Thursday, June 26, 2014

underneath a rock

That's where this comes to you from, if I had my way about it.  This will probably be short, which you don't deserve after two days of radio silence caused by me hanging on to the CWS finals and neurotically pausing the DVR for like 30 minutes at a time, racing forward, racing backward, and generally watching the games in a way totally unenvisioned by live TV viewers of 15 years ago.

It'll be short because I've never wanted to write anything less in my life**, and because my usual style is useless here.  Simply put, I haven't been so stung by a loss since the '09 Stanley Cup Finals, and that one sapped all hockey interest from me for months.  It lasted almost to the next year's playoffs.

It's the knowledge that it is incredibly damn hard to get back to this spot.  That's what haunted me then and that's what haunts me now.  And this: this was a team that absolutely deserved to win a national championship.  So much resilience, so many gritty performances, gone to waste for the want of any one of a thousand things that all went the wrong way.  And that's stinger #3 - knowing that UVa played so well that you could literally change just one event in either of two games and today would be a celebration.

Fact is, UVa generated five times the opportunities that Vanderbilt did.  And Vanderbilt cashed in on 100% of the chances they had, which makes all the difference when you only convert about 25% of your own - and makes it sting knowing you could've won by converting 26%.

Everybody hates hearing the losers say, "the better team lost," and especially anything about the officiating, but it's just so damn hard not to sometimes.  All it took to lose this series was one inning from hell, two rinky-dink garbage runs, and a well-timed towering blast.  Win 3/4 of the battles, lose the war.

And, by the way, no help from the umpires.  When you complain about the umpires, people usually jump in and say, "that's not why we lost," proceed to lament missed opportunities, and the argument goes on as if the two positions are mutually exclusive.  They're not.  Yes, not scoring on uncountable RISP opportunities is pretty much the reason for all this - that doesn't make the umpires suddenly good.  I don't have the stomach or patience for this kind of exercise - at least not right now - but it wouldn't be hard to put together a video of the apparently octopus-shaped strike zone from home plate blue last night.  Josh Sborz left after one inning in large part because he didn't get the shin-high, three-foot-wide strike zone that Carson Fulmer did.  And then the zone got even less consistent as time went on.  Did you notice ESPN's "K Zone" at all from about the 6th inning onward?  You did not.  And - I'm aware of the "transfer rule" but that was one of the most egregiously bad applications of it that ever existed.  Had Derek Fisher been called safe - well, you always have to be careful about declaring what would've happened afterwards, because then some coach or pitcher or someone would've made a different decision.  But the sequence that followed - a balk and a hit - at least makes it more likely that you can say it made a difference.  The announcers were unanimous in calling that a huge break.

I know we'll have most of this pitching staff back next year, but seriously - it's gonna take a little while before I care.  This team is the one that got away.  There's only one thing that can fix this - you know what that is, but it's a fan luxury to just be able to reset every year and hope for it.  There's a few pro careers beginning soon for guys that missed their one chance.

**Though I've also rarely felt so obligated.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for pulling it together enough to write this. I agree this stings more than a sports loss has in a very long time. I don't want anything to do with sports of any kind for the foreseeable future.

I agree with all the reasons you cited. But also, the knowledge that we didn't nearly play our best -- that we can blame our own mistakes as much as we can blame anything else. Our own errors gave them games 1 and 3 (and that one inning... talk about a statistical anomaly). I'd like to think the players won't be kicking themselves over those mistakes for years, but I'm a mere fan, and I can't see myself ever letting go of it, so... poor guys. BOC, too.

Fantastic team, golden opportunity, incredibly painful outcome.

Anonymous said...

I would love to see someone put together a video displaying the wild inconsistency of the strike zone. I don't agree with calling pitches barely above the ankles strikes regardless of consistency.

In my opinion, giving Fulmer anything above the shoestring gave Vandy the momentum and combined with a shitty ballpark, suffocated our offense.

Another part that has been hard for me to get over is Kenny Towns getting hit in the 8th with runners on 2nd and 3rd and 1 out. He had been making good contact almost every at-bat down the stretch. I can't help but think he at least ties it up if he is thrown strikes.

Overall, it seemed like Vandy caught every break with umps, the ridiculous home run, Papi hitting balls to the deepest part of the grand canyon, and Fisher hitting one off the pitcher's spikes which deflected to the shortstop in Game 1. I can't think of one big break that went our way.

Winston Wood, College 1972 said...

I suspect that this loss will be chewed over for a long time. The blown calls, the stranded runners, the high hopes and the bruising outcome. It plays right into the whole Virginia close-but-no-cigar sports phenomenon. Twenty national championships is nothing to sneer at, but how many more could there have been if the lacrosse shot doesn't hit the pipe, the ace pitcher doesn't get sick, etc., etc., etc.? If there was a NCAA championship for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, the 'Hoos would be perennial contenders.

The thing that will be most remembered, of course, will be Kirby's meltdown in Game One. It's been nice to see everyone try to buck him up, reassure him that one inning does not a career make. He'll be back next year and no one wants him to obsess on it; with all the guys on this team leaving to play pro ball, they'll need him.

Unfortunately, that's not how life works. In sports on the big stage, failure is forever. Just ask Bill Buckner. Fair or not, Kirby will have to deal with the might-have-beens for the rest of his life. As will Brian O'Connor, the coach who left him in six runs too long.

BostonHoo said...

I honestly do not think the best team lost. Ace pitcher meltdown, critical infield errors, failure of timely hitting ... this is why Virginia lost. Trying to blame it on anyone other than the guys in the Cavalier uniforms is delusional. Championship teams make their own luck. Our guys failed (choked?) on the big stage and we will all have to live with that for a long time.