You may have noticed an outbreak of orange clothing lately. And orange-clad strangers high-fiving one day, then gloomingly shaking their heads the next. Or perhaps screams of delight or horror emanating from your neighbor's TV room. The cause? Pennant fever.
The San Francisco Giants -- often good, seldom great and never a World Series champion -- are in the final weekend of a classic pennant race. The daily drama of clutch home runs (from a team built around pitching), painful missed opportunities (usually late in games), and inexplicable theatrics that mean hopeful victories or sleep-depriving defeats -- well, it's the drug baseball fans crave. But what gives a season-ending pennant sprint real meaning for teams like the Giants is the tantalizing, just out-of-reach promise of a World Series ring.
The great New Yorker writer Roger Angell once said that "Baseball...means to break your heart...It's the losing, in all its variety, that makes winning so sweet." Remember the unbridled joy of Red Sox fans when Boston won the World Series after 86 years of frustration? Yankee fans never have that -- they expect their men to steamroll to another championship.
This year's Giants have taken the agony of pennant fever to ridiculous heights. Their broadcasters have captured the club's m.o. in one word: torture. The team that used to win with Barry Bonds bombs and dominant pitching is now all about pitching and bleeding out just enough, and sometimes not enough runs. Even victories can be excrutiating.
When I write fiction I keep in mind there's no story without conflict, and the pace needs to pick up near the end of the book. The Giants could not have scripted this season's ending any better: a weekend series at home vs. the San Diego Padres, who'd occupied first place for months until the Giants caught 'em three weeks ago in their home park. The two teams flip-flopped daily at the top until this week, when the Giants moved ahead.