Baseball is an extremely unfair game. You time a pitch up perfectly, hit the ball on the screws. . . and it ends up right in glove of the the third baseman, who just happened to be standing in the exact spot you hit it. You throw a perfectly located cutter on the black, jam a guy, force weak contact . . . and watch as the pathetic little popup that results somehow drops in between the shortstop and the left fielder. I mean, really: the fields have different dimensions! The exact same swing can turn into a homer to right at Yankee Stadium, while landing harmlessly in the glove of the right fielder at Fenway! This is self-evidently unfair and absurd!
But life is unfair and absurd, too. Whether we like to admit it or not, random chance is by far the most significant force that drives our lives. And if we really examine the big moments that have happened to us — and, perhaps even more so, the big moments that didn’t happen — we’d find that they were almost always dictated by circumstances beyond our control.
Last week against the Toronto Blue Jays, Triston Casas stepped up to the plate with the bases loaded in the 6th inning. It has taken Casas a long time to turn around his offensive season — like, forget about that old idiom about how long it takes to turn around a transoceanic tanker at sea, this has taken longer than getting that ship unstuck in the Suez. But he has been turning it around, slowly and sometimes imperceptibly. The quality at-bats are there. The contact has been coming more frequently. We’ve started to see more loud outs than uncompetitive takes.
He’d already had two run-scoring hits that night against the Jays: a sharp liner to right and an opposite field grounder that snuck past the diving third baseman. A grand slam in this moment would’ve been one of the defining moments of the early season. It would’ve put the Blue Jays to bed and served as an unequivocal statement from Casas that he could handle big league pitching. It would’ve been the biggest moment of his young career. And he got a 93 MPH fastball at the top of the zone, barreled it up, sent it soaring out to the centerfield bleachers. . . and watched the wind knock it down into the glove of Keven Kiermaier, who’d tracked it all the way back to the wall.
Life, unfair and absurd as it is, took Casas’s moment away from him.
Does that matter in the big picture? Maybe, maybe not. As I said, the turnaround is happening with or without that grand slam: in the month of May, Casas is hitting .286/.407/.571 with a pair of homers. In fact, he quietly has a 20-game on-base streak going. And last night, he hit this mammoth blast in the 9th:
At 442 feet, it was the single longest homer hit by a Red Sox batter this season. But from a physics perspective, there was very little difference between last night’s home run and last week’s fly out. Both hits were classified as barrels, two of just eight he’s hit all season. They came on 94 and 93.2 MPH fastballs, respectively. They had almost the exact same exit velocity: 104.3 MPH for the fly out, 105.1 for the homer. They were separated by only 4 degrees of launch angle. But one was knocked down by the wind, while the other wasn’t.
And moreover, because of circumstances beyond his control — the fact that they were playing on the road instead of at Fenway, that there was only one man on instead of three, that it came against a National League opponent instead of a division rival — the homer that he did end up hitting doesn’t seem quite as impactful as the one he could have hit but didn’t.
So Casas doesn't have his season-defining moment yet. But it’s coming, hopefully. He just doesn’t have much control over when and how it does. That’s baseball and that’s life: absurd and unfair and awesome.