A Perfect Moment

There was one perfect moment in the World Series. One single, flawless sporting instant that can never be surpassed, and is unlikely to be equaled. It wasn’t St. Louis’ moment of triumph at the end of Game 7 – particularly not from my point of view as a neutral observer. It wasn’t even David Freese’s walk-off home run at the end of Game 6.

The moment of perfection really had nothing to do with the Cardinals at all. No, the 18-carat moment was one of unfathomably exquisite pain, and belonged to Neftali Feliz, the Texas Rangers closer. He had gone 6 for 6 in save opportunities during the postseason, including saves in games 2 and 5 of the Series itself and he was dominating.

Going into the bottom of the 9th inning in Game 6 the Rangers were ahead 7-5. Feliz had put two men on base but had just secured the second out – Allen Craig looking on a called third strike – when David Freese came to the plate as the last hitter to stand between the Rangers and their dreams.

Freese had gone 0 for 3 in the game and Feliz, no doubt consumed with nerves, was probably just trying to breathe. The first pitch was a slider that missed badly off the outside corner. He leveled the count with another slider on the inside of the plate, while Freese sat on the fastball – you have to sit on the fastball as Feliz gets it over at up to 98mph. The next pitch was a 97mph heater and Freese just flailed at it and you go the feeling that he was a dead man walking with the next pitch coming.

At this point the Rangers were a single strike away from their first World Series title in franchise history. Feliz wound up and let it rip at 98mph on the outer half of the plate. Freese reached for it and slaps the ball – but when you slap a ball coming in that hard it goes some distance. In this case it headed straight for the right field fence, but the Rangers were playing their outfielders deep to avoid a game-tying double so Nelson Cruz had a bead on the fly ball. As he went back, relatively unhurried, it looked like he would bring it in and all of Texas got ready to erupt. Feliz himself must have thought it was going to be an out.

But it wasn’t. Somehow Cruz let the ball get over his head, it bounced back off the wall and Freese had tied the game with a 2 RBI triple.

As ambivalent as I was about the result, the runs didn’t interest me. What made me cry out and wince was what had just happened to Rangers closer Neftali Feliz. Every professional and sporting dream he had ever or will ever have was about to come to fruition – being the guy on the mound as his team wins the World Series. He had not failed once in the postseason, so couldn’t fail now. He was about to make history for his franchise, bringing home the Championship, writing his name into legend and giving him a lifetime of memories to replay in his head and smile. He could live another 80 years and he would not forget the spine-tingling pleasure of what he was about to accomplish and experience.

And it had blown up in his face.

In the tenth inning, the Rangers were again one strike from victory when another pitcher with a chance at sporting immortality served up a meatball for Lance Berkman to tie the game. And then in the 11th inning yet another nameless Rangers pitcher gave up the game-winning home run. Those were tough moments, and exciting ones, but they were the support acts – the guys who could have experienced greatness, and their failure was but an appendix to the flameout of the main who had to close the deal – the closer Feliz.

As a human being I was uneasy, feeling less like a fan than a shrouded onlooker at the public disemboweling of an innocent man.

As a spectator I remain grateful for a perfect moment.

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