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Grin til it hurts: Rockies 5, Phillies 3

In which a terrible horror movie gimmick is relayed as an allegory for a terrible baseball team.

Grit, but a different kind than usual.
Grit, but a different kind than usual.
Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

So, in case you're just looking for the quick summary to pull off the band-aid, here's the short version: Troy Tulowitzki two-run home run; Tyler Cloyd being Tyler Cloyd-y (6 K, 1 BB, 2 HR, 5 ER); Wilin Rosario solo home run; some solid hits, errors, and some dinks and dunks brought the Phillies within two in the third; then no runs scored for the last six innings; oh, and in the eighth, Rex Brothers was called on two balks, gifting the Phillies a four-strike AB by Michael Young and two bases, upon which they lavished their measurable skill and did nothing; then an uneventful ninth.

So, you can see why I'm going a bit abstract with this recap.  Onto the object of analysis:

Considering it is something I'm honestly a bit fascinated, even gripped by, it's strange that William Castle's 1961 horror movie Mr. Sardonicus is so hard for me to recall off the top of my head.  I spent a good fifteen minutes searching various unsuccessful google chains trying to find the name of the movie, and I fear that that's far too much time to spend on a gimmick for a recap.  Still, there's a reason that the name escapes me, but the concept of the film doesn't -- the face of the film's villain is the gripping part of the movie.  The image is what holds, not the content.

Let me back up.  I've never seen the film.  But the summary suggests a fairly stock 60's thriller: a castle, an outsider who is taken with a beautiful woman, a strange and menacing figure who needs help.  Sardonicus himself is beset by a moral curse -- a fairly standard kind of thing in the Gothic tropes the movie seems to enjoy -- as he digs up his father's corpse in order to take back a winning lottery ticket from his jacket pocket.  There's even the stock twist ending, in which Sardonicus' terrible grin is revealed as a psychological issue, not a physical one; his manservant, refusing to reveal this fact, lets Sardonicus starve to death.

So why do I bring this up? Well, the movie strikes me in two ways, and in two ways that are entirely unrelated to the actual watching of the film itself.  First, obviously, the mask (here's another perspective on it), which is a horror-movie spin on the actual condition of risus sardonicus.  Being an avid Twilight Zone watcher, there is something compelling to me about punishments that are fitting in both a poetic and a literal way, even if they take rather serious freedoms with the actual conditions that spawn them.  Could be I'm kind of a dullard.  The second thing that grips me about the film, however, is not metaphorical at all -- it's a final gimmick in the movie, wherein an audience gets to choose if Sardonicus lives or dies by a mass vote.  As the story goes, no audience ever voted for the good ending, and no one has ever seen the film that would have (ostensibly) been played if an audience voted Sardonicus innocent.  The popular assumption is that Castle, ever the provocateur before the artiste, didn't actually create a good ending; Sardonicus only really had one fate.

I think it's more interesting, however, to imagine that no audience could ever watch the film and have pity for Sardonicus.  This is highly unlikely, as the movie has received fairly mediocre reviews overall, and I'd imagine that true pathos is a bit lacking throughout.  But still, imagine that there is a human being so wretched that every audience -- every bit of the spectrum between reactionary conservative and bleeding heart liberal; between devoutly religious and polemically scientist; between traditional and radical -- would rather see him slowly starved to death than given a second chance at life.  What would that kind of person be?  How terrible would they have to act? What awful guilt would they have to shoulder?

I contend that the 2013 Phillies give us a fairly good glimpse at the nature of this kind of person.

There was an at-bat in the eighth -- in case you don't think I watched the game -- where Domonic Brown was gutting out an at bat and had worked the count even at 2-2.  And I had the sound off by this point, but I was watching, and I saw his eyes, and they were so determined.  Like, even though the Phillies were one of -- if not the -- worst teams in baseball in recent memory, that he still believed he could redeem their efforts somehow. That his effort really, truly counted in that one moment.  And I love Dom.  And I wanted so very hard to think with him that, yes, there is good in the world, and we can be redeemed from the terrible, rictus-inducing mistakes that we make.

But instead, I found myself fairly consigned to the guilty vote; and he bounced into a fielders choice that almost killed Troy Tulowitzki dead.  And that's where I found myself sympathizing with Sardonicus as much as the audience.  Because as much as I find myself unable to have Brown's deep sense of resiliency, it's not as if I can just condemn the 2013 Phillies to the dustbin of history without cost.  I'm condeming my own terribly unfulfilling obsession with this team as well, a condemnation that will richly return to hope next spring, despite all odds.

And I get how you can have zero pity or human feeling for such a cause -- hopeless (so many games out); mirthless (gutted from 2008's fun); symbolically and literally allegorical (hustling to nowhere) -- and want to vote it down again and again.  But I also get the onanistic thrill of Sardonicus' rictus grin: the obsessive, self-defeating, psychological obsession to do this again and again to death.  Because baseball is, at core, about eschatology -- the study of death and endings.  We're in this for the death and rebirth aspect, but mainly for the death aspect. It ain't good if it ain't scarce, and it ain't scarce if it ain't dying.

So grit your teeth and bear it.  The Phillies couldn't get a reprieve from a jury of twelve Gregg Murphys; and we're stuck starving to death in prisons of our own making.  At least -- and here's the punchline, so you'll want to pay really close attention here -- there's something to smile about.

Fangraph of painful molars below:

<iframe src="" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" height="450" width = "450" style="border:1px solid black;"></iframe><br /><span style="font-size:9pt;">Source: <a href="">FanGraphs</a></span>