When the magic died

I’ve waited a week for the magic to return.  But it has not, and I am now convinced as far as Arizona’s voodoo baseball team is concerned, it is gone for the year.  Maybe forever.  There was a time I almost believed the gods would over-turn that final Diamondbacks’ loss in the playoffs, 3-2 in 10 innings, to the Milwaukee Brewers on a technicality.

But magic being magic, fickle thing, it oozed away into another corner, as it always does.  Magic is restless.  It never sits still.  Just when you think it’s yours, poof, it’s goes away.  It had long overstayed its limit in Arizona, providing the good fortune that led to a near unbelievable 48 come-from-behind victories in regular season.   That’s more than half of the 94 games won.  Many of these rallies came in dramatic fashion from the team’s lesser lights, some of whom failed to even finish the season on the Dbacks’ roster.  Willy Mo Pena and Brandon Allen to name a few.  That was the magic of it all.  A few such magical moments are understandable but a preponderance of them is, well, unreal.

I can remember the exact moment when the magic left the Diamondbacks during that final Game 5 in Milwaukee, though it was not until later that I realized it.

That moment came in the 8th inning and Ryan Roberts was at bat with the bases loaded, two out, the Dbacks down, 2-1.  Though not nearly so talented as right fielder Justin Upton, it was Roberts, the tattooed third baseman known as Tatman and the most intense player you can imagine, who was the heart and soul of the Dbacks this season.  Roberts was Mr. Clutch.  He’d hit game winners and started rallies so many times you began to take him for a sure-thing.

Who could forget the Dodgers game a week before?  That’s when Roberts hit a walk-off grand slam to win the game with two out in the 9th.  That slam, to me anyway, was emblematic of this entire improbable season.  Roberts rounded the bases in joy, pumping an arm in imitation of the famous home run hit many years ago by the team’s manager, Kirk Gibson.

That’s how I felt in the 8th inning.   Roberts would deliver as usual.  He was 31 years old, playing as a regular for the first time in his career.  He hadn’t even made the roster during spring training and was sent down to Reno in the minors.  And now the baseball fairy was about to sprinkle more magic dust on him.

But this time I was wrong, and Roberts didn’t come through.  He bounced an 0-2 pitch to the shortstop who forced the runner at second base, ending the inning.  And although the Dbacks rallied in the 9th to tie, I felt something had changed.  Roberts was taken out of the game in the top of the 9th and could only watch as Nyjer Morgan began his fateful swing that scored the speedy Carlos Gomez from second to win the series and send the stunned Dbacks home until 2012.

It was clear.  The Brewers dodged so many bullets in that game.  They should’ve lost but didn’t.  The magic, and that’s what it was, rested in their corner.

I had a debate on a message board with a hot-eyed Dbacks fan who wanted to believe his team was loaded with talent, that it was all about “hard work and determination.”   It was obvious he did not believe in magic.   He summed up Roberts’s grand slam against the Dodgers in two words.  Hanging slider.  I did not know what the pitch was that Roberts hit that night, but I was sure of one thing.  There must be thousands of “hanging sliders” thrown in the course of a season, bad pitches that go for outs.  Or maybe they are fouled off, whiffed or taken without a swing.  Not every bad pitch by any stretch of imagination is hit out of the ballpark.  But Roberts connected on this bad pitch in the biggest way possible.   A special moment so it seemed that had nothing to do with talent, hard work or determination.  Given that same pitch, Babe Ruth may’ve popped out or singled.

I don’t have much patience with those who believe there is no magic in baseball or in life.  If you don’t believe things are out of your hands, then I think you miss the point of being here on this planet.  And I doubt the magic that sank its roots deeply into Arizona soil for several months will return anytime soon.

The Dbacks will have to play next season on their own.  The divine moments have passed.

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