Let’s be honest, it would have been easy for old-time baseball fans to snicker a little bit — assuming people still “snicker” — when announcer Joe Buck called Eduardo Rodriguez’s Monday Night performance “fantastic.”
That word, “fantastic,” has a fascinating evolution. It comes from the Old French word “fantastique,” which meant “existing only in imagination.” You will still see the word used that way — such as in J.K. Rowling’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.
After a while, people began using “fantastic” to refer to things that are real but are so extraordinary and implausible that they do not feel real. These things are so unreal — so fantastic — that they seem to have popped out of the imagination.
Boston’s Eduardo Rodriguez pitched six innings in Game 3 of the ALCS against Houston, and he gave up five hits and three runs.
That doesn’t exactly sound “fantastic.”
I mean, I don’t think Sandy Koufax or Bob Gibson or Jack Morris or Randy Johnson or indeed Joe Buck’s partner, John Smoltz, would find that to be “fantastic.”
But here’s the thing: It kind of was fantastic. We are living in a moment where Chris Sale — one of the most accomplished pitchers of our time — goes 2 2/3 innings, allows five hits and one run, and he’s getting congratulated in the dugout like he just flew the first trans-Atlantic flight. We are in a time where Alex Wood’s 4 2/3 shutout innings is ranked up there with some of the greatest postseason starts ever. We are in a time when we’re ready to send Logan Webb — who twice went SEVEN INNINGS — directly to the Hall of Fame, do not pass Go, do not collect $200.
And if that sounds a bit sarcastic … well, yes, of course, it is; it’s like the 7th juror in “12 Angry Men” said, “For your three dollars a day, you’ve gotta listen to everything.”
But it’s also not sarcastic because something is going on in baseball right now, and if we don’t pay special attention, we will miss it. There have been 48 starts in the postseason this year so far. Not one lasted eight innings. Not even one. Only three — the two Webb starts and Max Scherzer in Game 3 of the Division Series — went seven innings.
Only 20 of the 48 starters — fewer than 42% — made it even the five innings necessary to get a win.