Last night I witnessed perhaps the most improbable comeback in baseball history (well, if I’m recording it). The Tampa Bay Rays, down 7-0 in the bottom of the 8th inning, came back with 6 runs, then a 1 run homer in the 9th with two outs and two strikes to a hitter only batting .120. Dan Johnson had one homer in April, then stunk so bad they sent him down to the minors. Then, after a shaky 12th inning, where the Rays allowed runners to reach 1st and 3rd with no outs, the Yankees followed with three consecutive outs. Finally, Tampa Bay slugger Evan Longoria closed out the game with one of the shortest home runs Tropicana Field has ever seen. Sportswriters sum up the game here and you can watch highlights if my vivid writing falls flat to you. A home run that was only a home run because they shortened the height of the wall a few years ago.
To top that all off, only 3 minutes earlier, the Red Sox had blown a 3-2 lead with 2 outs and 2 strikes on the batter. Crazy. The script could not have been written any better. What I thought was so fascinating is that the Rays won in such a way as they could celebrate freely, yet humbly. They were remarkably humble, but that only added to the celebration. Here’s why.
1.) They played like garbage against a rookie pitcher making his first start and continued to play like garbage for 7 straight innings. They couldn’t boast in their play.
2.) While Longoria did come through with some clutch homers, it would have all been for naught if Dan Johnson, the unlikely hero-who had no plans of even getting into the game-didn’t hit his home run in the bottom of the ninth. With 2 outs and 2 strikes. Their star pitcher David Price gave up a grand slam. In the end, it took an unlikely hero. For the most part, the stars could not boast.
3.) The Yankees, either sensing that the Rays couldn’t come back from 7-0, or that they just didn’t care, didn’t use their stars. They couldn’t simply boast that they beat the best team in baseball. They beat the bench of the best team in baseball.
4.) It took several more innings, and a rookie base running mistake by the Yankees, for the Rays to finally capitalize. They couldn’t boast in someone else’s mistakes.
Now none of these things took anything away from the celebration. In fact, I happen to think they added to it. The celebration comprised a bunch of unlikely victors who depended upon a ton of factors which were out of their control. They were 9 games out of first place when September started. Even if they played well, the Red Sox had to play poorly. Impecuniously-if I may say-poorly. And they had to lose that night as well.
So in the end, it wasn’t simply a celebration of how good they were, but a celebration of a number of fortunate events like guys who aren’t very good making great plays, and timely decisions/guesses. That kind of celebration is much more special than simply winning the division because of your skill, then and resting players. I think that celebration would probably have been less special because it was a celebration of self achievement.
I don’t know how Yankee fan felt after they clinched the division. But I doubt the celebration was as great. And I don’t think its simply b/c they just want to win it all. Celebration in your own goodness pales in comparison to the celebration that comes with needing someone else to be good for you.
In God’s story of Redemption, he uses the Dan Johnson’s, the dependence upon factors we can’t control, and the goodness of the Redeemer. We can’t boast in anything except in Him. And as a result, the rejoicing in heaven is that much greater. And it should be just as crazy down here on Earth. Don’t ever forget to pop open a bottle of the bubbly when you think of the gospel. The celebration starts now, but remember this is just the beginning.