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Time Marches Off-Beat: Phillies 3, Nationals 2

AJ Burnett strikes out 12, gets the win, and induces existential reflections.

All night AJ knew where that ball was headed. The Nats hitters could never seem to figure it out.
All night AJ knew where that ball was headed. The Nats hitters could never seem to figure it out.
Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

I'm still nervous about writing in my own voice on this site. So, for my first game recap I thought I'd let my friend Ed Tom dictate one to me. He's a nice guy but has a strange affectation whereby he only speaks in italics. This, despite the fact that his elongated Texan drawl removes any urgency from his tone.

It's the damn'dest thing, baseball. I haven't watched much myself: not much of a voyeur if you know what I mean. I'd play ball with my friends when I was little. I would have spent every hour of the day in the dry dirt diamond if Mama wouldn't have twisted my ear clean off for missing school and leaving Bessie unmilked. But I never watched. It might be because I never had TV as a kid and the nearest ballclub was several towns away, more than a day's walk and not a good reason to take a horse out. Where would you park a horse at a ballfield anyway? Likely the peanut vendor would hitch himself a ride and you'd never see that horse again. If I ever took a horse out and walked home I'm sure my ears would be intact. I'm not sure what else might have been twisted off.

Lately I've been watchin though. I can't say exactly as to why. I know I've been slowin down. I can hardly keep up with my deputies at the monthly PT. The creaks that stretched from joint to joint at night have turned into croaks and I can hardly remember a time when I could draw my pistol before my spit touched the ground. Yep. I seem to be leaving the campfire behind and wandering out into the softly glowing halo, towards the darkness where I can only imagine the sand reaches out ceaselessly. Time isn't so much carrying me along as it is dissipating through my skin. Maybe that's why I watch. To remember when time invigorated my every step.

It's the damn'dest thing, baseball. Time chews up ballplayers' bodies but sometimes those same ballplayers recall their time and it was as if nothing had passed them by. Here comes A.J. Burnett, hobbled by a hernia. It's mostly sapped him of the finesse he used to induce worm-burners and strikeouts over and over again for a decade and a half. But tonight he found his finesse. He located knuckle-curves just off the plate down and away from righties, down and in to lefties, one after the other. They looked so good few hitters could hold their bats on their shoulders. Denard Span swung at 7 straight pitches before becoming one of Burnett's 12 strikeouts. Even when he left his sinker up, his knuckle-curve was so precise all night none of the Nationals could square the mistakes up. Well, one did. Anthony Rendon homered for the only run off Burnett. There were a couple other hits and walk. Otherwise, Burnett was flawless. An unexpected monument to a good life playing ball. And who knows, maybe that walk was unintentionally intentional.

Burnet wasn't the only old man relighting his fire. Ryan Howard scored the Phillies first run after he stroked an easy double. He scored thanks to a Domonic Brown single. Runnin doesn't look easy for the big fella these days, but when did it ever? And Carlos Ruiz scored the crucial winning run on a home run in the 7th, which at the time made the score 3-1. Now there's a player that makes me rethink what time can do. Sometimes time seems to run backwards in him and other times he seems just like me. Scraping the ether back in. I hope he sticks around and keeps his health. He gives me hope for myself.

Of course, some young guys pitched in too. There was Dom's RBI and Cody Asche hit a home run to put the Phils up 2-0. He is frustrating as they come right now. He kicks balls and whiffs at pitches like an unbroken young stallion flailing at a horse fly. But every now and again he runs into a pitch and he looks marvelous. But for the long stretches intervening his line-drive homers and barehanded scoops, I would think he was going to be a real ballplayer someday. Oh, yeah, and Jake Diekman pitched a scoreless 8th, which was good because that gave Jonathan Papelbon the opportunity to give up a run he otherwise couldn't have.

But tonight was not about the young fellas. It was about the old men returning to the campfire to toast their palms once more before heading back toward the darkness. It was about Burnett handing us Phillies fans a memento of a good career as he contemplates leaving it behind. Those of us who have endured the losing and the quiet suspense of feckless offensive impotency were able to bear witness to an artful show likely never to be seen again. Maybe this is why I watch now. I can see better where I've been and it is much more engaging than looking ahead to the darkness where I'm headed. It's the damn'dest thing, baseball.

Source: FanGraphs