Since the day I got my season tickets in the mail, I’ve been thinking about this weekend. It would be a huge relief, I kept thinking, if the future wasn’t coming down to a final home series against the Cubs — if the Crew could lock up the Wild Card or Division before those three games.
But of course we knew all along it would come down to this.
I, of course, believe the boys are still very much In This Thing. Here’s one small reason: making the playoffs at this point would not even be the most unlikely baseball event I’ve seen in my short 16 years as a fan. Not by a long shot.
Nine years ago, in 1999, my buddy Danny and I went to a game at County Stadium in which the Brewers were playing the Cubs. At the time, the Brewers were in the middle of about a decade long of suck. The starting pitcher that night was Jim Abbott.
In those days, Milwaukee was the town where veteran players’ careers came to die, like an old wheezing dog, finally limping off the porch, walking in a circle three times under the big oak tree and keeling over. Abbott had a sometimes successful 10-year career — he had two stints each with the Angels and the White Sox, and pitched a no-hitter as a New York Fucking Yankee.
Those are American League teams. In the American League, there is a Designated Hitter who bats in the place of the pitcher. This is significant because, as Wiki puts it, “Abbott is best known for playing despite having been born without a right hand.”
“When preparing to pitch the ball, Abbott would rest a right-handed thrower’s glove on the end of his right forearm. After releasing the ball, he would quickly slip his hand into the glove, usually in time to field any balls that a two-handed pitcher would be able to field. Then he would remove the glove by securing it between his right forearm and torso, slip his hand out of the glove, and remove the ball from the glove, usually in time to throw out the runner, and sometimes even starting double plays.”
Abbott was a source of inspiration to many. I guess. I don’t mean to sound harsh or demeaning, but I didn’t think it was all that remarkable that he pitched with one hand. I mean, you only need one hand to pitch. OK, sometimes you have to use your glove hand to make a play, but if you pitch well enough, that’s a non-issue, right? In CC’s controversial one-hitter, he snatched a line drive with his bare pitching hand — a lefty, like Abbott. Of course, CC also fumbled a swinging bunt that was ruled the only hit of the game with the same hand.
It doesn’t take two hands to pitch. But it does to hit. Or so I thought. I think you see where I’m going with this.
In the bottom of the fourth, with the score tied at one, Abbott came up to bat with runners on first and second. And he looped a single into shallow left field. The Cubs center fielder threw out Geoff Jenkins, who was trying to advance from first to third, to end the inning. But nonetheless, Jim Abbott had his first Major League base hit — and a RBI at that.
We were all cheering, crazy. We had the lead (the Crew eventually lost, 7-4). As I remember it, Cubs manager Jim Riggleman walked out to scold pitcher Jon Lieber. “Do you see that guy standing on first base?!?! Do you see that guy who just hit off you? That guy has ONE! HAND!”
According to Sports Club Stats, the Brewers have a 28.7 percent chance of making the playoffs. Jim Abbott had another hit later that year — at Wrigley also against Lieber — for a 2 for 21 lifetime batting record, or .095 average. I don’t know how you would factor it, but considering that was the only time I saw Abbott play, and he only had one hand, and it was much, much more unlikely that he got a hit that night.
Also, that donkey Lieber is once again pitching for the Cubs.