for a few balls. Even the sneer on Casey’s lips swore that he was going for broke on the third pitch he was about to see and that he would be taking no more called strikes on this late afternoon.

Well, we all know what happened from there. And neither man has ver been forgotten for what he each then left to the world as his legacy memory in baseball history.

Bobby Thompson fired “the shot heard ’round the world. New York Giant fans went out to bars and also home to celebrate their club’s miracle capture of the 1951 National League pennant.

Mighty Casey – struck out. The fans of Mudville went out to the bars and also home to cry over a few beers or a tap or two mug dips into the old whiskey keg.

The walk-off home run and the hope-killing K in your club’s last  time at bat in a game are both two of the most memorable moments in a baseball game.  Imagine how we might have remembered both these men differently today, had their outcomes been reversed.

Who would remember Bobby Thomson today, had he struck out back in 1951 and brought Willie Mays to the plate against Ralph Branca of the Dodgers? Would Branca have faced Mays? Probably. Would we remember what Mays did or didn’t do? You bet, but especially so, had it been either a home run or a strikeout.

How about old Casey? If he homers at the end of the poem, would we have long remembered the “Joy of Mudville” or simply written off the poem a long time ago as a hackneyed celebration of the heroic moment?

Here’s another HR/K situational  reversal to ponder in closing: It is October 15, 1986. The New York Mets have taken a 7-4 lead over the Houston Astros through the top of the 16th in Game Six of the National League Championship Series. The Astros rally, however, scoring two runs in the bottom of the 14th and, with Glenn Davis representing the tying run at second with two outs, Kevin Bass is coming to the plate to face the Mets nasty veteran lefty, Jesse Orosco.

Bass strikes out swinging, pulling away from a low pitch outside from Orosco. Game over. Mets take the NL pennant. The Astros will have no opportunity to go after the Mets with their ace – and New York’s nemesis – Mike Scott.

What if ….

What if Orosco’s pitch had been a little higher and closer to the plate?

What if Kevin Bass had guessed it was coming and been leaning out to reach it with the sweet spot?

What if Kevin had caught it well enough to send the pitch darting like a rising rope to right field?

What if we all first think it’s a line drive out? Then we think it’s going to be a game-tying double off the right field wall?

What if we finally see it dip over the wall for a game-winning home run?

What if a moment of shocked silence is quickly followed by the loudest roar in Astrodome history?

What if all this Astros-wishful wonder about Kevin Bass on that fateful day in 1986 had all been true?

…. If it had been so, where would Kevin Bass be today in our Hall of Greatest Astros Moments?

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2 Responses to “Strikeout Memories and Might Have Beens”

  1. Bob Hulsey Says:

    I believe you are talking about the 16th inning for Bass’ memorable strikeout which was already coming up in my mind as I was still reading about Casey and Thomson. Had Bass hit a home run, would it have been remembered as the Greatest Playoff Game Ever or would it have become merely a footnote because Mighty Gotham had fallen and lowly Mudpatchville had triumphed? I suspect all those baseball writers from Mighty Gothan would have written more about Orosco the Goat instead of Bass the Hero.

    Now, from this painful reminded of Astros playoff past, how about another one in 2005? Game 5 of the NLCS. Two on, two out and down, 4-2, in the ninth, mighty Albert Pujols crushed an 0-1 Brad Lidge pitch clean out of Downtown Houston to give the Cardinals a temporary reprieve and stealing from Houstonians a chance for an all-night party. How might Lidge’s career changed had he struck out Pujols (or even got a pop up to end the game?). How might Pujols’ career changed? How might the Astros have done in the 2005 World Series with Roy Oswalt as the Game One pitcher instead of a gimpy Roger Clemens?

    We can only guess.

    • Bill McCurdy Says:

      “We can only guess” … and painfully play with the imagery of what might have been,

      Thanks, Bob, for catching my extra inning error. For some reason that game always wants to take me back to innings 9 and 14. By the 16th, we were just wishing on air for Bass to do something, but old Jesse had him in his pocket all the way. Or so it seemed, as things turned out.

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