Magic & loss (& redemption)

Despite all the verve of the classic Giants-Dodgers rivalry, perhaps there should be no team that modern Giants fans enjoy beating more than the Miami Marlins.

Two of the Giants’ last three postseason eliminations have come at the hands of the Marlins. The first elimination came in 1997, a disheartening sweep, with the then Florida Marlins becoming the first National League Wild Card team ever to win a playoff series. In 2003, the Giants at least won their playoff opener against the Marlins, before once again dropping three straight to the Wild Card underdogs.

Both times, the Marlins went on to win the World Series. It was bad enough to be twice ceded at the hands of Wild Card teams. What made matters worse is it seemed the Wild Card was invented specifically to antagonize the Giants, with the format being introduced in 1994; while the Fish were introduced to Major League Baseball as an expansion team in 1993.

For a Giants franchise that came into being in 1883, and hadn’t won a World Championship since moving to San Francisco in 1958, the outcome felt like having one’s wife stolen by the bag boy at the local grocery store.  

I will forever equate the 1997 National League Division Series with Julian Tavarez. It has nothing to do with his performance, though he did play a pivotal role, pitching in all three games, while taking the Game 1 loss by yielding the walk-off run as the Giants fell 2-1. But the reason Tavarez, in my mind, is the face of the ’97 playoffs is because the night after the Giants were eliminated, he ate dinner in the restaurant where I was working.

It was in this restaurant where I went crazy while listening to the legendary Brian Johnson home run game on the radio earlier that year. It was in this restaurant where I watched the first two playoff games on television, while being lambasted by my boss, who had lived in Miami for a time, and was subsequently rooting for the Marlins.

So, it turned out to be a sweet solace when Tavarez sat down in this very building for a light meal. He dined with his father, and had clam chowder with Tabasco sauce. As  a pitcher, Tavarez was known for his somber demeanor, but he was downright miserable at dinner that night. He didn’t smile once – a profound expression that resonated deeply with me – and this may have as much as anything in my adult life to do with my heartfelt fandom of baseball.

Then there is the 2003 postseason, which, in my mind, will always belong to Jason Schmidt. Sure, Marlins ace Josh Beckett went on to win World Series MVP honors. (And of course, the iconic figure of the ’03 postseason will forever be Steve Bartman.) But it was Schmidt’s shutout in Game 1 of the NLDS to defeat Beckett that affected me profoundly.

The Giants’ playoff berth of ’03 was their second in as many years, having been defeated by the Anaheim Angels in the World Series the previous season. As difficult as that World Series loss was to digest, in retrospect, my biggest regret was I watched every game on TV, and didn’t listen to any of the games on the radio as announced by the Giants’ local broadcast team. So, I tuned in to Game 1 of the ’03 NLDS with the television broadcast muted, opting to listen to the local KNBR radio broadcast.

It was the strangest way I’d ever enjoyed a baseball game. With the mandatory TV delay, the radio audio was several seconds ahead of the picture. It was difficult to multitask the two timelines at first, but by the second or third inning, I was in the zone of zones. And with the way Schmidt was dealing, it seemed as if there was some serious magic working with the balance I had struck between the TV and radio, while the Giants’ ace threw a three-hit gem.

Of course, it was another seven years before the Giants returned to the playoffs. But the magic endured. They say veteran players have an advantage in the postseason because they know what pressures to expect. Well, as a veteran fan, I was entirely prepared to forego the TV audio … if I had to.

While I relied solely on the TV when the 2010 postseason began, by the time things got cooking in the National League Championship Series, I was switching over to the radio feed quite a bit. And during the decisive Game 6 against Philadelphia, I enjoyed the entire radio broadcast; and in my mind can still replay Juan Uribe’s game-winning home run – my surrounding environs, Jon Miller’s play-by-play call, and all – to a tee.

So, while the thought of twice losing to the Marlins in the playoffs still stings, I can appreciate that they played a key role in my enjoyment of the World Championships of 2010 and ’12.

Moral-victory postscript: I am now Facebook friends with my former boss who so vigorously and visibly rooted for the Marlins back in the day. Seriously, in 1997, how many expat Marlins fans could you find in the world? One? And she just happened to be my boss? But I’ve enjoyed watching her post photographs of her beautiful family in recent years. I’ve especially enjoyed seeing her lovely kids often wearing Giants hats. And my favorites are the occasional photos in which she is wearing one too.

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