Surprise slugfest shatters expectations of a humdrum night of baseball, inspiring a veteran scribe to take an original trip around the horn of Ernest Lawrence Thayer’s classic, published June 3, 1888
By Rod Mickleburgh
Earlier this week, on a beautiful night for baseball, I was at the Skydome for what hardly promised to be a classic ball game, between the struggling Blue Jays and woeful White Sox. But my friend Peter McNelly, having spent part of his boyhood in Chicago, remains a diehard Sox fan, and me, well, I love baseball at any level, so off we went. Of course, since baseball ever produces the unexpected, what transpired on the field, against all expectation, was as exciting a game as I can remember (and I remember Mazeroski’s homer!).
It was an old-fashioned slugfest, with more twists and turns than the Monte Carlo Grand Prix. It was a pitchers’ duel all right, as in who would get to the showers first: the Jays’ R.A. Dickey, whose knuckleball danced about as much as I did at my high school Spring Prom, or White Sox starter John Danks, whose performance was as clammy as his name suggests. Both got an early dousing after a mere five innings of terrible hurling, with the Blue Jays ahead 6-5.
The hit parade continued, enhanced by more bad pitching, poor Toronto fielding (how hard is it to catch a lazy fly ball to right field?) and failures by the hometown lads to turn the double play. As the game see-sawed back and forth, however, it sure was fun to watch. José Bautista had three doubles and five RBIs, while the Jays’ power-hitting third baseman Josh Donaldson had scored all four times up, following a homer, a double, a single and a walk.
Still, heading to the bottom of the ninth, the White Sox led 9-7. With their ace reliever David Robertson and his intimidating 0.98 ERA in the game to close out the Jays, there didn’t seem much hope. What happened next inspired me to poetry. (Apologies to Ernest Thayer’s classic Casey at the Bat, while Donald, naturally, is the heroic Josh Donaldson. ‘nuff said.)
The outlook wasn’t brilliant for the Hogtown nine that day:
The score stood nine to seven, with but an inning left to play,
And when the lights-out closer strode atop the mound,
A pall-like silence fell upon the patrons of the ground.
Quite a few got up to leave in deep despair.
The rest hung on to hope that rises o so rare.
We thought, “If only Donald could get a whack at that—
We’d put up even money now, with Donald at the bat.”
But Thole preceded Donald, as did the man José,
And the former was utility, while the latter no rosé.
So upon that Blue Jay multitude grim melancholy sat,
For there seemed but little chance of Donald getting up to bat.
But Thole let drive a single, to the wonderment of all,
And much DL-ed José tore the cover off the ball;
And when the turf had lifted, and we saw what had occurred,
There was Reyes safe at second, and Thole hugging third.
Then from 10,000 throats and more there rose a lusty roar;
It rumbled through the harbour, it rattled downtown’s core.
It pounded on the Parkway and deafened where I sat,
For Donald, mighty Donald, was advancing to the bat.
There was ease in Donald’s manner, as he stepped up to the plate;
There was strength in Donald’s bearing and a purpose to his gait.
And when, responding to the cheers, he gave his bat a swish,
No stranger in the crowd could doubt ‘twas Donald at the dish.
All our eyes were on him as he took a practice swing;
So many tongues applauded, and his eyes they seemed to sting.
Then while the haughty hurler ground the ball into his glove,
Defiance flashed in Donald’s stance, from him there was no love.
And now the horsehide sphere came hurtling through the air,
And Donald stood a-watching it in lofty manner there.
Close by the sturdy batsman the ball unheeded sped—
“That ain’t my style,” said Donald. “Ball one!” the umpire said.
With a smile of Blue Jay charity, great Donald’s visage shone;
He toed the batter’s box, and urged the ball game on.
He waited for the pitcher. Once more the baseball hissed;
And Donald took a mighty swing, and mighty Donald missed.
The yells were getting louder, we all jumped up and down;
And even the crusty skipper could not quite make a frown.
Now the moundsman holds the ball, and now he lets it go,
And now the air is shattered with the force of Donald’s blow.
Oh, somewhere in this blighted land, the air is full of gloom,
Nickelback plays somewhere, and somewhere there is doom;
And somewhere cranks are cursing, and somewhere change is hard,
But there is joy in Hogtown – mighty Donald had gone yard.