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SportsPulse: The 2019 Washington Nationals should always be remembered for slaying Goliath and winning their first ever title. But as Trysta Krick puts it, maybe they were Goliath all along. USA TODAY
In theory, it was a good idea.
Hop on a plane headed hundreds of miles per hour away from the Worst Season Ever to a continent where baseball isn’t a national pastime, much less played on television in the wee hours of the morning.
Don’t check email.
But, as it went, Anibal Sanchez had a no-hitter through six innings that night. Sanchez, who used to play for the Tigers, is remembered here for his humility: Two years ago, with his career on life support, the veteran right-hander accepted a minor-league assignment to Triple-A Toledo in the name of saving himself as a starting pitcher.
Now, flying far away from baseball, its pull began anew.
[ Max Scherzer, Anibal Sanchez win 2019 World Series with Nationals ]
Sanchez, who made a resurgence as a starter in Atlanta last season, his first away from Detroit, was pitching Game 1 of the National League Championship Series for the Nationals. He lost the no-hitter in the eighth, with me somewhere above the Atlantic Ocean. It would be the last baseball I’d partake in all season, I swore.
It was a promise impossible to keep.
Nationals pitcher Max Scherzer waves to the crowd.
Nationals pitcher Max Scherzer waves to the crowd. (Photo: Geoff Burke, USA TODAY Sports)
That’s the thing about this job: Its eyes stay on you like a celebrity on the cover of a tabloid in a supermarket checkout line — fixated no matter how much you try to move out of its view. And, as I learned over the past three weeks, trying to escape it — much like the game of baseball itself — is a game of failure.
There was my beat-writer friend, stuck in the postseason. An animated image of a pitcher scratching at the brim of his baseball cap. A National League East executive wondering about Nicholas Castellanos’ makeup, to which I responded, “He’s a good teammate, hard worker. Plays hard. Make-up wise, he’s the guy in CHC this year, not DET. I’d take him all day.”
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There was the next weekend, well past whatever counts as closing time in Italy, when it was brought to my attention that there was quite the baseball game happening. Against my better judgment, MLB.tv worked, Jose Altuve soon hit a walk-off home run to send the Astros to the World Series and that — that would be the last baseball I’d watch all season, I swore.
I didn’t delete Twitter in Tigers rehab. Kept checking my email, and one day, noticed a message from the Cubs in the clutter box, detailing a number of front office changes made to their 84-win team. Meanwhile in Detroit, general manager Al Avila continues to take arrows for his associates, leaning on loyalty as the losing Tigers try to navigate the ever-choppy waters of their rebuilding process.
There were sporadic texts from the best kind of baseball people — those who have become friends first, sources second — and a stray phone call late one night from someone who told me that Ilitch Holdings brought in a public relations research firm to meet with their companies’ communication departments and share ideas on how to get Detroiters and the media off their backs. We exchanged many ideas.
HOUSTON, TEXAS – OCTOBER 30: Max Scherzer #31 of the Washington Nationals celebrates in the locker room after defeating the Houston Astros in Game Seven to win the 2019 World Series at Minute Maid Park on October 30, 2019 in Houston, Texas. The Washington Nationals defeated the Houston Astros with a score of 6 to 2. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TEXAS – OCTOBER 30: Max Scherzer #31 of the Washington Nationals celebrates in the locker room after defeating the Houston Astros in Game Seven to win the 2019 World Series at Minute Maid Park on October 30, 2019 in Houston, Texas. The Washington Nationals defeated the Houston Astros with a score of 6 to 2. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) (Photo: Getty Images)
I went to church twice a week, one time at 6 a.m. At the suggestion of a friend, I went to confession and did, indeed, feel better afterwards. I read four books but no box scores. I watched people but not a single inning of baseball — so far.
But my favorite sport’s slow pull finally sucked me in on the morning of Oct. 22, in the worst of ways, as I awakened to 37 text messages about the Astros being awful again.
While it apparently did not occur to the vast majority, who rallied behind a Sports Illustrated reporter for exposing Astros assistant general manager Brandon Taubman for being a bad human, it certainly occurred to me that there was another female reporter out there — one who Taubman’s comments were directed at, who saw the arrogance in his eyes and heard the vengeance in his voice — hidden away.
A reporter whose hands were likely tied from telling her side of the story.
Washington Nationals starting pitcher Anibal Sanchez is held aloft by second baseman Brian Dozier at World Series Championship Parade.
Washington Nationals starting pitcher Anibal Sanchez is held aloft by second baseman Brian Dozier at World Series Championship Parade. (Photo: Brad Mills, USA TODAY Sports)
I escaped Tigers rehab on Oct. 30, arriving in a small sports bar in Europe near midnight, before Game 7 of the World Series, and offered the owner 20 Euros to let me stay and watch. There was no need, he said: An hour later, a group of mostly English regulars came in; there was also Nick from Houston, wearing an Altuve jersey.
Afterwards, I was very happy for Sanchez and Max Scherzer, who, as I wrote in mid-July, is the best of all the Tigers that have left town. I was happy for Daniel Hudson and Gerardo Parra, two players who very generous with their time for a rookie baseball reporter in Arizona in 2011.
I told Nick I felt bad for him, quickly couching it, saying I really didn’t. They heard some stories, we drank some beers, and I finally put the Worst Season Ever behind me by embracing the very thing I fled there to avoid in the first place.
Contact Anthony Fenech at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @anthonyfenech. Read more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter.