Rafael Devers can do things that almost no other human being on Earth can do. This, fundamentally, is why we watch him, and, for that matter, why we watch sports at all. There are a select few human beings on the planet who are capable of doing some crazy shit, and it’s fun to watch them do it. That’s it – that’s what sports is. That’s why we care. Beyond the tribalism, the community connection, and the office bragging rights, this is what it boils down to: it’s fun to watch humans do cool shit that most humans can’t do.
He did it again on Sunday night, violently turning on a Jamison Taillon fastball and sending it well beyond the visitors bullpen. Taillon put this pitch exactly where Kyle Higashioka wanted it: the extreme upper inside corner; if it were half an inch further up or in, it’s ball four. It was not a mistake pitch, in other words. Rafael Devers just happens to be one of the few people on the planet capable of whipping around on this ball and landing it in someone’s beer.
Rafael Devers cranks his 25th home run of the season! pic.twitter.com/cFRE0ANn9x— Talkin’ Baseball (@TalkinBaseball_) August 15, 2022
Sox-Yankees games on Sunday night have their own heartbeat, a quickened pulse that seems to tie certain moments together through the ups and downs of the rivalry. This particular moment felt very familiar. Its closest lineal ancestor was, of course, the first big moment of Devers’ career: his ninth inning, game-tying opposite field homer off Aroldis Chapman, which was the first homer a lefty had hit off Chapman in six years, and the single fastest pitch hit for a home run during the pitch-tracking era up that point (like I said: Rafael Devers can do things that almost no other human on Earth can do). But it bore the fingerprints of plenty of other great Sunday night moments, too – Jacoby Ellsbury’s steal of home in 2009, the four consecutive homers in 2007 – Sunday night moments that probably appear just a little bit sharper in your memory than most other baseball games.
There isn’t a single negative thought that should enter your head after these moments. Again, this is why we watch: to see a still-baby-faced homegrown star mash a tater, get carried nearly halfway to the dugout by the force of his swing, and secure a win against our biggest rival. But we didn’t get a chance to just enjoy this moment for what it was, because as soon as Devers touched home, ESPN showed us this:
To be clear, this isn’t a criticism of Bloom for being on his phone; it’s just the latest example of how talk of Devers contract has completely subsumed his play on the field (you can see this in almost all of our recent Daily Links pieces). This is what it is to watch Rafael Devers right now. No matter how spectacular his play on the field is, everything is secondary to his contract situation. A monster home run isn’t allowed to take its place in the lineage of great Sox-Yankees Sunday night moments until its first used as a data point in an ongoing and increasingly dull argument about how to best build a baseball team.
There are many parties to potentially blame for this, and you can pick and choose whichever one you want based on your particular fan philosophy. Blame Henry and Bloom if you still haven’t gotten over the Mookie trade. Blame Devers if you’re so sure you would have already taken a hometown discount if you were in his, considerably more talent-bearing shoes. Blame ESPN if you think all they want to do is drill up controversy. Blame the whole damn system for turning the entire concept of team-building into an efficiency contest, despite the fact that, as the Braves’ publicly-filed financials make pretty clear, every Major League team can easily afford to sign just about whoever it wants, whenever it wants, without ever needing to mention the word “sustainability.”
This is the worst way to watch a great player. His remarkable career is being built one moment of human wonder at a time, and we’re not able to take the time to appreciate it.
Sunday night’s game, despite the difference in the teams’ records, was yet another memorable night in the Sox-Yankees rivalry. But which image from the game are you going to remember most years from now: Devers’ on his follow-through, or Bloom on his phone?