The Salve of Baseball

I turned on my computer this morning to find out what had happened to the Washington Nationals, trailing 3-1 in the eighth inning of a win-or-go-home game out west against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

“Oh my God!” I yelled.

“Oh my God!” my wife responded. “What’s happened?”

In a nutshell, this is how many of us have lived our lives the last week (plus a few days). We have been enmeshed in the corrosive atmosphere of the ongoing impeachment crisis — and it is a combat-style crisis — plus the additional angst-making daily and sometimes hourly twitters emanating from the White House, only to be salved and saved by the healing power of sports, particularly the amazing adventures of the Washington Nationals on their way to their first National League playoff series.

Ever since Donald Trump descended those Trump Tower escalator steps to announce that he was running for president of the United States, it seems as if Americans have been riding a nonstop, no-relief roller coaster.

Ever since the mid-season All-Star break, the Nationals — after a low point of a horrible start and talk of firing the manager — have been on a roller-coaster ride to make it into the playoffs, winning a loser-go-home playoff game in fairy-tale fashion against the Milwaukee Brewers and surviving two elimination games in dramatic fashion. They’re still playing.

The two ongoing “Days of Our Lives” series — Trump trauma and baseball fever — have played side-by-side over the summer and during the last few weeks, especially the past two days.

All along, during his campaign, his improbable election victory and the daily dose of drama during the two years-plus of his administration, we have lived under an acid rain of Trump Twitter postings, of bellicose boasting and hyperbole and hirings and firings and rallies and railing. For almost three years, we — pro and con — have been living in a state of Trump overload almost day and night. There are no vacations, no rest, only rest homes.

Was it only weeks ago that Trump tried to show off his talents for predicting hurricane paths with a Sharpie? Was it only a week ago that he gave a windy and winding speech at a gathering of the United Nations in New York, in which he asserted that the future of the world belonged to patriotism not globalism?

And then came this: “I would like you to do us a favor though.”

These are Trump’s words from a transcript of a July 25 telephone conversation the president had with newly elected Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, once a stand-up comedian, a conversation which alarmed an as-yet-unidentified whistleblower, and included a request for help with investigations into the 2016 election and into the activities of presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden and his son.

Without going into the agonizing details, these words and a transcript of a telephone conversation with the president of Ukraine led to a formal impeachment inquiry, announced Sept. 24 by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. And now we are all in the deep muddy of 24-7 impeachment talk, accusations, alarm-ringing and name-calling of a kind we have not seen or heard before in government, rivaling only a cane beating on the Senate floor prior to the Civil War.

You could get an idea of just how nettled the president is from looking at his photographs in the Post and elsewhere, especially the one on the Oct. 3 front page, a portrait of Trump in full-throated fury, or so it seems, at a press conference with Finnish President Sauli Niinistö, who has a what-the? look on his face.

You read the stories, you listen to or watch the videos and a certain exhaustion sets in, an angst located around your stomach, the feeling you get after a lunch when you wonder if the mayo had gone bad.

The details of this particular crisis — and it is a crisis — have become entangled with each other like a pile of knotted-up ropes.

There was no solace from this. There was only baseball.

First, there was the game in which Mad Max Scherzer, the Nats’ ace pitcher, gave up two home runs and left the game with his team behind, 3-1, going into the eighth inning. This is the kind of moment that only baseball can bring about, alone among the offerings in our sport-invested and -infested populace.

In the eighth, second-year phenom-to-be Juan Soto, facing two outs, rose to hit a single that scored three runs when it tipped off a Brewer glove by about a second or an inch. The Nats won, 4-3, and lived to play again.

In politics, anything can happen. This was baseball’s version of the same thing.

Baseball, in many ways, is still the sport that reminds us of and lets us believe in better days and better ways. It remains a peculiar, slow game of moments that can be watched closely and with hunger and, potentially, forever. There is no clock, time doesn’t matter. Baseball seems to have a clarity to it; it’s as understandable as a noise made by a bat making contact.

Just to prove it, it happened again last night. In a week that Trump out-trumped himself after announcing a troop withdrawal from Syria, which resulted in a Turkish invasion against our allies, the Kurds, and the memorable assertion of: “I, in my great and unmatched wisdom,” the salve of baseball was applied again. Two homers in the eighth inning tied the game, and Howie Kendrick, with a bases-loaded homer in the 10th inning, won the game.

For Washington baseball fans who treat the box score as a bible, who live in a city where political bloodletting is a condition not an event, we woke to baseball in a morning made joyful.

In baseball, anything can happen. As for the rest, well, anything can happen, too.


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