And for the first time, the crowd went silent. Pablo Sandoval lay on his back, arms raised. Madison Bumgarner and Buster Posey met. It was over.
A journey that began a month ago with the wild, wild Wildcard game against Oakland ended with Alex Gordon 90 feet away from the tie against the city across the bay.
You could feel all the emotion come out in that moment, but not a second earlier. Within about 10 minutes, the crowd had mostly filtered out, with the exception of the San Francisco Giants fans congregating behind the dugout in anticipation of the awards presentations, and a boisterous group of home fans still chanting “Let’s Go Royals!” behind the home dugout.
I spent most of Game 7 walking among the crowd, which was easy to do on this night. It seemed as though they must have flooded the market with standing room only seats, because even compared to other playoff games, the crowds around the top of each section along the concourses were generally five or six deep.
I had spent previous World Series games primarily in the left field auxiliary press area (the .390 Bar & Grill–named after George Brett’s batting average in 1980–served as the location to accommodate the extra postseason press). The press area was nice enough–hey, I got in the door!–but it didn’t have the same feel of being part of the game as say, sitting press row at a basketball game, where you are very much in the action, can watch the coaching mannerisms across the floor, can see the players up close.
I didn’t have an assigned press row seat in the first few rows to watch directly down to the field. There were seats around the top bar (sorry, taps closed, but burgers and hot dogs available) and more seating at the top level, but the views weren’t great. I would either have to watch peering over someone’s shoulder, or watch on TV along with pretty much everyone else. It seemed like a high majority of those who had views of the field were instead staring at the televisions above. You could feel the sound of the crowd, but roughly 30% of it. It was more knowing that it had to be loud because, well, you were hearing something coming through the glass.
So with all that in mind, there was no way I was going to spend Game 7 of a World Series in there, staidly waiting to recap the game. I was using my media credential to move around and amongst the crowd and feel the game, for better or worse.
I started in section 210, at the SRO at the top, at the game’s outset. Pretty good vantage point to see the infield from where I stood. When Mike Moustakas’ made the diving play to get Buster Posey to end the first, the guys three rows down were screaming “Moose” and throwing fives. I sprinted down and got in on the action. I was assuredly not in the press box anymore.
I was set up in the left field SRO when the Royals tied it in the bottom of the 2nd. I could see the batter, but not really tell where the ball went. It was more about being part of the crowd in that section.
By the end of the third, I was near the Crown scoreboard. The Fox set to the left field side of the scoreboard (where Big Papi, Frank Thomas, and Nick Swisher would do their thing) was there but the personalities were gone; others were holding down the fort so an unruly fan could not get into the set. It would have, honestly, been a great vantage point to watch the game above the crowd in dead center, though I can understand why a celebrity would get tired of the constant fan yelling for them to look up for a pic.
I moved to the right field side, listening to a group of guys (jokingly, I believe) discuss the rioting potential in Kansas City after a win. A Fox cameraman responsible for crowd shots was right behind us, and kept running in and out at the bottom of the third inning. Billy Butler would foul the ball off, and he would back up again. He did that like three or four times in anticipation of the getting the shot of the fountains directly below us, going to the next break. Finally, Butler obliged with a ground ball to Brandon Crawford, and the fountains got their camera time.
By the fourth, I was closer to left field SRO. I would like to say that I saw how the Giants scored the ultimately decisive run, but you’ll have to rely on others (I heard something about Infante slipping, but could not see him). For the bottom of the fourth, top of the fifth, I stopped into the Rivals bar, to check in on the crowd. There are plenty of TV’s with excellent sight lines to see the game somewhere in the bar, and you can hear the crowd. The place was packed. Still, a $600 cover charge to watch a game on TV seems a tad much; too each his own. The inning ended and I moved on. This was not the place for me.
I made my way down among the actual seats after that, down past where I had purchased a seat for the Wildcard Game in right field, to walk around the main aisle toward the right field foul pole. Maybe it was being away from the “there to drink, socialize, and watch on TV” crowd, but the energy changed when Madison Bumgarner came jogging out of the dugout directly in front of us. There was a large round of boos. The crowd rose to its feet. Bumgarner’s arrival definitely ratcheted up the feel of the game. This was it. Beat the best or go home trying.
That vantage near the foul pole was a lively scene. I had a friendly chat with police officers (“we don’t have to look too hard for the drunks, they’ll find us”). I sent Michael this video just for Stephen, of the guy who also had free reign along the same row as me. When a guy with blue and white wig and white jeans went sprinting back and forth after an inning ended, the old man behind me in the first row (I was up against the rail, and told him to tap me if I ever blocked his view) tapped me and said, “I think he’s on drugs.”
A happy Giants fan went skipping down the walkway as well after Bumgarner finished off an inning. It was an eclectic, charming mix, and so I stayed a little longer. Plus, I could see straight down the line, see Bumgarner pitching, and see the plate when right handed batters were up. (Where was that first pitch to Cain that was called a strike?)
I eventually made my way back around to near the press box for the 8th inning. The feel at that point was that the Giants weren’t getting anymore, and it was going to come down to the bottom of the ninth. I stopped into grab a water, said hi to the very nice lady that had to deal with telling the inebriated folks that would invariably wander into the .390 Bar that it was off limits for the World Series without a credential, and made my way back to my spot where I stood when the Royals last scored.
The belief, even with Bumgarner returning for yet another inning, was still there. This was the classic sports moment. Guy dominates for 20 innings. Plucky underdogs, who had started all this with a huge rally, down one at home. Hosmer gets ahead. Hope. Strike out. Groan goes up. Billy Butler pops out, and it starts to fade.
Then Gordon hit a ball to the outfield. I saw the hit cleanly. I did not see the aftermath below me. My first reaction was the ball had a chance, and I turned to Gordon. He was running to second. Then, he was running to third? Could he go home? The ball came flying in, and the answer appeared to be no. One more second, a bobble by the relay, and it may all have been different.
Salvador Perez and his notorious plate (in)discipline didn’t inspire much hope. Other than, well, he had homered off Bumgarner to score the only run against him in the entire series, and it was Perez’ improbable hit down the third base bag that started this whole run to end the Wildcard Game.
And then, for the first time in a month, the crowd went silent.
Life’s a journey, not a destination. There is often a debate in sports, and I’ll acknowledge it’s hardly the most pressing debate of our times. Would you rather experience the gut punch of a close loss in a crucial game, or not? Better to be the team that loses four Super Bowls? Or just go through a decade of suck?
Yeah, give me the last month anytime, even if the final hit doesn’t come.