The Pitch...Foul Ball

Is it finally safe to say <B>Julio Franco</B> is an amazing hitter? Before ripping a bases clearing double over Sammy Sosa's head, Julio Franco fought Cubs flamethrower Kyle Farnsworth tooth and nail with a 13 pitch at-bat (At one point fouling off <B>5</B> straight 97-99 MPH pitches.) Andrew Bare is <I>still</I> stunned.

You know the scene whenever a director once to gets across the idea that he thinks baseball is boring: A TV announcer is heard calling a tense situation; say, bottom of the eighth, tie game, bases loaded, three-two count. The pitch…foul ball.

Foul ball.
Foul ball.

Foul ball after foul ball after foul ball, the idea being drilled into our head that such a battle is somehow a waste of our collective time.

Well forget football and it's supposedly endearing sameness. Forget basketball and it's never ending mediocrity. Forget hockey and its…hockeyness. Every now and again the game presents you with a moment that truly drives home why baseball is such an amazing sport.

Kyle Farnsworth is 27 years old and the gods have blessed him "with a thunderbolt for a right arm." A night when he doesn't touch 99, 100 MPH is a disappointing night for Farnsworth. This is a guy who struck 92 batters in 76 1/3 2003 innings. He has a 12.00 K/9 rate this year. There's no such thing as an unhittable set-up man; if there was, Kyle Farnsworth would be him.

Julio Franco, in case you haven't received the memo, is old. I don't want to say that Julio Franco is really old, but he is really, really old. When Kyle Farnsworth was two years old, Julio Franco was hitting .300 in A ball.

The paths of these two men, so laughably far apart in everything that it's hard to imagine two more disparate ballplayers, came together in the bottom of the eighth inning Saturday with the bases loaded and two out. In a tie game.

When Farnsworth blew two fastballs by Franco to get the count to 0-2, it was easy to imagine the next pitch: Hard slider, in the dirt, with Julio Franco weakly flailing away at it.

Only Farnsworth pumped a fastball on the outside part of the plate. And Franco fouled it off.

Foul ball.
Foul ball.
Foul ball.

In fact, Julio fouled off five 0-2 pitches until Farnsworth finally buried a slider out of the strike zone. It was like watching a tennis player who finds himself on the wrong side of a triple match-point and keeps finding ways to slip the ball past his opponent.

In the Hollywood version of this at-bat, the count would run full. And the count did run full, because while life too rarely runs according to script, every so often it does play out like a corny movie.

And 43…45…49..78-year old Julio Franco (the guy gets older every time they remake this movie), after 13 nerve-wracking pitches, took a mid-90s fastball from one of the premiere relief pitchers in the game and damned if he didn't come within inches of hitting it over the right field wall, settling instead for a bases-clearing, shout-inducing, tear-bringing double that would eventually prove to be the winning stroke.

If you can't fall in love with baseball after that at-bat, you couldn't fall in love with Mary-Louise Parker. It was such an unbelievable, jaw-dropping, storybook ending that it could only have happened at a baseball game.

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