the wow series

words: david roth

Here’s one moment out of many: This was the bottom of the seventh inning in Game 3, in Houston, back when the Los Angeles Dodgers and Houston Astros were tied at one game apiece in the World Series. The home team was up 5-3 and the bases were loaded when George Springer, Houston’s leadoff hitter, got a pitch to hit from Ross Stripling, the Dodgers’ sixth pitcher of the game.


He hit almost all of it, or just about as much of a ball as a bat can get, and a home crowd that was already rustling urgently naturally kicked up one of those swelling postseason roars that sounds more like weather than anything that any number of sufficiently motivated people could create: low and raw and first bass-y and then trebled out in the red, all primal and fritzy and strange. Los Angeles center fielder Chris Taylor caught the ball on the warning track, about his body’s breadth from the wall; the sound changed, and Fox’s cameras caught fans processing what looked like dozens of individuated near-death experiences. Stripling, grinning and barely vindicated, slapped his glove and mouthed the word “wow.”


In a World Series that has given us every type of enjoyable baseball experience over its first five games, Game 3 was The Pleasantly Boring One. Yu Darvish couldn’t get his pitches to do what he wanted them to do, the Astros got out to a healthy early lead, and the game just kind of kept working itself out as it had otherwise been working itself out; the Dodgers got no closer, the Astros were never significantly more at risk, and so Houston went up in the series. That is all history, and not the interesting kind.


Then by the end of the weekend, the Astros had lost and won another game, in ways economic and protracted, shocking and inevitable, predictable and unprecedented. Game 5, which went 10 innings and ended 13-12 and was more or less as long as a Godfather/Apocalypse Now double feature, included basically all of those attributes on its own. Since then, it has been that kind of series.


Small as it may have been in the grand scheme of things, Ross Stripling’s vanished moment of awe neatly sums up  this series. While It lacks the obvious curse-reversal significance and Night Before The Apocalypse vibe of last year’s Cubs/Indians series, this World Series has felt like something even more universally meaningful—a real and overdue baseball renaissance. Baseball has needed “wow,” and that’s what this World Series has delivered best.




Think about the things you’ve already forgotten from this World Series even if you were watching it closely. Really, how well do you remember Yasiel Puig’s gentle ninth-inning anti-flip from Game 5, when he placed the bat that he had just used to dematerialize a pitch onto the ground as if it were filled with nitroglycerine, then rounded the bases with a weirdly grim exuberance? Do you even remember second base umpire Laz Diaz’s crotch absorbing an errant pickoff attempt from Astros reliever Chris Devenski that could have swung the outcome in Game 2?


These are rhetorical questions, but also they are not. Because the Series has been so close—after five games, the Dodgers have scored two more runs than the Astros and are on the brink of elimination as play resumes in Los Angeles—and so tense, the moments tend to crowd each other and back up into something that feels like one long, tightening game. It’s fun, but also it is a lot—it all contains more baseball, somehow, than it seems a World Series should be able to contain. There are some reasons why all this might be the case—two great teams, weird new baseballs, the blithely sadistic chaos that governs October baseball—but we already know those to be false, or anyway insufficient. The postseason renders the sport cruel and abrupt; the hazy endlessness of its summer version collapses into something notably more dense and cold. Every moment takes on a punishing promise. Any of these things we’ve already forgotten could have wound up being the thing that gets remembered for years after this. Or maybe that moment still hasn’t happened yet.


And at this point, after five games stuffed with more or less everything the sport is built to hold, there is still really no telling which of these teams has the upper hand; the Dodgers are down as the series returns to Los Angeles on Tuesday, but will play at least one more game at Dodger Stadium. That will help, as it always helps, but such conventional considerations at this point seem not so much quaint as absurd. It’s not that concepts like home-field advantage are outmoded or anything like that; they’re not, and never really will be. It’s just that this series, like so much of this postseason, seems either to be following a different set of conventions or not adhering to any rules at all.


Recognizable baseball things come and go—various incidences of overdetermined managerial bloopage, umpiring marred by nerves and the broader riding chaos of moments like these, high-tension offensive heroics and the perfectly metaphorical and perfectly literal fact that the baseballs being used in this series are apparently too slick for pitchers to spin effectively. These are all things we can point to as contributing factors. But no one who has watched any of this would or could feel sure crediting any one of them for having gotten us here. There’s something stranger and harder to place at work, and the role of that particular strain of puckish chance has become more undeniable, if not any more distinct, as the series has played out.


Some of it is just what happens when two really good teams play against each other in October. The margin for error shrinks and the role of chance (or whatever other universal force you might imagine has some sort of rooting interest in all this) tends to expand. Some of it is new, maybe, but most of what has made this series harrowing, hilarious, and vital is that just about every strange and wonderful thing that is latent in the game has made itself felt at some point. This is the “wow” part that lives in moments, but it is also the thing that points forward, in the direction of that renaissance.


Even by the standards of other American Institutions, baseball has a difficult time with its past. Moments of shame and pride jostle over the last century and change, a time during which baseball came to see and sell itself as an irreplaceable American thing. One of America’s first and bloodiest principles is that nothing is irreplaceable, and baseball has been outpaced and possibly outmoded by  the NFL and perhaps the NBA. But baseball, which insists upon seeing itself as a prime slab of corn-fed, old-style Americana, dorky and a little heavy on the pageantry, seems to have ceded the present. But this postseason is something different. American institutions do not characteristically embrace progress glady, and the way in which baseball has been pried open hasn’t always been easy to watch. But this World Series has  shown what the future of the game might look like, once the past is finally put where it belongs.


The Dodgers and Astros are dizzyingly diverse in their makeup and generally exuberant in their performance;the same can mostly be said of the Cleveland Indians and New York Yankees and the Chicago Cubs and, at least until Bryce Harper goes to get his first billion someplace else, probably the Washington Nationals as well. These teams make baseball look fun. And Even as this World Series gives away the last bits of awe it has left, there is not just the familiar promise of next season but of that next era, a time when the game of baseball looks and feels more like this series—not just virtuosic, but aesthetically strange; not “colorful” but genuinely and surprisingly expressive; not like anything the past has conditioned us to expect, but like the future.