It was the penultimate at bat of the season. It has remained there on my DVR list for 171 days:
Giants @ Reds Thu 10/11 12:00p 247 TBSHD. The playlist entry on the line above for the movie “Sucker Punch” sits there, mocking me.
I’ve watched the At Bat over and over again, not because I’m a masochist, although I confess a certain belief in the worth of suffering & sacrifice preceding the fruits of victory. I took the ’72 World Series loss to the Oakland A’s hard. I had felt we’d paid our dues in the form of Brooks Robinson two years earlier and again with a lost season in 1971. The year 1972 rightly belonged to a tested and retooled Big Red Machine. They were the better team, merely awaiting the formality of coronation. Then along came an ugly yellow and green-hued fate in the form of Mr. Outlier personified, Gene Tenace and his mysterious power surge; the punking of Johnny Bench during a routine intentional walk; the ignominious end culminating with the sight of owner and carnival barker Charlie O. Finley atop the visitor’s dugout with his wife, tap dancing on the Red’s fresh grave-of-a-season.
I hauled around that wretch of a World Series with me for, oh, I don’t know, some 18 years. For those old enough to remember, the World Championship of 1990 by an underdog team given no chance by the media, was sweet redemption made all the sweeter because of the arrogance of TLR and his blowed-up bash brothers—and how they reminded me so much of the mustachio’d arrogance of those ’72 A’s and their stupid white shoes.
So, on one level, Jay Bruce’s epic October At Bat feels like penance, or perhaps more accurately, a down payment on future glory. It is, if nothing else, a fascinating baseball moment, full of nuance and perhaps implications for a future that starts today.
Or so I like to think.
After a one out walk by Zack Cozart, a single by Joey and another single by Ludwick that plated Cozart, Jay Bruce strode to the plate, having already gone 1 for 3 with a walk in the game. With the Reds trailing 6-4 in the ninth, the kid referred to by some as “The Natural,” was looking for a mistake, something over the plate, something he could drive—nay, yank into the right field seats and reduce a little ballpark on the river to mass red and white hysteria.
Sergio Romo left one over the plate right away that Bruce fouled off harmlessly. His next pitch was where the first was supposed to be, down and out of the zone that Bruce, getting only the top third of the ball, left himself suddenly down 0-2. Now, Romo’s plan was simple: away, away, away and wait for the Reds’ slugger to get desperate and chase. Bruce’s job was obvious: protect the plate and just stay alive long enough for Romo to make a mistake and leave something out over the plate.
On October 11, 1972, Johnny Bench had slammed a one ball, two strike Dave Giusti change over the head of Roberto Clemente and into the right field seats in Riverfront, probably not too far away from where Moerlein House now stands. That was the single most exciting moment watching a baseball game I can remember.
Now, here stood Bruce, forty years to the day later, fighting his demons, attempting to turn Romo into a modern day Dave Giusti.
Jay took pitch 3 wide and away, then fouled off pitch 4, a down and away slider. Another down and way slider was fouled off, followed by a middle of the plate offering that ran off the plate, again rejected out of play. The 7th and 8th pitches were similarly spoiled by Bruce. Pitch 9 was a ball, low and very away. Pitch 10 was on the outside black and Jay yet again got enough of it to stay alive. Pitch 11 was a fastball up and in that might have caught the edge of the plate but was breathtakingly judged a ball. In retrospect, the two pitches that covered the plate most were the first and last pitches of this novel of a plate appearance.
The At Bat lasted nearly 9 minutes. Catcher Posey visited the mound twice. Bruce fouled off a total of 8 pitches, turning an 0 and 2 count full before flying out to left field.
So what? Game 5 will go down in Reds history as opportunity squandered. But what if Bruce has carried the At Bat around with him all winter in his back pocket? What if Todd Frazier, draped all over the railing in rapt attention, discovered the larger truth of the At Bat.
Does anyone understand process over results better than Joey Votto? In a game where fabulous success at the plate is conferred upon those who fail most of the time, Votto’s perspective, attention to detail, and knowledge gleened from the great hitters who came before, have transformed him from a very good baseball player to one of the game’s elite. Votto strives to be the Ted Williams of his generation. I might even be shortchanging his ambition, so high is his bar.
But Votto is an exotic member of his species. His special gifts may not be viewed as a template for success by younger players who view him from a distance with considerable wonder and awe. Everyone has watched Jay Bruce struggle and grow into his stardom. His example could be more accessible.
We’ve examined the back of every player’s baseball card and then some. With the exception of Arroyo, Phillips and Ludwick, this is a team with hard-to-measure potential. Cozart, Frazier, Meseraco and soon Hamilton will carry the future. What they learn from process over results, Joey Votto’s example, and yes, Jay Bruce’s At Bat, could be the unknown catalyst that produces unexpected personal achievement and carries this season deep into October.
Whatever the outcome, it’s fascinating to consider as we once again begin the journey on Route 162.