GAME 106 OF THE SEASON will be remembered by most of its attendees—and almost all the sportswriters, it seems—as a night of frustration for the Astros, one in which the team repeatedly failed to capitalize on opportunities before falling to the Tampa Bay Rays, 6-4.
Indeed, frustration is the word of the moment, it seems, what with Dallas Keuchel complaining of “disappointment” at the Astros’ inability to obtain a good quality starter before the recent trade deadline, and various sportswriters chiming in with a thumbs-down assessment of the front office. The upshot: for the rest of the season, the team will be forced to get by largely on the extraordinary talents that have brought them a lead of 15+ games in the American League West. Put another way, the trade deadline’s outcome will likely have no significant impact on the Astros’ chances, unless of course they themselves should decide to buy into the opinions of the MLB’s pundit class. That would be too bad, as the group’s success at picking winners is roughly equivalent to the political punditry’s success at picking presidents.
Indeed, the only thing we found disappointing about last night was the size of the crowd at game time. Not the eventual size of the crowd, mind you, which was 22,985, respectable for a Tuesday night in August. No, the attendance when the game began, which, just to reiterate, is 7:10 p.m. Central Standard Time most evenings. Now, some attendees may well have had valid reasons for being late—the difficulty of finding parking downtown, say, or tearing oneself away from a pre-game margarita round at Ninfa’s. But that would only explain the tardiness of a few thousand fans. What of the rest of the crowd shuffling down the aisles at the top of the third? They certainly didn’t look like the sort that had any other place to be. Perhaps they are new to baseball, unsure about what a baseball game is, and more importantly what it is not.
To them, we say this: a baseball game is not a house party. There is nothing fashionable about arriving an hour in. No one will think it cool or give you special attention or allow you to dance till the wee hours of the morning. A baseball game is also not a movie. Latecomers cannot scoot by anonymously in the dark. And if they miss the beginning, they can’t just stay through till the next showing to see what was missed. What is missed is missed forever, the it being the dramatics of a team that likes to strike early and often.
What difference does it make, you will wonder. Well, beyond the fact that rows and rows of empty seats create an optics problem for the telecast, a late crowd is an ineffectual crowd. A late crowd will not be able to help buck up the Astros when they fall behind in the early innings, as on Tuesday night, when the Rays jumped out to a 3-0 and then a 5-0 lead. Never were the Astros more in need of a momentum shift, something a punctual crowd might have accomplished with ease.
Once the stragglers got seated, the stadium grew noticeably louder, and so did the Astros’ bats. Carlos Beltran and Alex Bregman homered in the bottom of the fifth, narrowing the gap and bringing some big roars from the crowd, roars that were still echoing through the building when Mike Fiers ended the top of the sixth with a called third strike.
Overall, it would not be Fiers’ day, though. Far from it. And you might argue that no amount of fan excitement could have overcome the righty’s performance. Still, even as the Rays scored again, so did the ’Stros, their 4 total runs leaving them 2 short. Could the team have pulled ahead with a better earlier performance and the fans as catalyst? No one can say. All we know is that the Astros, as per usual, gave Tuesday’s game everything they could. The same cannot be said of the crowd.