The bond between soccer and baseball

October 12, 2012

Jayson Werth and Nationals fans go wild after 9th-inning home run. (Associated Press)

Baseball has reminded us again why soccer is so compelling.

The Washington Nationals and Baltimore Orioles were involved in separate playoff games Thursday that featured 22 combined innings but just 21 hits and six runs. The two events lasted a total of 7 hours 26 minutes.

And yet, fans in the nation’s capital are calling the Nats-Cardinals game one of the most memorable events in Washington sports history. In Charm City, they’ll long remember the Orioles-Yankees midnight-defying marathon in the Bronx.

Low scoring, high drama. Sounds familiar.

Tiresome complaints about soccer’s 1-0 and 2-1 games have gone the way of dial-up Internet service as more Americans, especially a younger generation, have embraced the game’s majesty, history, intricacies and, most importantly to this conversation, the constant state of tension.

There was a wealth of scoring in the other two baseball games Thursday: The Giants defeated the Reds, 6-4, and the Tigers thumped the Athletics, 6-0. Both were the culmination of compelling playoff series. Those who enjoy points were satisfied. Both ended with a mad rush from dugout to mound.

But aside from fans in the Bay Area, Detroit and Cincinnati, the baseball nation was riveted to the games with few runs and endless heart-skipping moments.

For sports with a vast gulf in continuity of play, baseball and soccer have common bonds.

A late-inning swing by wonderboy Bryce Harper captivates like maestro Lionel Messi‘s free kick in the 84th minute. Gio Gonzalez curves a pitch like David Beckham bends a cross.

Subtle communication between pitcher and catcher parallels a goalkeeper positioning his defenders in the wall. A batter sacrificing a runner to second or swinging away is like a set-piece specialist deciding whether to go for goal or floating the ball to the head of a teammate. An infield shift mirrors a midfielder dropping deeper in the formation.

An elegant sliding catch in the outfield equates to a perfectly timed slide tackle in the box. A leaping grab at the center field fence is the same as a soaring keeper touching a searing shot over the crossbar. Each pitching change and pinch runner is analyzed like Sir Alex Ferguson‘s substitutions in the second half of a tight match.

Jayson Werth‘s courageous ninth-inning at-bat and home run for the Nationals on Thursday unleashed a game-winning ruckus like the reaction on a goal on the final touch of added time. Amid the delirium on the field and in the grandstands, the defeated make an anonymous walk to shelter.

At a fundamental level, the sports also intersect:

Once you leave the game, your night is over.

A ball that touches the border is in play.

Argue with the game officials all you want, but for better or worse, the ruling almost never changes.

There are multiple game officials, but one (home plate umpire, referee) holds most of the power.

Baseball has ballclubs. Soccer has clubs.

Baseball has Fenway and Wrigley. Soccer has Old Trafford and Anfield.

Derek Jeter. Ryan Giggs.

The playing surface has few markings.

A manager is baseball’s leader. A manager (in most of the world) is soccer’s boss.

Fans eagerly await the starting lineup, knowing little will change through the course of competition. (Pitchers excluded.)

When extra innings or extra time is required, the period is played out in full.

Both sports are meant to be played on natural grass with an unobstructed view of the heavens.

A team and city are intrinsically linked. With due respect to the Mets, the Yankees define New York. With a tip of the cap to Everton, Liverpool is synonymous with Merseyside.

So enjoy the conclusions of the Nats and Orioles’ series tonight.

Here’s hoping for a pair of 1-0 outcomes.

 

Steven Goff is The Post’s soccer writer. His beats include D.C. United, MLS and the international game, as well as local college basketball.
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Steven Goff · October 12, 2012