Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Swinging Bunt

David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

Drew Smyly is seven innings into a perfect game.
He’s thrown nothing but sinkers and curveballs.
It’s a day game at Wrigley and the ball melts into a swirl of white t-shirts,
Materializes in the catcher’s mitt,
Then says hello-goodbye to each of the infielders in turn
As another Dodger slides his bat back into the bat rack.
Drew Smyly is seven innings into a perfect game.
Drew Smyly is about to be tackled by his catcher.

Yan Gomes lands and keeps rolling, longer than he needs to,
Eventually settling on his hands and knees, head hanging,
Not remotely like girls who throw their hair
Before them over their heads to dry in the sun.
Smyly comes to rest with his weight on his pitching elbow, legs crossed,
Like Reclining Venus in pinstripes. He shakes his head and smiles, “My bad.”

We all do that sometimes: Try so hard to help that we make things worse instead.
It would have been a tricky play for either of them, but doable.
Peralta was only halfway down the line when Smyly picked up the ball,
And just a few feet farther than that when a catcher landed on his head.

The fans stand and cheer as Smyly exits after eight scoreless.
Who are all these people, I wonder, 30,381 people
Free to watch a one o’clock game on a work day?

It’s Monday morning. I replay the video for the twentieth time.

I stack the home and away broadcasts on top of each other in iMovie
And play them concurrently, the announcers all stumbling over one another
Just like Smyly and Gomes. I feel like I’ve discovered something.

Launch Angle: -42°
Exit Velocity: 39.2 mph
Distance: 2 feet
Expected Batting Average: .240
Actual Batting Average: 1.000

As with so many things, the humanity is in the failure, in the mess.
If there’s one thing absolutely everyone can relate to
It’s having a body that doesn’t do what you want it to.
We don’t say, “That was a good piece of hitting,” when Yordan Alvarez,
Godlike, turns around a perfectly located slider below the zone
And launches it 450 feet straightaway into the batter’s eye.
We say it when he gets fooled, lurches forward, awkwardly sticks out his butt
But somehow keeps his weight back long enough to dump it over the shortstop.

I mean,
that’s a tough way to end it.
Just a well-executed curveball and he,
he hit it off the cap.
I think it broke his bat.”

The leap is the part that gets me. It was doomed, sure,
But if you’re Gomes, how could you not try? If the moment demands
That you vault your 212 pounds (plus gear) over another man,
Then up you go. He’s only 6-foot-2. Maybe you’ll make it,
Like those parents who lift cars with hysterical strength.
Is this perfect game not your baby?
If not for this very moment, what is all that lower half thickness for?
Slow the tape down to just the right speed, and for five frames
(For one-sixth of a second) it looks like he might make it.
Each of us would have done the same.
Each of us would have failed as badly.

It’s a matter of timing more than anything.
Catchers tackle pitchers all the time,
Toss aside their masks and leap into extremely tired arms.
Usually they wait until after the perfect game has been completed.

A long sliver of wood tumbles up the first base line, fitting
In the dumbest possible way on this play where
Everything and everyone crashes and scatters like sticks in the wind.
Except the ball, which Smyly somehow never coughed up.
On the ground, he idly turns it over in his hand.

That’s been so important for Smyly here today
Peralta—Little dribbler—a little nubber—third base side—left side
Tough play—And there won’t be a play—Aw—Don’t you dare
They collide—Oh no—Come on
Smyly and Gomes—That can’t be how it ends—collide and Peralta—Wow

The two men linger on the grass. Smyly smiles,
Doesn’t quite smile, takes in the scene.
See? Says his hat.
Why? Says his last name. Why?

It’s a clever play when executed well, but it’s not beautiful.
It doesn’t move you to watch a lefty bolt from the mound,
Chop his steps and circle the baseball, grab it from the grass,
Yank his body around, catch the runner by a step.
It’s too halting, the movements too calculated, to make you feel.
It’s more like watching a very tempting infomercial.
That’s an interesting solution to a problem, you think.

Davy Andrews is a Brooklyn-based musician and a contributing writer for FanGraphs. He can be found on Twitter @davyandrewsdavy.

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Smiling Politelymember
11 months ago

I am here for the Wallace Stevens reference, thank you!

11 months ago

Same here. Thank you, Davy.